Codependency is sometimes difficult to pinpoint because there’s a wide range of behavior associated with it. The one common denominator is that codependency causes distress. So how do you know if you’re codependent?
- Your childhood situation was toxic. You grew up navigating a chaotic family situation, which may have been caused by abusive parents or drug dependent family members or any number of issues that made your environment dysfunctional. As a child, you felt overwhelmed and you had to learn how to cope by trying to keep things under control, an impossible job for a child. You had to learn to take care of others before yourself, thus denying your own feelings and needs. You had to make peace among the family, thus taking on a mantle of responsibility that might be too difficult even for adults.
- You learned to feel shame. When you are in a dysfunctional family, there is a tendency to think there’s something wrong with you. Even if your parents didn’t tell you this outright—and some do—it’s easy to get the message that you’re to blame for whatever is wrong in your family. You grow up feeling there’s something wrong with you, and as a result, you are unlovable. Worse, your shame is exacerbated by the fact that there’s a stigma involving addiction, abuse, mental illness or whatever contributes to your family’s instability. Therefore, you can’t even talk about your problems and so you’re left alone to feel inadequate when you can’t solve them. You have come to believe you are unworthy of love.
- You became a people-pleaser. There is nothing wrong with pleasing people, but codependent people take it a step further. Sometimes you will please others to the detriment of yourself. Because you will do anything to avoid making others unhappy or upset. This is how you learned to stay safe as a child, and it’s behavior that works as an adult. When you please others, you don’t have to suffer their blame or criticism, which you’re very sensitive to because you had to endure so much of it in your childhood. Plus, it allows you to focus on others’ needs instead of your own pain. When you are in a relationship, you have an obsessive need to cater to that person, often at the expense of your own needs.
- You suppressed your feelings. Even as an adult, you continue to suppress your feelings because, after all, you’re unworthy, so your feelings and needs are unimportant. You learn not to ask for what you need, or worse yet, you don’t even know what you need, because exploring that is low on your list of priorities. As a result, you disconnect from your feelings to avoid feeling hurt or angry. You don’t want to rock the boat. Someone might get mad at you. Someone could mistreat you and you take it because your self-esteem is low. So, you stay passive or let the rage build up in an unhealthy way.
- You learned to give and give and give. Even when it hurts you. The classic example is of an alcoholic’s spouse who puts up with drunken tirades and abuse and then covers for him, thus enabling him and prolonging his bad behavior, sometimes for decades. You have a caring nature, but your caretaking takes its toll. It causes anxiety, possibly depression, and maybe even financial hardship.
The good news is, codependency isn’t a mental health disorder, and there is nothing fundamentally wrong with you as a codependent. You are simply trying to cope with circumstances. You can change your situation and break the pattern of codependency with persistence and help. Because codependency is not your fault—you have become codependent because of forces beyond your control. And it’s something you can overcome. A qualified therapist can help.
Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact