The term codependence is applied to unhealthy relationship with self and others. Although originally used to describe the destructive relationship someone might have with an alcoholic in the family, the codependence definition has broadened as research has found that anyone raised in a dysfunctional or addicted families is likely to develop codependence.
Roots of Co-dependence Individuals, who have been loved, nurtured and cared for during their childhood developmental years develop a healthy sense of identity and self esteem. They have a good measure of autonomy and tend to live life without being needy or dependendant on others for their well-being. They are able to cater to their needs and wants, and they take care of themselves in a healthy manner, while also enjoying relationships that are equal and mutually supportive. Because of the love installed them as children, they are able to take care of themselves and cope in a healthy manner with life’s problems. They have a balance perspective of life and do not find the need to control others in order to feel safe and secure. Codependents on the other hand tend to come from addicted, abusive or dysfunctional families where love and proper nurture were lacking. As a result, they tend not to develop an authentic identity and self worth. They are significantly impaired in their ability to function as emotionally healthy individuals with an equal sense of themselves amongst others in the world. This has the probability to lead to the development of codependency disorder, which creates problems in many areas of their lives, including impairment in their relationship with themselves and others.
Suffering from low self-esteem and lacking a sense of identity and self worth, codependents depend on others to get a sense of their self worth and identity. Just as drug addicts take drugs to cope with life and feel good, codependents use their dependence on relationships in order to feel safe and secure in the world. A codependent person will go to any lengths to control their relationships. They use all sorts of mechanisms such as people pleasing, caretaking, rescuing or helping so as to manipulate others into how they want them to act, behave or feel. Their controlling behaviors stems from the belief that other people have the power and the responsibility to look after and make them feel good about themselves. This kind of faulty belief is the same type of distorted thinking that underlines any type of addiction, namely a substance, activity or person has the power to do for the person what he or she is incapable of doing by themselves. Just as a drug addict believes he or she is incapable of coping with life and so relies on a substance to escape from or deal with life problems, a codependent uses his or he relationships as the means to feel safe and secure in life. Codependence usually affects a child, a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcoholism or drug addiction. Originally, codependent was used to describe someone living with, or in a relationship with an alcoholic– someone who had fallen into the trap of trying to rescue or save that person from alcoholism. It was also recognized that people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals exhibited similar patterns of codependency. Today, however, the term codependency has broadened to include any person who might be affected as a result of living in an abusive or dysfunctional family. A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is dismissed or denied by the parents. Underlying problems that lead a person to become codependent may include any of the following:
Examples of dysfunctional families are ones in which a member has a serious problem with alcohol or drugs. In order to keep the family afloat, while meanwhile avoiding confronting the addicted family member, other members develop unhealthy or unnatural roles. For example, the child adopts the parenting role, taking care of the needs of his alcoholic mother who is incapable of taking care of herself or her child. Or the wife assumes total responsibility for the home’s finances and taking care of the children to make up for the addicted husband’s refusal or inability to lend support in these areas. Another example where codependency may also develop is when one family member is chronically ill or depressed or has an explosive temper, or when there is physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and neglect in the home. Anything that forces a family member to give up their own emotional health in order to keep peace, satisfy, or attempt to rescue or cover for another family member can lead to the person developing codependency disorder.
Children who have been raised in dysfunctional or addicted families tend to develop certain character traits that lead to codependency. Having been brought up in an environment lacking love and nurture, they are missing the foundations that promote development of self-esteem and an authentic identity. Not having been taught healthy ways to cope with life’s problems, they are more likely to resort to addictions or to develop personality disorders. Because as children they were raised in an unsafe environment, their emotional needs have been seldom met. As a result, they grow up lacking a sense of their own identity and worth as human beings, which results in them feeling less than and adopting a victim role in life. As adults, they believe they have no right or choice over how to conduct their lives. In addition, not having had healthy role models and relationships to emulate, their own relationships are bound to be fraught with abuse and dysfunction. For example, if a child’s emotional needs are not sufficiently satisfied, he may become overly dependent and go through life trying to please others to gain the love he missed as a child. If a parent is overprotective, a child may never learn to stand on his or her own feet emotionally and intellectually. If parents are perfectionistic, the child believes nothing he or she does is ever good enough. And if the parents rely excessively on guilt and shame motivation, the child learns to feel selfish for trying to have his or her needs met. Any of these patterns can leave a child with a lack of a healthy sense of identity and self-esteem, which leads to the development of codependency.
