What is Codependency?
Codependency is a condition that has been studied for nearly forty years. Originally, it was deemed to mean the spouse or significant other of alcoholics or those with other substance abuse issues. These persons were often called co-alcoholics, as their behavior was that of an enabler to the addict’s original condition of alcoholism. Researchers ultimately revealed that the behavior was much more prevalent in modern society than they had initially realized, which led to a sort of revelation as to just how many people struggle with codependency as well as what the symptoms and signs were.
The condition has now come to be defined as one party who treats a relationship whether romantic or platonic as if it is more important than themselves. A codependent person often puts the relationships, or their relationship partner’s needs before their own, which leads to a sort of “addiction” to their partner. This behavior is a way to appease their own anxiety by keeping those around them happy, even when they are unhappy themselves.
Characteristics of Codependent People
- Extreme need for approval
- Overwhelming guilt for small mistakes
- The tendency to only enter romantic relationships with people that they can rescue, or save
- Exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of friends and loved ones
- A tendency to stay in unhealthy relationships for fear of being alone
- Inability to assert themselves or express their own feelings
- Unnatural fear of abandonment
- Lack of trust in others or their self
- Poor communication skills
- Difficulty making decisions without outside input
Examples include spouses who stay in abusive relationships because the believe they are the cause of the problem, those that never seem happy without a spouse or romantic partner to please, and parents who “live” through the lives of their children and only experience happiness through them. While these examples certainly fit the definition of codependency, the actual condition can present itself in a myriad of ways and no two cases are exactly alike.
Codependency is a learned behavior, and it is often passed down from generation to generation in families that feature a codependent parent. In fact, researchers now believe that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family, or had an ill parent during your development years, chances are you have some tendencies of a codependent. While having codependent tendencies is quite normal, those with extreme codependent behavior often find themselves struggling throughout their adult life to find happiness that’s not tied to another person (often in intimate relationships).
Researchers have also recently found that codependency is something that typically gets worse if left untreated, and can lead to elevated levels of stress and anxiety as well as higher instances of depression. The good news is that codependency is treatable, and often completely reversible with the right therapist and a willing patient.
What Methods are Used in Codependency Therapy?
Psychotherapy, medication, and/or alternative therapies have all shown to be successful in combating codependent tendencies or extreme codependency. Commonly, therapists rely on combination therapy in order to treat codependency. Some rely on a mixture of prescription medication to treat any underlying mental health issues (if present) as well as to relieve stress and anxiety that codependents feel when not pleasing their partner. In addition, behavioral modification therapy as well as group or individual therapy sessions are quite common in the treatment of codependency.
The therapy used to treat your codependency will probably vary from most others, as only you and your therapist will know what therapy or combination of therapy methods are right for you.
Why Hire a Therapist?
Codependency has been proven to get worse if left untreated. In addition, it often leads to severe anxiety, depression, or even suicidal thoughts or tendencies.
Since most codependents aren’t consciously aware of their people pleasing tendencies, it often takes a third party to recognize patters in their behavior as well as to offer alternatives that could lead to healthier relationships and interactions with their spouse, loved ones, friends, or co-workers. Codependency is a treatable condition that often has very high success rates when the codependent party seeks therapy.
What to Look for in a Therapist.
Codependency isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. The therapy for this type of behavior can be quite different depending on where you go or who you speak with. Finding a therapist that you can trust to deliver the desired outcome – which is independence – can only be achieved through talking independent consultations, reviews, and referrals from other therapists. Take your time to find a therapist that you are comfortable with, and don’t hesitate to have a brief consultation with several in order to find the one that you think is best for your individual needs.