Co-dependency ironically is not about other people, it refers to a dysfunctional relationship with the self. It is characterized by excessive preoccupation with other people and their problems. Co-dependents focus on the needs, feelings, thoughts and behaviours of others whilst ignoring their own needs. Their desire to rescue or ‘fix’ others is not due to compassion but stems from a deep need to feel worthy and validated. Their feelings of well-being are dependent on others.
Signs of co-dependency
- Overly pre-occupied with another person’s life – inadvertently trying to control other people.
- Offering to take care of things / doing more than their share
- Never saying no to requests from others
- Compulsively trying to solve other people’s problems.
- Trying to ‘fix’ other people
- Feeling responsible for other people’s feelings such as happiness/ sadness
- Feeling responsible for other people’s actions / thoughts /needs
- Trying to control other people’s choices
- Putting other’s needs before own needs.
- Staying in unhealthy relationships.
- Believing other people cannot manage without them.
- Believing that someone else is the cause of their happiness / unhappiness
- Compulsively rescuing people from difficulties.
- Listening extensively to others problems but rarely talking about your own.
Do you recognise yourself in any of the above descriptions? If so you are very likely to have co-dependency issues.
Co-dependency and addiction
I was recently interviewed by Brian Pisor from Codependency No More about the parallels between co-dependency and addiction. Click on the interview below to hear about how schema therapy can help with co-dependency or download through itunes or stitcher.
Co-dependents often have addictions themselves as they rarely express true self / own needs, which eventually leads to feelings of emptiness and worthlessness.
Co-dependents inadvertently enable addicts as there role of the “helper” provides feelings of self-worth and importance. Without this role or constant focus on another person’s problems they are likely to feel empty, purposeless and insignificant.
The compulsion to get involved in other people’s lives, help and rescue others has many similarities to addiction to substances. It is a way of avoiding deep feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. The ritual of “getting busy” helping / controlling others also provides feelings of well-being. The urge to act is as compulsive as the urge to use substances.
Effects of co-dependency
There are a number of detrimental effects of co-dependency. Reflect on the effects below and think about whether you have been or are currently in a co-dependent relationship.
What effects have you have suffered?
- Loss of identity / sense of self
- Emotional problems such as depression, anxiety and stress
- Feelings of anger and resentment when your efforts go unappreciated or unnoticed.
- Physical problems such as ulcers, migraines, skin rashes, insomnia, stomach problems, digestion problems.
- Addictive tendencies that manifest either as substance abuse, eating disorders, workaholism, or exercise
- Inability to achieve true intimacy in relationships as own needs / desires are not expressed.
- Continued patterns of unhealthy relationships as co-dependents do not see their own part in the unhealthy dynamic.
- Preventing addicted partners from getting / staying clean by inadvertently enabling them.
- Feelings of exhaustion and being “burnt out” from not taking enough time for yourself.
- A deep sense of dis-satisfaction and lack of fulfillment as your focus is not on your own needs and desires but on someone else’s.
Healing from Co-dependency
Before you can start to heal from co-dependency, it’s important to understand where it is coming from and which thoughts and feelings drive it.
Essentially if you recognise that you have co-dependency issues you will need to:
- Get in touch with their own values /needs/feelings/desires
- Identify which specific behaviours need to be addressed.
- Learn to stop reacting to underlying feelings and thoughts
- Learn to assertively express their needs/feelings etc
- Create and maintain emotional and physical boundaries
- Stop people pleasing and learn to say “no”
- Let go of the need to fix or control others
- Find meaningful work and activities
- Learn to be alone and not be afraid of ending relationships that are dysfunctional.