By: Leah Hovey
At some point in your life you have probably come across the term “codependency”. Whether it be in self-help books or used as a term to describe someone. Codependency is a psychological term used often but at times without the proper understanding.
Codependency, by definition, is “characterized by excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction” (Oxford Dictionary, 2020). This is used to describe someone who may enable another person's behaviour for various reasons. It may or may not sound like someone you know, or it could even sound like your own behaviour towards certain people. But what are the true signs of being codependent?
Codependency looks like:
Overextending yourself for someone else's happiness constantly.
Having very loose-to-no boundaries with someone.
Seeking excessive approval and validation.
Having a hard time identifying your feelings and wondering if what you feel is right.
Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for others.
There are many reasons why someone who is codependent has learned to behave this way. One of the most common reasons can be because of a poor childhood. Studies have shown that individuals who were victims of maltreatment as a child report a higher level of couple interpersonal problems (Paradis & Boucher, 2019). How we are raised as children directly impacts how we behave as adults. One of the impacts, as studies have discovered, is a high level of codependency within relationships.
Another interesting study showed just how couple relationships and a differentiation of self can predict codependent behaviours. As the model showed, the dimensions of differentiation of self such as ‘I-position’, emotional reactivity, emotional cutoff and fusion with others were more significant than explaining the codependent behaviour compared to the dimensions of a dyadic adjustment (Lampis et al., 2017). One can see just how serious the impacts of someone's childhood can be. There are even interlinked experiences that predict codependency issues within people. A lack of a person's sense of self, a pattern of extreme, emotional, relational, and occupational imbalance, and an attribution of current problems to parental abandonment or control within one's childhood (Bacon et al, 2018). Having all three of these dimensions can play a role into why certain people are codependent on others.
Knowing now what codependency looks like, some of you may feel fearful or worried because these signs hit a little too close to home. This is okay, even I noticed I have taken on these traits for another person. Recognizing these behaviors is the first step to practising self care. Here are some things you can do to help yourself when managing your codependency.
How to heal codependent wounds:
Reflect on what your boundaries are.
Set, respect and hold your boundaries.
Learn to practise self care (time for you to do you… etc.) and make it a daily habit.
Learn to combat negative/anxious thoughts about the relationship/seek peer support.
Learn to let go of responsibility for others thoughts/feelings and behaviours.
Therapy is as well a way to help if you believe you are codependent. The International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction explains the type of therapy that can help with codependency. “People with codependency issues would benefit much from empathic listening as it can bring a sense of acknowledgement and validation of their life experiences, contributing to the restoring of their sense of self. A thoughtful therapist–client relationship, focusing on embracement, holding, and support thereby providing a stable secure therapeutic environment could help these individuals as they engage in a process of self-construction” (Bacon et al., 2018).
It can be hard to take a look at yourself and understand that codependency plays a role in your relationships, but with the proper understanding of what it means to be codependent, practising self-care and enrolling in therapy, you can begin to heal again.
Bacon, I., McKay, E., Reynolds, F., & McIntyre, A. (2018). The lived experience of codependency: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 1-18.
Lampis, J., Cataudella, S., Busonera, A., & Skowron, E. A. (2017). The role of differentiation of self and dyadic adjustment in predicting codependency. Contemporary Family Therapy, 39(1), 62-72.
Paradis, A., & Boucher, S. (2019). Research on Interpersonal Problems and Codependency. The Effect of Childhood Emotional Maltreatment on Later Intimate Relationships.