Relationships are hard. Talk about the understatement of the century, right? We all have an almost infinite number of layers to us, from thoughts and emotions to our physical needs and day-to-day lives. Humans are just massive, complex collections of contradictions, or it can feel that way, at least. The one thing we all have in common, ironically, is how different we are.
Recovery is a difficult path that needs to be figured out and completed with help sometimes, which is where more relationship difficulties can come in. They don’t always have to be romantic relationships, either, but that is usually the type of relationship where codependency becomes an issue.
So what is codependency?
There are some different definitions, but the most common one for codependency is: a harmful, one-sided relationship where one person is supplying all the physical and emotional needs of the other; and/or one person enabling the other to continue on with their troubling behavior, such as addiction and maybe even avoidance of daily life.
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It’s not exactly a short and snappy description, is it? One of the reasons codependency is hard to talk about is it can be hard to understand as a negative relationship model, and also hard to tell when certain natural feelings have become hurtful. It requires both people involved recognizing there is a situation that needs to change.
This means it can be hard to spot codependency and also hard to admit it’s going on. Why? Well, the biggest reason is that a codependent relationship means each person is enabling the other in some way, through what Psychology Today calls a “dysfunctional agreement.” In other words, by not confronting reality, like a drinking or drug problem one person is struggling with and the other person is ignoring or actively enabling, a new reality forms: a false reality built on the lie that everything is fine.
That means both people are ignoring both problems, the first being the drug or alcohol use, the second being that no one is doing anything to stop it.
Are There Ways to Recognize Codependency?
Even though codependency is not necessarily an easy thing to recognize, there are still signs and symptoms to watch for.
- Struggling with low self-esteem. Like so many aspects of our personalities, there’s a good and healthy balance of being humble and being confident. Low self-esteem can indicate your self-image isn’t balanced, and thinking you are not good enough or not worth being happy is a sign something needs changed.
- Going out of your way to always please others. Of course it’s not abnormal to want to please others, especially a romantic partner. That’s just a natural aspect of the typical human mind. Feeling as if you can’t say no, or working to please everyone at the expense of your own health, comfort, or even safety may mean you’re going too far with pleasing others.
- Poorly defining where you end and others begin. We all have internal and external lives and we all, to some extent, share both of these with others. There’s a healthy balance, and when one aspect outweighs another it can become a problem. Imagining you are responsible for every emotion someone else feels, or vice versa, means the boundaries for emotions aren’t defined enough. Similarly, if you share nothing and are closed off, the possibility exists for being codependent through using the other person as your emotional representation. Sort of like saying “I’m happy, see,” then pointing at someone else smiling.
- Neglecting your own needs in favor of others. Related to the idea of always trying to please others. This is sometimes called “caretaking,” and happens when someone only focuses on the well-being of someone else at the expense of their own needs. This can also be when someone feels their entire existence and value is tied up in whether they can help someone, and even lead to feeling rejected if advice/help isn’t taken. When it comes to codependency related to alcohol or drug use, this may be when someone continually goes out of their way to help with a hangover or the day after heavy drug use, but never addresses the reason or reasons for the outcome.
- Not admitting there’s a problem. You’ve most likely heard it called denial, which is a big hurdle in recovery. Admitting a problem exists can carry with it some uncomfortable thoughts, mostly that you have failed or are failing. It’s really hard to get past that sometimes. Recognizing a problem exists is the opposite of failing. It means you are one step closer to solving the problem, which is a big success. Another reason why this can lead to big problems is because it can enable the other half of a codependent relationship to continue struggling with alcohol or drug use, which is also called enabling.
Most of these can show up in multiple ways and sometimes range from minor to severe. Consulting a professional is a great first step if you think you may be in a codependent relationship.
What can you do to ensure you aren’t feeding into a codependent relationship?
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I Will Empower Instead of Enabling
There are ways you can help if you are already playing an active part of someone’s recovery. These are also things you can do to avoid becoming codependent and to try and re-define the situation in the hope of helping your partner see that help is needed.
