I feel like the term, ‘codependency’ has loosely been thrown around with little understanding. It has formed a debate centered on the idea that dependency is necessary and of course natural. We are human beings with a level of interconnectedness that is undeniable. We do depend on others in terms of our shared experiences, growth, and well-being. And although true to a certain extent, the aspects of codependency do not exist in healthy relationships but rather in toxic kinds.
Codependency is described as a circular relationship, a cycle that feeds both the giver and taker. The giver in the relationship is known as the person who needs to be needed whereas the taker is comfortable with the idea that their needs are being met, even at the expense of the giver.
Phew, mouthful. Simply put, it refers to one’s reliance on another person- mentally, emotionally, physically, or spiritually.
This type of ‘relationship addiction is not limited to intimate, romantic relationships but may develop in any relationship – a boss, parent, or friend.
A codependent person forms their identity around helping others. They need to be needed. They constantly feel like they need to save others from themselves and jump to the rescue. The caretaker / giver is willing to meet the other person’s need by sacrificing their own. It is this one-sided dynamic that provides them with self-worth and emotional validation. Their focus is purely outside of themselves as their actions revolve around others. There is no balance in this relationship- but rather a skewed sense of control and ownership of another person’s needs and feelings. Often when you allow yourself to be responsible for another person’s happiness, resentment follows shortly. You now feel trapped. Being alone scares you because you believe you cannot function independently. Two scared- insecure adults reliant on one another to feel whole.
Control plays a vital role, the giver enjoys being needed and the taker is too reliant to leave so they both almost hold each other hostage in a toxic cycle.
Codependent people do not recognize their innate value and rather place that on their exaggerated sense of responsibility for others. They confuse love and pity. They often love people they pity- which intensifies their need to rescue. This unhealthy attachment breeds emotional manipulation, people-pleasing, and zero boundaries. This type of relationship can become abusive quickly, where partners make excuses for harmful behavior. They tolerate and contribute to the toxic behavior, but still, they endure it as the fear of being alone is far greater.
Now the more you read the more you may realize that at some stage we may have either been a giver or taker and entered a codependent relationship. But why?
Codependency is deeply rooted in our childhood. It is considered ‘learned behavior’ something that has been modeled to us, given circumstances that have the power to shape our view of what love is. Many children who grow up in households where their needs are unmet may be forced to grow up quickly. Their role may shift from child to caretaker, an almost ‘parent to their parent’. They take care of things beyond their age and experience, especially in homes riddled with addiction- waking up their parents for work, household chores, caretaking of siblings who now become their “children.” Their parent’s lack of responsibility is not understood and so their identity from young is formed around caretaking and rescuing those close to them. Children growing up in abusive homes may feel like they always need to defend or protect their parents- they often become a confidante. They ignore their needs and are taught to repress their feelings and emotions, thus developing a lack of self-esteem. Emotional abuse can make one feel small and insignificant, using codependent behaviors from a young are ways to adapt and are used in survival. However, the behaviors must become ‘unlearned’ at a later stage or at least identified to break the cycle of these dynamics progressing as an adult.
Other scenarios include homes where parents make all decisions and give them no independence or freedom. Their pathway and life plan have been made and this gives them a falsehood of the world we world in. They become complacent and comfortable with decisions being made for them and life being controlled. This too- is a start of codependency.
The start to fixing codependent behaviors is taking the time to learn where and why they began. Identifying is the first step. This can be done through the help of therapy which allows you to recognize and accept repressed emotions. We must know the why before working on the how.
We must learn to develop boundaries, sometimes the hardest thing to say ‘no’ but it is also necessary. We all have limitations to protect ourselves boundaries allow us to form a healthy way of not overexerting and drowning in others’ needs.
Another habit worth cutting out is rather than saving – try supporting. Save- means attempting to fix their problems for them, support means encouraging them to fix the problem for themselves. As we all know too well, it is part of life to fix your problems and learn from your mistakes. There is no growth if you’re using someone as a crutch to do so. No lesson can come if you’re comfortable with being saved. Also, an important point to note is not all problems can be fixed solely, an individual may need a form of rehab or therapy.
Another way to cut down on codependent behavior is to take time for self-care and work on your needs and desires. When your attention turns to someone else, play around with your feelings and figure out what you might need. Put yourself first and make yourself a priority.
Interdependency must replace codependency.
Individuals can depend on each other but have a separate autonomous relationship with themselves. They depend on each other’s affections as their lives are intertwined, however, they understand that it is not their duty to fulfill one’s dreams, desires, and needs. They can honor and respect their individuality and understand themselves enough to be complete on their own. They do not need the relationship but are committed to it but mostly their selves first. They can navigate their emotions and feelings without sacrificing or hiding parts of themselves for others. This friends breeds a healthy relationship and trumps the confusion between codependency and interdependency.