What is Codependency?
The term codependency is used by many different people and professionals in very different contexts (relationships, addiction, and psychology). In general though, the term codependency is used to describe people that have an extreme emotional and psychological reliance on their partner. So much so that they find their sense of self-worth and happiness dependent on their partner's approval or happiness/well being.
How To Identify Codependency (Common Symptoms):
- Overly concerned with how their partner is feeling.
- Can give love and support to their partner at the cost of their own emotional and physical health.
- Difficulty finding happiness and satisfaction outside of their partner.
- Family and friends may comment that they are too dependent on their partner.
- Feeling unsafe if they are not with or in contact with their partner (She didn't return my text. What is going on?)
- Difficulty making decisions on their own without knowing how their partner will react or be affected.
- Unhealthy clinginess where they have difficulty separating.
- Common behaviors - people pleasing, poor boundaries, care taking, and reactive.
The Psychology of Codependency:
People who deal with codependency often have relationships that are based upon an anxious-attachment style. This means that due to the person's attachment style they often feel insecure in their relationships and therefore feel that they need to cling or make sure their partner is happy in order to feel safe in the relationship and good about themselves. Often times people who have anxious attachments also have a very critical voice towards themselves which cause them to seek satisfaction and meaning through their external relationships rather than valuing themselves; therefore reinforcing this anxious-attachment/codependent behaviors.
How to Treat Codependency?
Therapy is a common way to treat codependency by helping the person free themselves from these types of codependent behaviors and start to value themselves personally -- outside of their dependent relationships. Counseling helps the person combat that negative voice towards themselves and come more in touch with who they are as a real person: their values, strengths, and own personal voice. The therapist provides a model of what it means to form healthy relationships and over time the person is able to personalize that to their own life and become more aware of how their past behaviors have affected them and new ways of relating that are freeing and healthy. Because codependency has developed over the lifespan (often years and decades) it can be expected that therapy will take one to two years to be fully integrated in one's life. New behaviors need to be tried and neural-pathways need to be reprogrammed in order for change to truly occur.