Healthy relationships require give and take. Each person genuinely seeks to support the other, while still maintaining their own interests and personal sense of self.
In a codependent relationship, however, you forget where you end and the other person begins. It’s a dysfunctional relationship with a major imbalance of power. While codependent relationship patterns are common among people with substance use disorder, they can also emerge when no drugs or alcohol are present.
Some codependent relationship red flags
1* One person is always the center of attention.
A major red flag of codependency is that one person’s emotional needs regularly require more attention than the other’s. “In healthy relationships, there is a balance of give and take,” says Kara Nassour, a licensed professional counselor at Shaded Bough Counseling. “There might be days where one person is the center of attention or support, but they will give that to their partner sometimes, too. In a codependent relationship, the person who’s the center of attention and support is almost always in that role.” In return, the person who’s giving that attention and support doesn’t get their needs met.
2* You make excuses for their behavior
If you find yourself often explaining to your friends and family why your partner does certain things, you should ask yourself if the problem lies with those who don’t understand their behavior or with the behavior itself.
3* You are basically an enabler
If much of your time and energy goes towards saving your partner from situations they create for themselves, you enable them to continue an unhealthy pattern of behavior. They are responsible for their own problems and their solutions and it’s not your job to fix them.
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4* Always seeking approval and recognition
Low-self esteem is a mark of codependency. “Shame is the core of the whole thing. Neglected children view themselves as dumb, stupid, worthless, and defective,” says Cannon. “It’s ingrained into the fabric of their character. It’s because the message they got as children was — I don’t matter. I’m not important. I’m not worth taking care of.”
As an adult, a codependent person judges themselves harshly, says McKee. “When they get recognition, they are embarrassed. They have difficulty asking others to meet their needs. They don’t believe they are worthwhile or lovable.
5* You become anxious when your partner is gone.
In healthy relationships, each person should be able to occupy themselves when the other is away, whether that be for a few hours or a few days. If anxiety sets in, it could be a sign of codependency. “Anxiety symptoms can include difficulty sleeping, overeating, overuse of technology and screens, substance use, or other behaviors that either distract someone from their feelings or provide superficial relief,
6* Trying to control someone or someone trying to control you.
Neediness is a hallmark of a codependent relationship. One person’s happiness depends on having the other person right there — right now. Not letting you hang out with friends, calling frequently to check up on you, having to be with you all the time — these are controlling behaviors, says McKee. “If you get close to someone else, it’s very threatening to them,” he explains. “They’re calling you all the time when you’re away: Do you still love me? Are you still there for me? It’s a very unhappy way to live.
7* You aren’t able to say no to your partner
Whether it’s your partner asking you to run his or her errands on your day off or order his or her new phone on your lunch break, your answer is yes and your personal schedule is suffering because of it. While compromises must be made in relationships, you shouldn’t need to drop everything in your life to accommodate the wishes of your significant other. By constantly treating someone else’s needs as more important than your own, you’re improving your partner’s life at the expense of lessening the quality and meaning of yours.
8* You struggle to communicate honestly.
Genuine communication is essential in any relationship. “Codependents are often afraid to share their true feelings and thoughts, especially if they feel like they will be judged or rejected by the other person,” says Colleen Wenner, LMHC, a therapist at New Heights Counseling & Consulting. “This can lead to an unhealthy dynamic where both partners are constantly trying to please each other and unable to express themselves honestly.” This lack of communication could lead to the inability to meet each other’s needs and desires. The codependent person could also be pressured to change into what the other person wants.
9* You feel constant anxiety
Anxiety — the common explanation that comes with seeking approval from anyone who isn’t yourself. But how could you not feel this draining emotion? Giving someone control over how you feel about yourself is a back-and-forth pattern of constant relief when your partner reacts positively and overwhelming panic when you realize he or she isn’t satisfied.
In addition to wondering if you’re good enough (and walking on eggshells in hopes that you are), you’re most likely confused by what you want — due to the fact that you’re so focused on what your partner needs. Although relationships have their ups and downs, their overall purpose should reinforce your worth instead of make you question it.
10* Easily absorbed in the pain and problems of other people
“Codependent people can be obsessed with the pain and suffering of the other person,” says Cannon . “That allows them to sacrifice themselves. It’s really learned self-defeating behavior.” It’s why women in helping professions burn out, Michael McKee, psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic adds. “They get super absorbed in the pain of others. They have trouble setting limits in taking in that pain. Some empathy is wonderful. But when you can feel the pain more than the person in pain feels it, it hurts you.
11* Breaking up is your worst fear.
No matter how good it is, your relationship shouldn’t be your only priority in life. “If one person is expressing that the relationship is their everything and they need it to survive, that is a huge red flag,” says Taranto. “This is a sign of codependency because the person expressing this is most likely lacking self-esteem and is using their relationship as a way to feel whole.” As Taranto notes, you should go into each partnership as a whole person.
12* You feel trapped
At some point during your relationship, you most likely had a moment of clarity where the idea of leaving crossed your mind — just as quickly as the fear of being alone wiped it away. From not wanting to start over to not wanting to let your partner down, your reasons to stay in this relationship are surrounded by the idea that being with someone is better than not being with anyone.
While it’s terrifying to take a step into the unknown, it’s even more terrifying to live your life within the fences that someone else created for you. Some of our greatest moments come from our boldest decisions — your life is meant for you to control because you’re the one person who is guaranteed to never leave.
13*You act happy regardless of the situation
It doesn’t matter if your partner blamed you for something that was completely out of your control, you apologized and swallowed what you actually wanted to say. And it’s no problem that your family mentioned his or her demeaning manner towards you at dinner, your significant other had a bad day at work. Your list of excuses for your partner’s inappropriate behavior is as long and wide as the smile you put on your face as you say them.
Although your ability to overlook your true feelings can be a positive trait every now and then, it’s currently to blame for the sinking sensation in your stomach and the helpless thoughts in your head. While every relationship has negative emotions, your reaction to pretend yours aren’t happening should be enough for you to consider why.
How Do Co-Dependent People Behave?
Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine – and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.
They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior.
The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the co-dependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When the caretaking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels choiceless and helpless in the relationship, but is unable to break away from the cycle of behavior that causes it.
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Common Codependent Behaviors
How codependency manifests will look different for each of us depending on our personality and our personal experiences, as well as our personal relationships.
Common codependent behaviors can include:
Caretaking to the detriment of our own wellness
A need for constant assurance
Making excuses for each other
Giving up what matters to you or makes you happy
An inability to remember how to be alone
Tolerating harmful behavior
People-pleasing (ignoring your own needs, then getting frustrated or angry)
Obsession with a partner
Excusing bad or abusive behavior
Feeling like you need to change but can’t
Not knowing who you are without them
Having a hard time setting boundaries
Spending all of your time with or focused on them
An overwhelming fear of being abandoned
Being unable to think about life without the other person
Being unable to believe or accept that someone loves you
Having your partner or one person as your only close relationship
Who Does Co-Dependency Affect?
Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence. Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person. Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals. Today, however, the term has broadened to describe any co-dependent person from any dysfunctional family.
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