Codependency – what is it?

Much has been written on the subject of Codependency and a definition is always called for. Here are some of the abbreviated definitions as to what constitutes Codependency:

  • It is a dependence on people and things outside the self, along with neglect of the self to the point of having little self-identity.
  • A need to control in the face of serious consequences; neglecting one’s needs; boundary distortions around intimacy and separation; enmeshment in relationships.
  • Self-defeating behaviours that result in a diminished capacity to initiate or participate in relationships.
  • A person who has let someone else’s behaviour affect him or her and is preoccupied with controlling other people’s behaviour.
  • Individuals who organise their lives, decision-making, perceptions, beliefs and values around someone else.
  • An unconscious ‘agreement’ between people to stay locked in unhealthy patterns; an unconscious conspiracy between 2 or more people to feel bad and limit each other’s potential. Inequality is a hallmark.
  • The shadow side of our loving nature; a ‘dis-ease’ of unequal relationships being acted out and the giving of one’s power away.

How do I recognise Codependency in myself or others? Below are some characteristics of Co-dependence:

  • My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you and receiving approval from you and your approval.
  • Your struggles affect my serenity. I focus my mental attention on solving your problems or relieving your pain.
  • I focus my mental attention on pleasing you, protecting you or manipulating you to “do it my way”.
  • I may disguise my feelings and manipulate you to do the same.
  • I bolster my self-esteem by solving your problems and relieving your pain.
  • I put aside my own hobbies and interests. I spend my time sharing your interests and hobbies.
  • Because I feel you are a reflection of me, my desires dictate your clothing and appearance.
  • My desires dictate your behaviour
  • I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel.
  • I am not aware of what I want. I ask you what you want.
  • If I am not aware of something, I assume. (I don’t ask or verify it in some other way).
  • When something needs to be done and no one is willing to do it, I automatically assume responsibility, saying ‘someone has to do it’.
  • The dreams I have for my future are linked to you.
  • My fear of your anger and rejection determines what I say or do.
  • In our relationship I use giving as a way of feeling safe.
  • In a relationship I tell everything right away, seek intimacy at the first meeting and fall in love before I have any real information about who you are and what you can contribute to my life.
  • As I involve myself with you, my social circle diminishes.
  • To connect with you, I put my values aside.
  • I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own.
  • The quality of my life depends on the quality of yours.

Source: modified from Co-Dependents Anonymous

How do I disentangle myself from Codependency?

Codependency always involves an ‘other’ and implicit in the condition is the loss of Self. The healing process that leads to personal development and self-fulfilment is often referred to as ‘recovery’. By definition Recovery means to “find or regain possession of something lost or stolen; to reclaim”. It therefore involves a process of exploring ‘who am I?’ Usually if one is caught in a co-dependent relationship over a period of time, the definition of the self is determined by someone else. It takes motivation and courage to embark on a path of self-discovery but the process can lead one to autonomy and a true sense of self.

Below is an abbreviated summary of a recovery plan as outlined by author Charles Whitfield:

Self-Awareness – Discover, develop and accept my individual identity as separate from my partner, parental or authority figures, children or institutions

Self- Acceptance – Practice getting my needs met on my own and with safe people in healthy relationships. Acknowledge my feelings, upsets, conflicts and learn to handle them in a healthy way.

Self-Responsibility – Identify, re-experience and grieve the pain of my ungrieved losses, hurts or mistreatments alone and with safe others. Seek help and develop an ongoing support system.

Self-Reflection – There is no hurry for me to accomplish these goals right away. It can take time.

You can accomplish these goals through telling your story to safe people; through counselling, meditation, learning to take risks, keeping a journal and other experiential techniques.