January is National Codependency Month. But what, exactly, is codependency?
Codependency is a term that’s been around for decades, but is often misunderstood. In this article, we’ll explain what codependency is, how to tell if you’re currently in a codependent relationship, and what you can do to heal these patterns.
What is codependency?
Codependency is a concept that was originally used to describe the partner of someone with a substance use disorder (drug or alcohol addiction). Now, the term is used to describe any relationship that is characterized by one partner (the “sick” person) needing support, and the other partner pushing aside their own needs to take care of the other.
The partners are mutually reliant on each other – the “sick” person needs support, and the “caretaking” person needs to be needed.
Codependent relationships are unhealthy and damaging. These relationships have little to no boundaries. One partner depends almost entirely on the other, and the other person revolves their life around caring for their partner. The caretaking partner develops a “need to be needed,” and the two partners develop an unhealthy reliance on each other.
Although we tend to think of romantic or spousal relationships when we think of codependency, the truth is that any relationship can become codependent. For example, friendships, work relationships, and siblings can all be codependent relationships.
An individual person can also develop a pattern of codependency and bring this pattern to every relationship they become involved in until they work on healing this pattern.
According to Mental Health America, some of the traits of codependency include:
- Feeling overly responsible for the emotions and actions of others
- Seeking out people they can “rescue” and confusing pity for love
- Having an extreme need for approval from others
- An inability to assert one’s own needs, and an unhealthy level of guilt when doing so
- Having a hard time saying “no”
- Having an intense fear of abandonment and an unhealthy reliance on their relationships
- Chronic anger, which can be displayed through passive-aggressive behaviors
- Having a hard time identifying and expressing their own feelings and opinions
- Difficulty adjusting to change
- Trouble with healthy communication
When a person is in a codependent relationship, they start to lose sight of themselves. They give up everything in order to take care of their partner (who may be chemically addicted or experience another chronic illness) and they forget how to identify and stand up for their own needs.
Codependent people are not bad people. Codependency is always well-intentioned – you want to take care of your partner. But these patterns can become unhealthy and have lasting negative consequences on your self-image and mental health.
What are the signs of a codependent relationship?
You might be asking yourself, “How can I tell if I’m in a codependent relationship?” Not all toxic or unhappy relationships are codependent. Here are some signs that you are in a codependent relationship.
You feel like you need to “save” or “rescue” them
In healthy relationships, neither partner is focused on saving the other. If you are focused on the need to “rescue” your partner from whatever ailment they’re facing, then that may be a sign that your relationship has some codependent features. In addition, if you tend to be drawn to people who you can “rescue,” then this may be a sign that you have developed patterns of codependency that need to be addressed.
You swallow your feelings to avoid arguments
Many different factors can contribute to this. But if you constantly feel like you aren’t able to express yourself, especially when you disagree with your partner, then this could be a sign of a codependent relationship. You may feel like you can never say “no” to them, or that you always need to pretend to agree with them.
You feel responsible for them
Do you feel overly responsible for your partner? Do you feel like you need to manage their life for them, make important decisions on their behalf, or make excuses for them for others? For example, you might always feel like you need to call their boss when your partner is under-the-influence to explain their absence from work. You don’t trust them to take care of this themselves.
This feeling of over-responsibility for your partner may be a sign of codependency.
You can’t be alone
Many people who have developed patterns of codependency have a hard time being alone. You might feel overly reliant on your relationship (or other people), and become anxious when you don’t hear from your partner for a long time. Or you might find yourself jumping from one relationship to another. Codependency isn’t the only possible explanation for this, but it could be one reason why you have a hard time being alone.
You feel resentful toward your partner
In the beginning of a codependent relationship, it might seem like everything is great; You are happy to take care of your partner in whatever way they need. But as time passes, you may start to become resentful. You might feel like your partner takes and takes, while you give and give. It might start to feel like a one-sided relationship.
This could mean that your relationship has features of codependency.
You need to be needed
This is a core feature of codependency. You could feel like you only matter when other people need you. If others aren’t depending on you to take care of them, then what is your purpose in the world? This is a thinking pattern that’s been influenced by codependency. In reality, you matter in the world regardless of whether you’re needed or not.
How to recover from codependency
If you are or have been in a codependent relationship, then your mental health might be impacted. But just like you learned codependent patterns, you can unlearn them as well. Here are some ways you can heal from the impacts of codependency and develop healthy relationships.
- Prioritize self-care over caring for your partner. It’s easier said than done, but try to remember that your own needs matter – and it’s important to intentionally set time aside to meet those needs.
- Learn how to set, and keep, personal boundaries. Learning and practicing assertive communication skills can help with this.
- Develop all types of relationships. Resist the urge to become overly dependent on one person. Practice allowing a variety of different connections to meet different needs in your life.
Mental health counseling has also helped many people heal from the past and learn new relationship patterns.
If you don’t have access to a therapist, then you can reach out to MINES, your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). MINES & Associates provides free and confidential counseling, and our licensed counselors are available 24/7. You can talk to us about anything, including codependent relationships, and we will walk with you step by step to get through it. We are here for you!
To your wellbeing,
The MINES Team