We often hear the word ‘codependency’ in relation to intimate partners or family members, of alcoholics or addicts, but actually, codependency can occur in a variety of different situations. In general, the condition occurs when someone allows themselves to be manipulated and controlled by another person. You could be co-dependent if:
you allow yourself (often at an unconscious level) to be manipulated and controlled by another person;
you care for that person, to your own detriment;
you constantly sacrifice your own needs;
you lose your sense of self, identity and individuality.
You can think of codependency is an extreme form of self-sacrifice. It happens when a person takes caring for someone else to an extreme, looking after their needs at the sacrifice of their own. This behavior leads to an erosion of the self and leaves an individual open to manipulation and controlling behavior. In a sense, a person gives over their own will to another and their own desires become subservient to the other person’s needs. Because of this subservience, a codependent person will consistently accept poor behavior from someone, often because of the level of manipulation they are experiencing.
An Example of Codependency in action:
Cathy’s husband often behaves in an abusive manner and, over many years, he has literally (and figuratively) beaten her into submission. He has also used psychological abuse and bullying tactics to undermine her. Others that know her feel confused about why she doesn’t leave him. Why would she stay and experience such abuse? In her mind, she has devoted her whole adult life to him. Who would she be without him? She has invested so much of herself in him that she feels it would be impossible to live without him, in spite of how he treats her. After all, she loves him, she needs him and he is everything to her.
The feelings that Cathy is displaying are often seen in people who succumb to codependency, because they have a deep sense of unworthiness. They need love and affection and because of their own low self-esteem they will often do anything to get this sense of love and belonging. They do not value themselves or their gifts and so are willing to sacrifice themselves for another and accept the most atrocious behavior from the one they love.
At the Heart of Codependency You Will Find Denial
Denial is one of the most important defense mechanisms at work in codependency. A person with codependency has shielded themselves from the true reality of their position. They have been constantly manoeuvred, manipulated and undermined so that they do not believe they can manage alone. Because of this, their self-esteem is at rock bottom and it is as if they no longer truly act under their own will. Cathy has lost her individual identity and has become enveloped into her partner. Like a satellite to his planet, she exists solely for him, to her own detriment. Others around her see this, but she is blind to it. To hide from the horror of her situation, her mind has denied it is happening.
Identifying and Working through Codependency
Codependency doesn’t happen overnight. It happens gradually and increases in depth and momentum as time passes. If you see yourself as someone who always puts others first and constantly sacrifices your own happiness for others, then it is worth considering whether or not your relationships have aspects of codependency. To break out of the cycle of codependency, here are a few vital steps:
Look at how you behave in relationships. Are you consistently putting others ahead of yourself?. If you are, start to change this dynamic. Begin to put yourself first on occasions, taking small steps to simply be more assertive with your own needs.
Look for a support group: If you fall into a particular category (suffering abuse or being involved with an addict) open up to others about your fears and problems. This can help you to feel less alone and process your relationships through a new perspective.
Find a therapist: Whatever your level of codependency, it is likely that you will benefit from therapeutic support. This can help you begin the process to see yourself as an individual: You are not just a partner, son/daughter, mother/father. Begin to form your own dreams, goals, values and ambitions and make these independent of anyone else.
Breaking free from codependency is a challenging journey. It takes time and effort to begin to see yourself as an individual rather than someone who only serves others. But with time, and the right support, you can begin to break out of this damaging behavior. You can begin to build your self-esteem and feelings of worthiness and begin to flourish. Most important of all, you can begin to finally believe that you deserve to have your own life and that you are worthy of your own individual place in this world.
If you, or someone you know, would like help with processing potential co-dependency and ways to break free of it, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / firstname.lastname@example.org and schedule an appointment today.