Codependency: An introduction

Codependency seems to be the theme with the clients I see recently. Being codependent means you have the tendency to behave in an overly passive or caretaking way which puts your needs last and the other person’s first.  This is the opposite of selfish. It’s being completely unselfish. In a harsh, competitive world filled of self-absorbed people, this would actually be great if it wasn’t so draining and didn’t leave one feeling powerless, neglected, unimportant, resentful and unhappy. Because being codependent means you are neglecting yourself in the process of caring for others. The concept generated from alcoholism in the family system theories but it does apply to other dysfunctional families.

When we are in our mother’s womb we are connected. This is for our survival. Birth is the most traumatic, forced separation we will ever experience. So traumatic in fact we continue to search for the bond with our parents (particularly our mothers) as infants. Parents often look at their children as an extension of themselves. It turns out children also tend to look at themselves as an extension of their parents, particularly when the parents either reject them or rely too much on them. When parents are overprotective or neglectful, something radical happens to our ability to individuate and separate from our parents. We grow up to be adults who don’t have a strong sense of self and easily attach to others in a way that defines us and gives us a sense of purpose. Perpetuating the proverbial umbilical cord. Is it any wonder that as partners and as parents we become our mothers and fathers?

I have found that much of human suffering revolves around our relationships with others and the balance between independence and interdependence (or lack there of).

Here’s some characteristics of codependent people:

  1. Difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
  2. Difficulty making decisions
  3. Judge everything they think, say or do harshly, as never “good enough.”
  4. Do not ask others to meet their needs or desires.
  5. Look to others to provide my sense of safety
  6. Suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
  7. Compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
  8. Very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same
  9. Extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  10. Accept sex and/or sexual attention when they want love.
  11. Believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness

Somewhere along the line, growing up, we learned we are not good enough to deserve self-care, self-respect and self-love. We don’t learn this the same way we learn to tie our shoes. It’s a subtle and often unintentional message. Did your parents really put you first? I mean, yes, they loved you. They provided for you. They gave you life but do you owe them for it? We’re so loyal to our parents. And we can’t bare the thought that they may have inadvertently created our problems now. Because we tend to internalize everything, we tend to think all that is happened is ultimately our fault.  If this is you,  most likely you’re a wonderful person who simply needs to learn how to truly and  fully love oneself just like you love everybody else.

To start here’s a great book if you’d like to read more “Boundaries and relationships: knowing, protecting, and enjoying the self” By Charles L. Whitfield. Take the “Check my boundaries” test.


3 Comments on “Codependency: An introduction”

  1. Jeff Silvey says:

    Nice post, good thoughts.

    What about a Messiah complex? Like when someone feels that they have to save everyone else. Is that a form of co-dependency?

  2. Thank you!
    A Messiah complex? Very interesting. Yes, I would agree. Similar to “the victim, the self-sacrificing”. A codependent person, is not only out to save people, he/she absorbs everyone’s “sins” in the process, which makes them carry around unnecessary guilt and be vulnerable to other people abusing or taking advantage of them.

  3. l0ve0utl0ud says:

    This is a very interesting post and it is something that touches many people I know. It has opened my eyes to a lot of things. Thank you very much for sharing.

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