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Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship model that affects many individuals. These relationships generally involve a dependent partner, who may be an addict, mentally unwell, or reckless, and a codependent partner, who enables the dependent partner. The codependent partner often suffers from low self-esteem and an unclear sense of self, leading them to seek value through their interpersonal relationships. Codependent relationships ultimately cause problems for both dependent and codependent partners.
Signs and Symptoms of Codependency
Codependency manifests itself in many ways. A codependent individual generally suffers from an overwhelming sense of responsibility for others' lives. Codependents are often drawn to people they can "rescue," often leading to relationships with troubled individuals.
Codependents often rely on their relationships as a main source of personal fulfillment. These individuals fear abandonment and seek to control and regulate their relationships at all costs. Codependents often sacrifice their own well-being in order to support the dependent partner in the relationship. Pity and love are intermeshed, leading to a sense of martyrdom. Low self-worth, guilt, and an inability to communicate honestly and openly often plague codependent individuals.
Codependent relationships are fundamentally unbalanced. The sacrifices of the codependent partner often enable the dependent partner, sustaining addictions and other damaging behaviors. Instead of healthy interdependence, the pair rely heavily on one another, stifling individual growth.
If you struggle with codependency, you are not alone. Fortunately, therapy and support groups help many individuals overcome the issues related to codependency and codependent relationships.
Codependency in Relationships
Codependent individuals often enter into relationships where they feel they can help, save, or protect their partner. Unfortunately, codependent individuals' assistance often reaches the point of enabling their partners. The codependent partner derives self-worth and meaning from their selfless behavior. Constantly rescuing the dependent partner, however, ultimately becomes enabling behavior. The dependent partner feels no motivation to improve and thus continues to behave in problematic or destructive ways. Codependent partners continue to act as they do because it fills them with a sense of love, value, and purpose.
Due to this dysfunctional relationship dynamic, the problems in these relationships are unlikely to be resolved. Both partners rely too heavily on each other, hindering individual progress and self-improvement. These relationships ultimately have consequences for both the dependent and codependent partners.
What Causes Codependency?
Codependency is often learned during childhood. A dysfunctional family dynamic involving addiction, abuse, or chronic mental illness often results in a codependent child.
n this kind of atmosphere, a child learns to place the needs of an ill or dependent family member ahead of their own needs and desires. Communication is often stifled and the child's sense of self is lost. Self-sacrifice is valued above all else. The child may feel a responsibility for making others happy. These learned behaviors are later repeated in future codependent relationships.
Treating and Managing Codependency
Codependent relationships generally result in consequences for both dependent and codependent partners. Ideally, both partners should seek treatment for their maladaptive behaviors.
Treating a dependent partner is generally fairly straight-forward. Individuals struggling with substance abuse or addiction issues may need to enter rehabilitation facilities or begin twelve-step programs to help them combat their problems. Chronically ill dependents may need to enter therapy to help them learn how to cope with their illness without a codependent's help or interference.
Treatment for codependent individuals can be less straight-forward. Codependents may struggle with a variety of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Dysfunctional communication techniques and intimacy issues are also common in codependent relationships. In extreme cases, codependency can even lead to suicidal ideation. As such, it is especially important for codependents to seek the counsel of therapists and mental health professionals.
The process of overcoming codependency may take years of work. The first step to recovery is understanding and acknowledging the behavior. It is important to reflect on your childhood and challenges that may have led you to develop a codependent personality. You will have to learn new coping mechanisms and self-care techniques. Most significantly, you may have to end your codependent relationship. If you remain in a codependent relationship, you will likely fall back into your old patterns of behavior. Distancing yourself from your dependent partner is the best way to ensure that you can heal from your codependency. In addition to therapy, support groups can provide assistance in recovering from codependent relationships.
Though you may have struggled with codependency for your entire life, it is not impossible to recover from it. With self-reflection, therapy, and a solid support network, individuals can overcome codependency, opening doors to healthier relationships for the years to come.