Codependency can occur in all types of relationships including family members, friends, and partners. The tricky thing about codependency is that it’s sneaky as hell, because in my experience as a psychotherapist, it can present in so many different ways.
I’ve been fully obsessed with codependency for a long time, partly because it is something that caused so much pain in my young life personally and continues to require my attention, but also because so many of my clients over the past 23 years have had such difficulty identifying their particular pain points as codependency.
That’s why in this episode I’m covering seven ways you can recognize a codependent relationship, so you can start to get more clarity.
What I know is this: codependency is one of the biggest blocks to seeking and maintaining real love and healthy relationships. It can limit your potential for authentic connection, make it difficult to set healthy boundaries, and, at the end of the day, leave you feeling exhausted and alone.
Codependency is a dysfunctional behavioral pattern in which you are overly invested in with a desire to control the feeling states, decisions, and outcomes of other people to the detriment of your own life or self-care.
When you are truly codependent, what’s going on for others is more important than what’s going on for you. If you’re entrenched in a codependent relationship, your focus on the other person might feel like you’re just being loving. You might think constantly self-sacrificing is caring and that’s what it means to be a “good” person. It can feel like you’re just trying to spare the people you love from making mistakes, from feeling pain, or from facing conflict or hardship.
The hard truth is at the root of codependency is an attempt to control another’s behavior. There’s a reason Melody Beattie has sold over 8 million copies of her 1987 self-help classic, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. She defines a codependent as “one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior”.
It’s not exclusive to romantic relationships. Codependent behaviors and patterns can happen in friendships, with siblings, and in parent/child relationships — even with coworkers. In my therapy practice, especially with women, I’ve found that many of my clients could have a healthy, thriving relationship with their partner…but have a serious clusterf***k of a codependent relationship with a friend or with a parent.
The key to recovery from codependency is knowing ourselves. What’s required is for us to take an honest look at our behavior patterns.
As you go through the signs and red flags that you might be in a codependent relationship, please do so with compassion for yourself. Codependency is a learned survival strategy that often begins in childhood. While these behaviors might have served you to stay safe as a child, in adulthood, it can become maladaptive. So be kind to yourself and know that you absolutely have the power to change.
The following are 7 common signs of codependent relationships:
- You always find the broken-winged bird.
You’re overly driven to help others. They’ve got a problem, you know how to solve it. You have a compulsion to fix. You might have experience with addicts, domestic abuse or narcissists, or someone who is immature or incredibly irresponsible so you’re the one who’s always stepping up to take care of things. Is there someone you’re close to whose life is a dumpster fire that you’re endlessly trying to put out?
- You feel other people’s feelings as if they were your own.
Let’s say you’re feeling great and you get on the phone with your bestie or your partner comes home and they’ve had a rotten day. Suddenly, your good mood is out the window and you feel like it’s your responsibility to fix their bad mood.
This is different than a healthy level of concern, caring, or empathy for others.
If the feeling states of others have a profound impact on your own emotional state and it often starts to feel like whatever is happening to them is happening to you, this kind of enmeshment points to codependency.
- Communication challenges.
Feeling misunderstood all the time or like something’s wrong with your brain. You might have your words used against you or taken out of context. It’s common in a codependent dynamic to feel the need to keep opinions to yourself and or it will come back to haunt you. Feeling criticized, defensive and like you’re walking around on eggshells all the time no matter what you’re trying to communicate.
- Needing approval.
Constantly looking for and needing validation from the other person or other people in your life. When you’re codependent, everything is personal and everything about the other person being unhappy or tense feels like it’s about you. You can’t stand when someone is upset with you and feel like you need to fix everything.
- Self-sacrificing (enabling).
This looks like helping others at the expense of your own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. You might continue to enable dysfunctional behavior like covering for an addict or battling someone out of situations that have gotten themselves into that they should be responsible for (not you). Not allowing others to suffer the natural consequences of their own actions.
Overfunctioning and overgiving. Doing things for others that they can and should do for themselves. It can present in a really one-sided way: there’s usually one person identified as the helper and one person identified as the receiver in a codependent relationship dynamic. You’re always adding value and making yourself indispensable which can be a way to ensure love.
- You can’t live without them (so you can’t leave).
You feel like you couldn’t live without this person in a very primal way. You need them deeply, even if you know the relationship is dysfunctional or toxic. Because so many of the underlying behavioral patterns of codependency start in childhood, that “life or death” intense way that children bond with their caregivers or impactors can still be playing out unconsciously in our adult relationships.
When you raise your awareness of these tendencies and begin to work through these issues and do the work, it will uplevel ALL of the relationships in your life. Codependent relationships, no matter how much love is there, could be better if they weren’t codependent.
If you liked this episode, please share it with the people in your life! And if you’re ready to go deeper and really get on the road to recovery from codependency, I co-created a course with Mark Groves (@createthelove) to help you do just that.
Crushing Codependency is a virtual educational experience based on my five pillars of transformation that will guide you through the work you need to do to change your ingrained behavioral patterns and finally break the codependency cycle! Here’s where you can get all the details and enroll.
I hope you are having an amazing week and as always take care of you.