First up, make sure you create clear and definite boundaries. When it comes to drug and alcohol use and specifically when you see or sense someone is suffering with addiction, it can be hard to stick to a decision to, say, not help them deal with a hangover or the aftermath of a binge. Going back on a boundary could demonstrate you’re not yet willing to do accept there is a problem, and this can also potentially mean further enabling the person struggling with drugs or alcohol.
It’s sometimes called “tough love,” and just like codependent relationships in general, it’s hard to define sometimes, as well as hard to know if it’s hurting or helping. A good question is whether or not tough love is too tough, and ends up being another form of codependency, like shutting off all emotional response to a situation.
One of the biggest ways to empower someone to start recovery, and also those already in recovery, is to actively admit there is a problem and accept it as reality. You can’t decide to help if you won’t acknowledge help is needed. When you and your partner both agree that the situation has to change, that’s when real change can take place.
Don’t view the other person as “broken” or that a situation is in need of being “fixed.” It might not seem like a big deal, but the words we use and hear really can affect us, and when someone says “fix” it’s almost impossible not to think of “broken.” People who struggle with alcohol, drugs, and/or mental health are not “broken.” They’re whole just like the rest of us, just like you. It’s not about “fixing,” it’s about helping.
Inner Strength Benefits You, Me, and Us
Empowerment can come from within you as well as from outside. Both are helpful! What’s empowerment mean? The World Health Organization defines it as someone gaining “greater control over decisions and actions affecting their health.”
By acknowledging a situation, reacting and addressing it, and then preparing for the future by being proactive, you will be empowering yourself. You’ll have that greater control over the decisions and actions, and that means the results as well.
Your inner strength is formed from a combination of your own thoughts and emotions as well as those around you. Whether you are working to resolve a codependent relationship before entering treatment or while actively in treatment already, inner strength can help guide you through.
Asking for Help Is Not Failure!
If a codependent relationship is a worry for someone entering treatment, whether from the person themselves or a loved one, that is something we can address here at Vertava Health of Mississippi.
Therapy modes such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) along with individual and group therapy sessions can be utilized to address codependency. We offer all of these here at Vertava Health of Mississippi, including in our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for anyone who needs to visit the facilities in the evening.
Your strength is always present and it’s something we harness and guide here at Vertava Health of Mississippi. Codependency can be hard to spot, as mentioned above, so if you are worried it may be a problem during recovery please don’t hesitate to give us a call. We’re ready to get you taken care of today. (844) 551-7335
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are the signs of a codependent person?
Some signs can include struggling with low self-esteem, feeling as if you cannot say no to helping someone (even at great personal expense), denying you have a problem with codependency, poorly defined or nonexistent boundaries for where your life begins and ends in relation to others. A lot of these signs and symptoms take place naturally in everyday relationships, so it can be difficult to spot, occasionally.
What is a codependent behavior?
Codependent behavior is when a relationship is harmful and one-sided, where one person is supplying all the physical and emotional needs of the other; and/or one person enabling the other to continue on with their troubling behavior, such as addiction and maybe even avoidance of daily life.
What causes codependency?
There’s no easy cause to point to for codependency, but doctors point out it can develop due to mental health struggles or substance use struggles already being present, but it can also develop because of these things. One of the biggest factors highlighted for codependency developing when a substance use struggle is present is neither member of the relationship admitting there is a problem. Denial allows the problem to exist, which can lead to enabling behaviors and thus further the codependent relationship.
What is an example of codependency?
A spouse driving their partner to a liquor store to buy alcohol because they’ve lost their license from receiving a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge. This showcases the enabling of the destructive behavior, the denial there is a problem, and creates a “false truth” for the situation: that there is nothing wrong. Another example could be a spouse telling their partner that they should just cheer up, everything is fine despite their feeling that things are wrong. The idea of supplying their partner’s happiness falls into the category of codependency because if the person feels something is wrong, or does not feel like they should, there is potentially a problem that needs addressed.