Codependency can be misunderstood because of the fact that there are a lot of symptoms presented with codependent behaviors as it is not a one size fit all type of situation. You will see a lot of different versions of the definition, but it primarily is defined by a relationship that has an unhealthy balance. These types of relationships can be very emotionally destructive and toxic. Codependent behavior is a learned behavior that can even be passed down from one generation to another. Some research suggests it develops in your childhood due to lack of validation, love, understanding, etc. Think back to when you were a child, how important was it to feel accepted by those around you? How safe did you feel when you could express yourself? When a child’s emotions are ignored it can cause them to feel neglected which in the end can result in low self-esteem which can carry over into adulthood.
Codependency can be demonstrated in a wide variety of individuals however more in particular with individuals who are struggling with addiction, individuals who have had difficult and traumatic childhoods, and individuals who have been abandoned at some point in their lives. doesn’t mean if you don’t fall in those categories you are not codependent.
One thing that is common for most individuals who have these codependency traits is that there is an impact on their relationships, boundaries, self-care and especially how you feel about yourself. So, what does it actually mean to be codependent? Here are a few characteristics to be aware of;
Low Self Esteem
Have you ever felt not good enough? Or not worthy? Comparing yourself to others and feeling like you can’t do anything right or good enough for others in your life is a sign of low self-esteem. Low self-esteem contributes to codependency because of the need to have their acceptance and love to help fill a void that you are missing at the moment. Low self-esteem can create this dependence on others which can force you to look for someone outside of yourself for happiness, approval, affirmation, and love. Have you noticed yourself jumping into relationships easily without taking time to really learn more about the person and whether the relationship is healthy and beneficial for you? Due to this you may find it hard to leave an unhealthy relationship because you talk yourself out of it or feel that you may not find someone else if you did.
Codependency can create stress and painful emotions. Some of these emotions in particular can include shame and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned by those in your life. Because these feelings and fears can be so strong, they can lead to depression, anger and resentment. It debilitates you in a way to the point where you are numb to these feelings and needs that you once had and tend to push yourself to be more pleasing of others needs despite your own feelings. This is a factor that can contribute to the dependency of others and the need to have a relationship despite whether or not it is a healthy relationship or unhealthy relationship.
Limited or No Boundaries
Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It is a clear understanding of what is yours and what is the other individuals. It includes not only the physical objects (material things in your life) but also your feelings, thoughts and needs. Having Codependency traits tends to also include having limited or no boundaries. You feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else. Poor boundaries can also cause you to spread yourself too thin. How often do you say “Yes” even when you want to say, “No”? Having the ability to really identify what you want, or need can be extremely difficult for you because of this.
Poor Communication Skills
Do you find yourself having difficulty with communicating your thoughts, feelings and needs? Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem, right? It’s easy for you to stuff down those feelings even if you were aware of what you needed or how you felt in the moment because it goes back to the fear of rejection. The need to please others and not upset them prevents you from speaking your mind and owning your feelings.
As mentioned before, the fear of abandonment, judgment, and rejection can be debilitating. It can create a lot of worry and anxiety for any individual. Anxiety can interfere with daily activities and can become difficult to control. This can lead to self-medicating behaviors which contributes to substance use and unhealthy eating patterns if not managed in a healthy manner.
I think I may be Codependent but I am not sure?
Although the above characteristics can identify a codependent personality or relationship, it’s important to understand that it isn’t always black and white. There is more to you then a few characteristics identified here. There are a lot of tools and resources that you can look into to help you identify if you are indeed identifying some codependent characteristics/behaviors. For example, you can take a test that is specifically designed to help you identify whether or not you are demonstrating signs and symptoms of codependency. This includes the Friel Co-Dependency Assessment Inventory from Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio (1985).This test consists of 60 true-or-false questions. A score below 20 is little need for concern, a score between 21-30 should be a moderate need for concern, a score between 31-45 is moderate towards a severe need for concern, and a score over 46 indicating a severe need for concern. Most clinicians have access to this test however you can also research online to find an online version of the test.
Working through Co Dependency
Redirect your desire to help others by taking care of yourself. Sit down and create your own needs list. This can be uncomfortable because you’re not used to it. With practice you’ll start to realize how much better it feels to identify and follow through with your needs. Self-care is so important! Challenge yourself to create your own bucket list, or start a new hobby/activity, or just relax! It’s you time and that’s important for your mental health and your ability to focus on your needs!!
It’s okay to say what you mean. That doesn’t mean others will always agree or like it. If friends and family are used to you being the caregiver, they’ll need time to adjust. Give it time, take it day by day that is the best option for you right now. Journal or meditate in the beginning to help you identify those feelings and concerns that you have been holding in. Give yourself time to not only identify the feelings but build up the strength to verbalize them. Saying no may be a big challenge for you (let’s be honest it’s going to be a very big challenge for you)- accept the challenge and begin to set boundaries. Baby steps here are really important. Don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself that you won’t be able to attain but allow yourself to say no at times. This will help build those strong boundaries.
Seek out therapy services. If you have used substances to help self-medicate the anxiety or the fear that comes along with codependency, then ask for help its ok! 12 step meetings, counseling services, just the ability to talk with others is so helpful when it comes to learning how to live a sober lifestyle. Trust in yourself and allow others to help you for a change!