Codependency, the reliance on feeling ‘needed’ can become very problematic. It is an unhealthy state of mind, and affects our relationships in ways we may never have considered. If you, or someone you are close too, might be co-dependent, help is at hand.

Codependency can occur in many different types of relationships; between family members, friends, or romantic partners, it can even occur at work. Codependency often stems from a well-meaning place; care giving and putting the needs of another above our own. However, it can grow to become unhealthy and is therefore defined as codependency. There are several signs that you may be codependent. If you persistently put someone else’s needs above your own, and fail to take care of yourself, the relationship is becoming harmful. Codependent people fear being alone, and that is why they place so much importance with feeling needed. Previously, people argued that the term codependent only applies in cases where one person is suffering from an addiction, and the codependent relies on this to remain in a care giving position. However, nowadays most accept that the term applies more broadly, and can apply to any type of care-giving. For example, even parents can be described as codependent, if they rely heavily on feeling needed by the child. Codependency can be very damaging, even though it is linked to well-meaning activities.

When Codependency Becomes Unhealthy

Codependency can become very unhealthy. The person who is codependent is likely to have low self-esteem and possible insecurities. This causes them to put the needs of others above their own. It also results in self-damaging activities such as, not eating enough, not finding time to relax, and feeling constantly anxious or worried about the other person. Of course, we can see how these actions might escalate and become very serious psychological conditions; eating disorders, stress, and anxiety issues. The result is both physical and emotional harm. Feeling a lack of self-worth, codependents may also turn to alcohol or drugs as a form of self-destruction. They may repress anger against the person they are caring for; this bottled up anger can grow into depression, and result in self-harm and in extreme cases, suicide. People who are codependent often have trouble discussing the issue. This is because their role revolves around appearing in control, as the one who has it together and is relied upon by the other person. Therefore, admitting they have a problem can often be difficult. This is why situations of codependency can grow so problematic.

How Codependency Affects Other Relationships

Codependency affects all of our relationships. This includes the relationship with the person whom we have become reliant upon, and also the other relationships in our lives. I am going to use a specific example to show how damaging this can be. Let us focus on a mother who has become codependent; she is a carer for her grown-up, alcoholic son. The relationship with her son has becoming very unhealthy. She relies on the feeling that he needs her to take care of him. He relies on her for financial support, she funds his alcoholism because without his daily units he will suffer from painful withdrawal symptoms. This does not help him to overcome his alcoholism; she enables it and, in fact, may encourage it to continue. Clearly, this relationship is very unhealthy. The woman also has several younger children from a new marriage. They are often side-lined and lack quality time with their mother because she is more concerned with caring for the alcoholic son. They may grow resentful of both the son and their mother. The relationship with the new husband will suffer from similar problems, and arguments and tensions might appear. These relationships are harmed by codependency even though they are not directly involved. Relationships with extended family and friends will also undoubtedly be damaged. This is just one example of how codependency can harm relationships. Other forms of codependency are likely to be just as problematic.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy may be required for those involved in codependent relationships. This applies to the care giver, for whom self-image and confidence can be issues, and for the person upon whom they are dependent. This person may have difficulties like substance abuse, a disability, social anxieties, or they may simply be manipulative. In any case, codependency will have harmed the relationship and counseling may be needed to rectify the situation. If the codependency occurs within a family, then family counseling or marriage counseling will be valuable. It is common for caregivers to feel embarrassed about needing help. However, if you are in this situation you must try to overcome such feelings, because help and support are required. Therapists will help to work through issues and get relationships back on the right track. If these issues ring a bell, talk to a professional and begin your recovery.

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