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 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 when you have been 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.
Treatment for co-dependency
Before you can address co-dependency it’s important to look at what behavioural patterns are driving it. You might want to read the information on schemas before you go any further.
Depending on our upbringing, we can develop unhelpful behavior patterns called SCHEMAS, which continue to play out in our adult life. 18 schemas have been identified but there are 6 which directly result in co-dependent behavior. You may have one or all of these schemas.
SO what exactly are schemas?
Eighteen schemas have been identified through empirical research – they are like glasses through which we view ourselves, the world and other people. They have their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours that spring into action when we have the glasses on. Different life situations will activate the putting on of the glasses (trigger situations) and the result is a rapid generation of unhelpful thoughts, difficult emotions and dysfunctional/destructive behaviours. The negative impacts are on three levels:
- Increased amount of unnecessary emotional pain. Each schema generates its own specific emotions / unhelpful thoughts that drive problematic behaviours.
- Inability to get certain needs met that result in additional distress from feeling unfulfilled, empty etc.
- The long term consequences of the schema driven behaviours which could be legal, employment, health, relationship , psychological and obviously emotional problems
In terms of co-dependency, there are 5 schemas that can result in focusing on another’s well-being to the detriment of your own, and staying in unhealthy relationships.
This schema produces the stereotypical presentation of co-dependency. It usually develops in children of alcoholic, sick, or mentally unstable parents. Growing up, the child will become the care-taker and equate doing for others as being good and worthwhile. There may be excessive focus on going “above and beyond” to meet the (real or imagined) needs of others, while sacrificing your own gratification/needs in the process. There may be internal motivations related to desires to avoid causing pain to others or guilt from feeling selfish in some way. This schema may develop into an underlying sense that your own needs are going unmet (and are possibly not expressed to others), followed by increased resentment toward the recipients of your self-sacrifices. There is an inherent inability to say “no” to other’s requests due to fear of hurting others feelings or just feeling responsible for other’s well-being. The main emotions generated by this schema are guilt for not doing enough / hurting others and resentment towards those you feel make you feel guilty. Self-sacrificers often end up over-extending / rescuing others/ giving advice and doing things for other people that the person can and should actually do for themselves.
This schema develops from a childhood where one or both parents were volatile/emotionally absent/ unpredictable. Children with this schema often become hyper-vigilant, always scanning other’s for signs that they will leave or reject them. In terms of co-dependency, the co-dependent behaviours come from a deep fear of being alone / rejected /abandoned. The emotions connected to this schema are insecurity, anxiety, sadness, which are sometimes expressed as anger or abuse. With this schema you can becoming excessively passive or over-controlling, depending on how you personally cope with the schema.
This involves a tendency to surrender control to others in attempts to avoid abandonment, anger, or conflict. It develops in children who had a domineering parent and in families, where the thoughts feelings and opinions of the child were ridiculed or dismissed. It drives co-dependent behavior in that there is an inherent fear of anger and retaliation from other people if you express your real thoughts, feelings and needs. As a result, you discount your own needs and feelings and focus on keeping other people happy. This schema often results in you staying in emotionally or physically abusive relationships.
This schema develops from families in which a lot of emphasis was placed on appearance, achievement or status. Children who develop this schema will value other’s opinions above their own. It drives co-dependent behavior in that the approval and recognition from others becomes more important that your own needs or desires. You can end up pleasing others or hiding you true self in order to avoid “disapproval” or to feel popular and liked. You will do anything you can to not upset others. There is a huge loss of sense of self and identity with this schema
Unrelenting standards schema carries the belief that you cannot fail at anything and that you must do your best at everything. You have very high internal standards and expectations of yourself or others. It is the schema that underlies perfectionist behavior. In codependency, this schema can cause you to hide your own emotional needs and feelings as you see it as a sign of weakness to feel “negative” emotions. You find it very difficult to ask for help and tend to keep up appearances that everything is fine. You might also be very controlling of other people as you try to get them to behave in a way that reaches your standards. You become overly involved in a partner or child’s life as you believe you know what is best for them. The feelings that are generated by this schema are stress, pressure, agitation, frustration anger and irritability. You probably find it hard to switch off and relax.
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. You may have one or all of the above schemas playing into your co-dependency.
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.