Codependency is a powerful and destructive relationship dynamic that can be incredibly hard to break free from. However, by gaining a better understanding of what codependency is, how it presents itself in relationships, and how it is linked to addiction, you are already on the road to breaking the toxic cycle of codependency.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is an excessive need for emotional dependency on another person. It is sometimes known as a “relationship addiction” because neither person can function well without the other, and they feel the need to rely on each other to maintain a sense of self-worth.
Codependents often find it difficult to make healthy personal decisions or deal with stress independently, because they rely on the other person to provide them with what they deem as necessary “love, support, and care.”
Many codependent people have low self-esteem, and as a result, they often enter into destructive relationships that are abusive or otherwise unfulfilling. Codependent people often feel powerless and have little self-reliance, which makes them highly vulnerable to potential negative consequences from their relationships. Problems arise when one person takes advantage of another, and the relationship gradually becomes emotionally harmful.
Where Does Codependency Come From?
There isn’t one specific cause of codependency, rather, it arises as a result of various factors including trauma/abuse in childhood, exposure to toxic parents or role models, self-destructive behaviors like gambling or drug use, and general lifestyle choices (e.g., being too busy at work to take time for oneself).
Some people develop codependent relationships because they were never properly nurtured as children, and so they seek out similar types of relationships in adulthood in order to feel loved and supported. Others may become codependent after experiencing traumatic events that left them feeling helpless and alone.
Codependency in Romantic Relationships
Codependency can show up in any type of relationship, but it is particularly common in romantic ones. Codependents rely on their partners to take care of them and make everything okay. This often leads to a lot of resentment and hurt feelings because the partner feels like they are constantly burdened.
Additionally, codependent relationships are usually unstable because one person’s needs always trump the other’s. This creates a lot of tension and conflict, which ultimately hurts both parties involved.
The dependent partner constantly needs reassurance that they’re loved and valued, while the controlling partner may demand too much attention or control over every aspect of their partner’s life.
Codependent partners tend to become overly reliant on their partner for support, approval, or intimacy. This can lead to problems because their partner may not be able to provide these things adequately or at all. It can also create tension since the codependent partner feels like they’re never good enough or capable enough alone.
Codependency in Families
Codependency typically manifests in families in one of two ways: as an over-protecting or enabling parent, or a caretaker who is too clingy. Codependent parents often become the authorities on all matters related to their children’s lives and micromanage every decision their kids make.
Caretakers who are codependent tend to take on excessive responsibilities for others – they’re always available to help out with anything and will do whatever it takes to keep the person they care about happy. This can lead them into unhealthy relationships where they completely rely on someone else for emotional support.
Codependent children have difficulty establishing healthy boundaries with either their parents or other significant adults in their lives. This can lead to a variety of problems, including feeling overly responsible for others, being unable to set and enforce standards, and difficulty trusting others.
Codependents often feel that they need to take care of everyone else no matter what the cost. They may also be quick to anger and resentful if they feel taken advantage of or neglected by those around them.
Signs of Codependency
Codependency can present itself in a variety of ways. Some symptoms to look out for include:
- Very low self-esteem – depending on others for your self-worth.
- Feeling responsible for fulfilling the needs of others or needing to “fix” them.
- Struggling to maintain healthy relationship boundaries.
- Excessively devoted to your partner and feel like you need them in everything you do.
- Finding it difficult or impossible to let go of the past and move on.
- Taking care of others at the expense of your own health and wellbeing
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your personal relationships, there are probably signs that codependency might be affecting them too. If so, it may be time to seek out help from a therapist or counselor who can offer support and guidance as you try to address these issues head on.
Why Codependency and Addiction Go Hand-in-Hand
Codependency can occur as a response to having a relationship with someone with an addiction. The person with the addiction tends to be manipulative, and the other person tends to be an enabler, which fuels the addiction and codependency cycle.
The codependent person often takes responsibility for the addict. They may try to solve the addict’s problems by controlling them and doing what they think is best.
The codependent may feel resentful towards the addict, but is too afraid of being alone or abandoned that they remain in the codependent relationship despite its negative consequences. Deep down, they may be afraid of what will happen if the addict gets better and no longer needs to depend on them for everything.
In the case of a parent being the addict, the child can develop symptoms of codependency since they have to take on the typical role and responsibilities that their parent is unable to fulfill. It’s important to be aware of the different dysfunctional family roles in addiction, so that you can help break the cycle and avoid becoming codependent.
Does Codependency Make Addiction Worse?
Codependency can make an addiction more difficult to break free from, mostly because codependency is linked to enabling behavior. Enabling behavior is frequently used by those involved in codependent relationships to keep their loved ones dependent upon them.
Enabling behaviors can include doing things for the other person that they can do for themselves, putting them first even at the expense of oneself, or giving into their every demand without question.
Both codependency and enabling behaviors involve providing support or accommodation for somebody else without properly assessing their own needs or desires. This allows the addicted loved one to continue in their addiction without feeling too guilty or responsible for their actions.
However, in order for an addict to recover, they need to feel the full weight of their addiction and how it affects those around them. If they are constantly getting shielded from their own actions, they will never learn to change.
How to Stop Being Codependent With an Addict
There are steps that you can take to break free from the cycle of codependency.
- Recognize your codependent behavior – Breaking free from codependency starts with awareness. Once you recognize that you have codependent tendencies, you can start working on combating them.
- Stop taking responsibility for your loved one’s actions – In other words, stop enabling! Your addicted loved one needs to be able to feel the full repercussions of their actions if they are going to make a change.
- Set boundaries – Practice clear, direct communication, and practice saying “no.” Be clear about what is and is not acceptable behavior, and what the consequences will be if these boundaries are broken.
- Practice self-care – Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish. When you take time for yourself, you will be more fuelled to be able to give to others.
- Seek professional help – Get to the root of why you have codependent tendencies, and work with a therapist to determine how to reverse these toxic patterns.
Treatment for Codependency
Codependency is considered a mental illness, and it is much more common than you may think. By putting in the work and dedication, it is possible to overcome codependency, and develop healthy relationships with those in your life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals identify the thoughts and behaviors that perpetuate their dependence on others, and learn how to replace those destructive thoughts with more healthy alternatives.
If you or your loved one are struggling with addiction and codependency, contact our addiction recovery specialists at The PAC Program to discuss the next steps to take.