Codependency: Light and Dark
My husband and I enjoy doing almost everything together. Because we both work from home, you can literally say that we are together all day and all night. For practical reasons, when we schedule daytrips, we make sure we will only use one car to save on gas and so that only one of us deals with traffic.
My friend says that we are a “50s couple” and that couples aren’t supposed to do things together all the time. One friend even said I am codependent, and maybe to some degree I am. But I’m grateful that our togetherness is governed by respect. There is no verbal, sexual, or physical abuse.
Can you find love in a hopeless place?
By contrast, Rihanna (Robyn Rihanna Fenty) is a beautiful singer with hits such as “Umbrella”, “Rude Boy”, and “Hate that I love you”. But she is largely remembered for the time her first boyfriend, Chris Brown, beat her up inside a Lamborghini and then left her bruised and battered on the road. Naturally, photos were taken of her bloody, bruised face and for years afterwards, she would have to go back to that moment in interviews.
Surprisingly, Rihanna was angrier that the photos were released, than she was over the fact that Brown, who was sentenced to five years’ probation, battered her. In fact she went back to him six years later, even asking the court to lift the restraining order against him. At the same time she released the song, “We Found Love in a Hopeless Place.”
She and Brown broke up a second time, and she told Vanity Fair, “Maybe some people are built stronger than others. Maybe I’m one of those people built to handle shit like this. Maybe I’m the person who’s almost the guardian angel to this person, to be there when they’re not strong enough, when they’re not understanding the world, when they just need someone to encourage them in a positive way and say the right thing. I was very protective of him. I felt that people didn’t understand him.”
She added, “Even if you say I’m willing to put up with something, they think less of you—because they know you don’t deserve what they’re going to give. And if you put up with it, maybe you are agreeing that you [deserve] this, and that’s when I finally had to say, ‘Uh-oh, I was stupid thinking I was built for this.’ Sometimes you just have to walk away.”
Mental Health America describes codependency as “relationship addiction”, wherein relationships are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive. These can, but might not always, involve substance abuse. Sometimes they are relationships that are just plain dysfunctional, characterized by (Lampis et. Al. 2017) preoccupation and extreme dependence—emotional, social and sometimes physical—on another person.One partner is so busy taking care of the other person that he or she forgets to take care of himself or herself.
Codependency is not a mental disorder, but some aspects of it overlap with two other disorders, namely Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD), and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). (Knudson & Terrell, 2012).
Codependency, BPD, and DPD
Codependency involves extreme dependence on one person. A partner feels responsible for the feelings and behavior of the loved one. The relationship is one-sided, focused on the partner's happiness, and neglecting your own. However, because codependency is not included in the DSM-5, it is not considered a mental disorder.
Are you in a codependent relationship?
How can you know if you are a candidate for landing in a codependent relationship? Here are 20 signs (according to Marks et al., 2012 and Lancer, 2016; Mental Health America):
· A need for control, especially over others
· A need to always be in a relationship
· A need to be liked by everyone
· Always feeling compelled to take care of people
· Confusing love and pity
· Denying one’s own needs, thoughts, and feelings
· Emotional reactivity
· Familial dysfunction
· Fear of abandonment
· Fixating on mistakes
· Having a hard time saying no
· Having poor boundaries
· Intimacy issues
· Low emotional expressivity
· Low levels of narcissism
· Low self-esteem
· Trouble communicating honestly
What if you are in a codependent relationship?
If the relationship involves physical, mental, and/or verbal abuse, get out of it. However, if there is mutual respect but you feel like you and your partner tend to depend a lot on each other, here are some things you can do:
1. Educate yourself on what a codependent relationship is. Learn that it includes a constant need for affirmation from your partner so you can stay confident and feel self-worthy.
2. Realize that your sense of purpose is not to satisfy your partner’s needs, even if it calls for extreme sacrifice.
3. Be aware of unhealthy neediness. Scott Wetzler, Ph. D, of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine says both people should have a sense of autonomy. It isn’t healthy for one person’s happiness or fulfillment to be dependent on the wellbeing of another.
