Codependency is the sacrificing one’s personal needs in order to try to meet the needs of others. It is typically associated with passivity and feelings of shame, low self-worth, or insecurity. Codependency was originally coined to describe a person’s dependence on the addictive behaviors of a partner or family member, usually with regards to drugs and alcohol. Today it is more broadly defined as behaviors of someone whose actions and thoughts revolve around another person or thing.
Codependency is not constitute a diagnosable mental health condition, largely because the symptoms of codependency are so broad and widely applicable. The most notable symptoms associated with codependency may be people-pleasing behaviors and the need for the validation and approval that comes from caring for and rescuing others. Codependents often have poor boundaries, fear being alone or without an intimate partner, and deny their feelings.
Other characteristics of codependency may include:
- · Perfectionism and a fear of failure Definition of codependency
- · Sensitivity to criticism
- · Denial of personal problems
- · Excessive focus on the needs of others
- · Failure to meet personal needs
- · Discomfort with receiving attention or help from others
- · Feelings of guilt or responsibility for the suffering of others
- · Reluctance to share true thoughts or feelings for fear of displeasing others
- · Low self-esteem
- · Internalized shame and helplessness
- · Projection of competence and self-reliance
- · A need to control others
- · Self-worth based on caretaking
- · Feeling undeserving of happiness
- · Caring for and enabling someone who abuses drugs or alcohol
Couples counseling often helps when one or both partners are codependent. If one partner is experiencing codependency chooses to provide care for others, he or she may resent the other partner and label them as “needy.” He or she may feel trapped in the role of caregiver to the other partner, even though that role provides a sense of importance and an escape from working on personal issues.
Partners with codependency may also experience clinical depression, chronic anxiety, and/or drug or alcohol addiction, factors which can also impact a relationship. Addiction can develop as a way to avoid difficult emotions or to feel a sense of belonging with a partner who is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Because codependency is usually rooted in childhood, individual psychotherapy may also be needed in addition to couples counseling. A child who is constantly called upon to meet the needs of others will learn to suppress his or her own needs and may become addicted, in a sense, to filling the caregiving role. For example, someone who grew up with a drug-addicted or alcoholic parent, or who experienced abuse, emotional neglect, or the reversal of the parent-child role (in which the child is expected to meet the needs of the parent) may develop codependent behaviors, and these patterns tend to repeat in adult relationships.
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