As a codependency therapist, I help my clients understand and overcome the following patterns and characteristics experienced by codependents.
1- Denial Patterns
Codependents have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
They minimize, distort, or deny how they truly feel.
They perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others.
They believe that their fulfillment and happiness is dependent on others.
2- Low Self-Esteem Patterns
Codependents have difficulty making decisions.
Their decisions are based on what suits others.
They judge everything they think, say, or do harshly, and as never good enough.
They rarely request that others meet their needs or satisfy their desires.
They seek other people’s approval for how to think, feel, and behave.
They perceive themselves as unlovable and not worthwhile.
They are embarrassed when receiving recognition or praise or gifts.
3- Compliance Patterns
Codependents compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or other people’s anger.
They are extremely sensitive, often feeling other people’s feelings.
They are loyal to an extreme degree, remaining in harmful situations or abusive relationships.
They value the opinions and feelings of others more than their own, and are often afraid to express opinions and feelings that differ from others.
They put aside their own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.
They accept sex when they want love.
4- Control Patterns
Codependents believe others are incapable of solving their own problems.
They believe it is their responsibility to help and rescue other people.
They attempt to tell others what they “should” think and how they “truly” feel.
They become resentful when others reject their help.
They are in the habit of offering others unsolicited advice and directions.
They lavish gifts and favors on people in order to be liked or loved.
They use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
They have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
Signs & Symptoms Those affected by codependency can exhibit the following signs and symptoms: 1. Difficulty developing or sustaining meaningful relationships. 2. Excessive dependence on things or people outside themselves. 3. Low self-esteem that is often projected onto others. 4. Inability to recognize what “normal” is. 5. Accepting responsibility for others’ feelings or actions. 6. Neglecting their own needs and wants. 7. Constantly trying to please others and seeking approval and affirmation. 8. Judging self and others without mercy. 9. Letting others dominate or abuse them. 10. Belief that others cause or are responsible for the quality of their lives. 11. Reacting in extreme ways. 12. Inability to see alternatives to situations and responding impulsively. 13. Feelings of being different, either worse or better than others. 14. A weak sense of personal identity and loss of touch with one’s real self. 15. Difficulty knowing their own feelings and wishes. 16. Being overly responsible. 17. Difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries. 18. Lack of self-confidence in making decisions, while being unaware they have choices. 19. Feelings of fear, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, hurt, and shame, which are denied. 20. Isolation and fear of people. 21. Resentment of authority figures. 22. Fear of expressing feelings, especially anger. 23. Addicted to drama and excitement. 24. Dependency upon others and fear of abandonment. 25. Avoidance of relationships to guard against abandonment fears. 26. Tendency to look for “victims” to help. 27. Frequently feeling resentful and victimized. 28. Excessive efforts to control or change their environment or the people in it. 29. Rigidity and need to control. 30. Dishonest and manipulative.
-Information adapted from Hamrah.co with permission
1. Am not enough A codependent person often believes they are not enough as they are. That in order to justify there lives and is whole human beings they must spend their lives at the mercy and service towards other. They often believe their existence can only be justifies if they do more, give more, help others, or fix them and their sense of self identity does not root from own sense of self worth but what others may think about them.
2. Not lovable A codependent person believes they are not good enough to be loved. They suffer from extreme low self worth and esteem often believing themselves incapable to be loved. Most probably as children in an environment where there was lack of parental love and care, they believe themselves unworthy to be loved and cared by others and as a result can only give unhealthy love and never able to receive it.
3. Don’t feel A codependent person believes it is not ok for them to feel anything be it happiness, sadness, joy, anger, fear, etc. They have learned from an early age to numb all feelings as most probably have grown up in an environment where it was not safe or acceptable to neither feel nor express their feelings. A codependent person finds it safer and easier to cater towards how others are feeling because this is what they have learned to do as children.
4. Don’t self care A codependent person does not tend to believe it is not right for them to take care of themselves nor is it ok for them to have a life be it filled with joys or its own problems. A codependent has learned to their role is to help and rescue others. That they should not have any needs or wants or if they do other people’s needs and wants should be their priority.
5. Don’t enjoy A codependent person falsely believes it is not all right to enjoy life or to have fun. Having been brought up in a family where have had to be hyper-vigilant all the time, they have learned to be in a state of constant fear and anxiety and find it very difficult to relax and enjoy life. They do not believe life is meant to be good and serene but a burden where they have to be victims and suffer in misery.
6. Am to blame A codependent person often blames themselves for the problems and miseries of their loved ones. Believing they must have done something and their addiction is their fault. As they tend to have very little sense of own identity they cannot recognize nor separate their own life from others. Often enmeshed with their loved ones lives, codependents then spend all their life in pursuit of fixing and solving their problems, hoping if they are happy then that will in turn make them satisfied with life. Codependents tend to hold themselves to blame if their loved one’s act crazy, angry, and mad. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings mistakes and life consequences, which are why they pursue their lives in the futile attempts of trying to control their addicted, loved one to stop their destructive behavior.
Below is a list of distorted thought patterns that attribute to a codependent way of life:
The quality of my life and happiness depends on my relationships
I should focus all my time and attention on protecting and helping others
My value as a human being is dependent on how well I serve and help others
Other people’s needs and wants are more important than mine
My job is to solve, fix and rescue other people from their problems
If other people like me then I am a worthy and valuable human being
If other people don’t like me then I am wrong and at fault
If other people are having problems then I should suffer too
I feel good about myself when I help and rescue other people
The quality of my serenity is dependent by how others behave towards me
I spend my life trying to please others so that I can feel fulfilled
I am not aware of my own feelings, others dictate this to me
I do not have any needs and wants, other’s needs and wants are my priority
I do not have any goals or aspirations, these all depends on others
My fear of rejection determines what I say or do
My fear of other people’s anger determines what I say or do
I act nice to others so that I could feel safe and secure
I value other people’s opinion and way of doing things more than my own
God is a judgmental and punishing entity that does not care or love me
I am alone and should not ask for help
I can’t live without my loved one i.e. child, parent, husband. I will not be able to survive life without them.
I must stay loyal to my loved one’s no matter what he or she puts me through. It is against my core belief if I abandon them when they have a problem.
I have the power to change my loved ones’ behavior. I can stop them from using drugs or can make them stop their addictive behaviors if I love or help them enough.
I am worthless without my loved one’s. My life is defined in their lives and I will lose my sense of life purpose if I put my interests first.
My loved one’s needs and wants in life in more important than mine. My priority in life is to cater towards their needs. I must serve and do well for them and my own needs and wants are not important.
I am stuck with this miserable life and do not have the power, the right nor the choice to change my circumstances.
I fear change and all that might do to my relationships. I would rather continue with this way of life instead of confronting my pain.
It is easier to live this way as opposed to confronting my pain and taking courage to change.
It is my fault that my loved one is addicted or having problems. It is my responsibility to help and fix their problems.
There is something wrong with me and no one should find out what a weak and faulty person I am
-Information adapted from Hamrah.co with permission
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
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