Codependency implies a psychological condition where people form unhealthy associations with people who they consider close. People with codependency tend to ignore their own needs as they take on caretaker roles, feeling content and satisfied just being needed by others. It is a condition that can affect a person’s behavior, mental health, and feelings. It has transgenerational tenets and tends to arise from learned behavior after being raised in a dysfunctional family setting.

Understanding The Concept Of Codependency | What Is It?

Codependency is a condition that has been studied for decades, growing out of research on substance and alcohol abuse. Traits of codependents were initially described by a renowned humanist during the self-actualization movement, Karen Horney (1950). According to the psychoanalyst, codependents tend to be people who have been alienated from their actual selves as a result of poor parenting.

However, recent studies have shown that the dysfunctional codependent behavior shown by alcoholics continues even after the individual becomes sober. The symptoms have also been shown to exist among adults who were raised by depressed parents or caregivers struggling with mental illnesses. Codependency is also common among those who have been raised in dysfunctional family settings.

Defining Codependency

Various definitions have been presented to help with a good understanding of codependency. However, there has been a lack of consensus in the precise definition of the concept, hampering both testing strategies and its incorporation in the DSM manual for mental health diagnosis.

There are definitions of the concept of codependency that focus on childhood experiences while others prioritize interpersonal behavior and individuals. Originally, the concept was used in reference to people in a relationship with or living with addicted persons. However, a recent understanding of the condition implies a specific relationship addition typified by extreme dependence and preoccupation – emotional, psychological, social, and even physical – on another person.

Of course, codependency is still used to refer to families dealing with substance abuse problems, but it can still refer to other scenarios. The main outcome is that codependents tend to spend most of their time caring for others, and dealing with stress, forgetting to take care of their own social, physical, and emotional needs. That can lead to a distorted identity and relationship development.

Please understand that there is a difference between dependent personality disorder and codependency, although the two conditions can overlap. That may be the reason why some professionals have been hesitant to embrace codependency as a distinct disorder. However, while the symptoms of DPD can sometimes overlap with codependency, there are those who can be codependent without showing symptoms of dependent personality disorder. Unlike persons with PDP who rely on others in a general sense, codependents are reliant on specific people to deal with stress and other needs.

In essence, therefore, codependency relationship behavior implies a psychological condition where a patient feels excessive levels of dependence on certain individuals in their lives. Those they rely on feel a high degree of responsibility for the actions and feelings of those who depend on them. Although the condition is common, it is not yet recognized as a precise personality disorder by any current version of the DSM.

Wegscheider-Cruse (1990) defines the condition as a brain disorder that pushes individuals to seek relief from soothing chemicals from their brains. These are secreted due to the use of alcohol and other substances. It can lead to an addiction to gambling, substances, work, sex, food, and relationship. In the process of seeking relief for anxiety, people end up getting into self-frustrating behaviors to maintain the rush.

What Do Experts Say?

Scholars have described codependents as having a lost sense of self, with John Bradshaw (2010) defining the condition as experiencing a loss of a person’s inner feeling of reality and obsession with the outer world. Please note that this behavior does not require a person to be in a relationship to exist. Codependents can end up overly reliant on others, even when they have the capacity to thrive on their own. The level at which one relies on others can vary along a spectrum and can be compulsive.

One notable problem with codependency behavior is that it can complicate a person’s ability to form a meaningful and healthy relationship. The connections and behavior are often one-sided and can be abusive or emotionally manipulative. The individual struggling with codependency will often lack the ability to self-soothe when faced with anxiety, and tends to rely on a spouse to meet their personal emotional desires. The result is a tendency to hold irrational fears regarding being alone or rejection. Even when codependents seem strong and selfless, the relationships tend to be mostly unhealthy and dysfunctional.

Signs And Symptoms Of Codependency

In general, people with codependency behavior tend to have low self-esteem, relying on significant others to make them feel good. The condition may cause compulsive and self-defeating tendencies. While their intention may be noble, codependents may struggle down a path of destructive habits.

Notable characteristics include:

  • A tendency to extremely seek approval;
  • Compelling desire to control things;
  • An inclination to confuse between pity and love;
  • An extravagant feeling of being responsible for others;
  • Problems with making independent decisions;
  • Trouble when creating boundaries;
  • Intimacy issues;
  • Dysfunctional communication.

Therapy Options For Codependency

Although there is no established diagnostic criterion in the DSM manual for codependency, the disorder can have serious problems if left untreated. Persons struggling with this disorder also tend to struggle with other mental health challenges. These include suicidal ideation, depression, and anxiety. The good news is that the condition can be treated. The rates of treatment success are very high, particularly when therapists use a combination of therapy methods.

A competent therapist may recommend the prescription of medication if you have anxiety and other underlying mental health problems that may cause codependency. Also, cognitive-behavioral therapy can be ideal. Therapists can also recommend treatment modules that target trauma in cases where codependency is found to be linked to abandonment or abuse. Since the condition tends to exist with addictions, it is suggested that individuals seek holistic treatment from competent professionals. Where the codependents are in a relationship, treatment should focus on each partner.

How Does One Find Reliable Help?

Denial and the shame associated with mental health issues keep people away from seeking therapy when they struggle with codependency behavior. It may take a third party to identify the patterns highlighted here. However, you should understand that the disease is treatable. Therapy and twelve-step programs are recommended, as well as making lifestyle changes needed for recovery without shame. It is also important to have a good social support system or consider group therapy. You could search online databases to find competent therapists that specialize in codependency therapy.