**Note: The below is only one theory on the criteria of codependence.** 1. Absence of relationship with self: An absence of relationship with one’s self. Codependents suffer from low self-esteem and self worth. They know little about their inner life, their needs, wants, and desires. 2. Dependency on others: A dependency on others, or relationships where the unspoken aim is a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. 3. Compulsive helping: A lack of clarity about what they are responsible for, and what is not their business. Codependents try to control others through their compulsive helping in order to feel safe themselves. 4. People pleasing: A pattern of pleasing others at the cost of disregarding their own needs and wants. A codependent person’s addiction to his or her relationships takes many forms. The codependent may come across as very caring, offering to help and or taking responsibility to solve the problems of other people. They may present themselves as martyrs; disclaiming any needs of their own, while acting as if their sole purpose in life is to serve others. They may come across as victims, seemingly helpless and submissive, giving the impression as if they are desperate for others to save and rescue them. Or they may come across as predators and aggressors trying to control and abuse others. But the foundation of all behaviors demonstrated by codependents is the core belief that they are not capable or worthy enough to cope with their life on their own and that they need others in order to justify or fulfill their existence. This type of faulty belief fundamentally stems from them having little sense of their own value and worth as authentic human beings.
Codependents do not see themselves as fully functioning adults with the resources and tools to cope with life. So they look towards their relationships to provide the strength and competence that they believe they lack. A codependent person has lost the connection to his or her core self. They are unsure about their identity and are often unaware of their needs, wants or desires in life. As a result they become dependent on others to provide them with a sense of identity and purpose. In addition to using their relationships as a way to cope with life, codependents may also use other types of addictions — such as to drugs, alcohol, gambling or food — to fill the void they feel inside.
In place of esteem for themselves that is internally rooted, codependents base their self worth on what other people think or feel about them. Their sense of worth and value comes from how good and helpful they are in their relationships or how much others like and praise them. Unlike a normal person who believes they are enough and lovable as they are, a codependent lacks this core belief about him or herself. As a result, they dismiss their humanity and integrity, living their lives at the mercy of getting approval from others. Instead of meeting their own needs, they meet the needs of others. Instead of responding to their own thoughts and feelings, they react to those of others. Whether through helping, manipulating or controlling behaviors, codependents use their relationships as a means to boost their self worth and esteem. Their motivation in forming any relationship is not based on mutual love and support but how that relationship is going to attribute to their sense of identity and well-being.
It needs to be noted that we all need our relationships to live full and satisfying lives. The problem with a codependent is that their goal in a relationship is based on something other than equality and mutual love and support. Unbeknownst to them, most codependents have a hidden agenda in their relationships, which is to validate their worth and identity. In short, they use people to provide the love they should be giving themselves. A codependent is much like a child, a child who is still looking to others to provide them with a feeling of love, safety and security. The attributes instilled during childhood in healthy adults are missing with a codependent, so as grown-ups, they still turn towards others to care and fulfill their needs. Because they were raised in addicted or dysfunctional families and have seldom witnessed healthy interactions between their parents, a codependent tends not to know what a healthy and interdependent relationship looks like. The result is they cannot differentiate between healthy caregiving and codependent enabling, or understand the boundaries between responsibility towards self and responsibility to others. A codependent finds it difficult to emotionally detach from others. Having not been able to develop their full identity as children, they find it difficult to distinguish where they end and another starts. Living as children in adult bodies, codependents look to those with whom they have relationships as parent figures, and therefore as the means to instill their sense of value and worth as human beings. The result is their relationships are always lopsided — unequal and bound to be unhealthy, dysfunctional, or abusive. Communication is another area where codependents have major problems. Not having been able to find stability and safety in the relationship with their parents or primary caregivers in their developmental years, as adults they tend to fear abandonment and rejection and are petrified to trust and communicate honestly with others. They have difficulty saying no without feeling guilty and when they say yes to that which they do not want, they get resentful. Their biggest fear is verbalizing their own needs and wants. They imagine that if they give voice to their needs and wants they will face rejection, ridicule, punishment or abandonment – the very things they experienced often in their childhood years. So instead of the feelings of confidence and entitlement that an adult has to communicate honestly with another, a codependent, lacking these resources, ends up undermining their own integrity and communicates in ways to please or to avoid upsetting others. Because of faulty values instilled in them as children, a codependent may think it is selfish to assert their rights and communicate honestly with others. This is even more so where a person raised in Middle Eastern countries is brought up to believe it is wrong to put one’s own interest first and take care of one’s own needs first. But for a person, living upon such misguided values means relationships based in dishonesty and a lifetime spent in misery and codependency.
-Information adapted from Hamrah.co with permission
If you are in crisis, please call the crisis line at 866-427-4747. If this is a medical emergency call 911 immediately or go to the nearest hospital Emergency Room.