How does one become entrapped in a codependent relationship?
Most of it is from how the person was raised. For example:
1. Being raised in a dysfunctional family.
2. Feeling constant anger, fear, pain, or shame at home.
3. Being taught to deny or ignore painful feelings and experiences.
4. Having an addict in the family to drugs, alcohol, food, sex, relationships, work, or gambling.
5. Experiencing emotional, physical, or sexualchildhood abuse.
6. Living with a family member who has a chronic mental or physical illness.
A Book by Scott Wetsler
Scott Wetzler writes wonderful books about relationships. I have particularly liked this book and I hope you have a chance to learn from him through his writings.
The silence pact
Usually the dysfunctional family keeps a pact of silence. They don’t talk to each other about family problems. They deny even to themselves that problems exist. The family members repress their emotions. There may be an unspoken conspiracy to disregard their own needs for the sake of one person.
Because they deny painful emotions to themselves, their own healthy emotional development is inhibited. They lead lives of non-confrontation, detachment, distrust, and suppression of feeling.
Full attention is focused on the ill or addicted family member. In this way, the co-dependent sublimates his or her needs, sometimes to the point he or she has completely lost touch with his or her own identity, according to Mental Health America.
People raised in families with this code of silence, self-suppression, emotional abuse, and neglect, are likely candidates for codependent relationships later in life, as they replay their childhood patterns.
You don't have to live in codependency
This book is very good and I have found it useful in the work that I do.
Watch out for these unhealthy signs in a codependent relationship:
If you feel like there is some codependency in your relationship, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Would you be satisfied if you spent time away from your partner? Having girl time or giving your spouse guy time is healthy for your relationship.
2. Does your partner have unhealthy habits – addictions, etc., that sometimes leads to harming you, but you stay in the relationship nonetheless?
3. Do you willingly support your partner even if it is at the expense of your emotional, mental and physical wellbeing?
4. Have your friends told you that you are over dependent on your partner, or vice versa?
5. Do you try to be more independent, but encounter conflict from your partner when doing so?
6. Do you feel anxiety most of the time?
Impact of a codependent relationship
Someone in a codependent relationship tends to experience burnout, exhaustion, and anxiety. You neglect other relationships that you value in your life. If you become an enabler, you need to stop doing that. Instead, give your partner the opportunity and space to learn needed life skills and life lessons.
Can you change a codependent relationship?
Can you change a codependent relationship?
Yes, but only try to do this if the relationship is not abusive. In the latter case, leave the relationship and bring your children with you.
Dr. Hook says that some things you can do in a codependent relationship are:
1. Set boundaries. You need to have your own space with your own relatives and friends apart from your partner. You must broaden your own circle of support. You should also have:
a. Goals. Set your own personal and vocational goals.
b. Hobbies. Develop your own hobbies that will give you specific periods of time to create a healthy independence from one another.
c. Set borders on how you want your needs to be met.
d. Find yourself. Psychologist Misty Hook, PhD says this is primary to changing codependency.
e. Talk it over. Set relationship goals together that will satisfy both of you.
How do psychiatrists treat co-dependency?
Dr. Joseph Goldberg, WebMD, noted that since co-dependency is rooted in childhood, treatment must include exploring childhood issues and how they relate to current destructive behavior patterns.
According to Mental Health America:
1. Understand unhealthy behavior. All co-dependents and other family members need to learn about codependency, the addiction cycle, and how it changes relationships. Materials on these topics can be found online, in libraries, drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers, and mental health centers.
2. The couple must acknowledge that they need to change and grow. Enabling behavior must be identified and stopped. The co-dependent must also learn how to say “No” in a loving but firm way. He or she must also identify and embrace his or her feelings and needs, and become more self-reliant.
If you work with group therapy you can avail of:
1. Experiential groups
2. Individual and/or group therapy
3. Help co-dependents identify self-defeating behavior patterns.
4. Discover one’s identity.
5. Help patients to unbury the feelings that they repressed since childhood.
6. Reconstruct family dynamics.
7. Open one another to experience their full range of feelings again.