Codependency is usually thought of as one person clinging to another, but it is actually a behavioral condition. In a relationship, one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. Among the core characteristics of codependency is an excessive reliance on other people for approval and a sense of identity. Codependents need to feel needed, find their identity from someone else, and rely on their relationships to give them a sense of purpose. People with codependency unconsciously seek out love, validation, and approval from everyone around them.
The Cliff Notes for, codependency is defined as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, or in simpler terms, one who is extremely needy and clingy towards others (Merriam- Webster).
It is also an “emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to oppressive rules which prevent the open expression of feelings as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems” (Codependent No More).
Codependents need to feel needed, find their identity from someone else, and rely on their relationships to give them a sense of purpose. People with codependency unconsciously seek out love, validation, and approval from everyone around them.[note]The Angry Therapist The CODA files.[/note]
That pretty much sounds clingy, right? It can be at times and in certain situations. People often develop codependent behavior through a toxic environment. In my case, it was created by my mother, who was an addict, alcoholic, and had Borderline personality disorder. From a very young age, I was expected to take care of her emotionally and at times physically. I learned to put my needs aside in order for my mother to be the total focus at all times. Moreover, I had to learn how to navigate her emotions and prevent blowups.
Even though I spent the early years of my life pouring myself out for her, it was never enough. After leaving home I spent far too many years chasing the acceptance and approval of others. I wasn’t sure of my identity until my mid-twenties, so I conformed far more than I would like to admit. Co-dependent people need the approval of others because they feel that they aren’t good enough. They are not averse to using manipulation to keep someone connected with them. If they were raised in an environment that developed codependency, they may not consciously realize that they are being manipulative.
These behaviors make it difficult for the codependent to initiate or maintain healthy relationships. Too much need attracts toxic people but drives healthy people away. If a person is unaware of their codependent behaviors, they may find themselves in a loop of toxic relationships.[note] The Angry Therapist The CODA files.[/note]
These are people who have to take care of another person to prevent tumultuous situations. It’s typically someone who is struggling with low self-esteem or a sense of identity who easily develops codependency.
For most of my life, my sense of worth stemmed from whether others needed me or not. I wanted to help, I wanted to please and this was generally at the expense of my own happiness and well-being. We are so accustomed to running the show and being the glue that holds things together, that we can be a bit controlling. We tend to believe that we know what is best for everyone. We have all the answers.
These behaviors and mindsets tend to be fear-based. How so? I am so glad you asked. They believe if they are always in control then they are less likely to be hurt. When I become controlling and try to tell people how to live their lives, I ask myself what I am afraid of. Usually, if I am controlling others it is because I am feeling out of control in my own life. If I feel like they are making a mistake and I fear the results, I will jump in without being asked.
It also generates from our emotional needs not being met. In response, we suppress our emotions and develop behaviors that help us detach, deny, ignore, or avoid difficult feelings and needs. We consistently stuff down what we want because expressing that either wreaks havoc or gets brushed aside. When other people are consistently our main focus we tend to lose sight of how we feel and even become afraid of facing those feelings.
For years I was not able to remain single because I thought I needed a relationship. Being with someone is what defined me. As I began to heal and strip away all those outer layers I could finally see that this thought process was a burden to me and those around me. The power to stand alone and allow others to live their own lives, mistakes and all is more freeing than you can imagine. Unless you are on this healing path and know what that feels like!
Codependency is stifling. As much as I would love to have all the answers, I am comfortable that I don’t know it all. I used to be so terrified that everything would crumble if I didn’t maintain a tight-knuckled grip on everything. Stepping out from the shadow of other people was uncomfortable but necessary. I now feel more whole than I ever thought possible.
That’s the good news. You may hate to admit that you may be codependent. Once you come to terms with it you can embrace the hope of healing. Chipping away at the veneer that has built up over the years, helps you know who you truly are. There is so much power in letting go, especially in the face of fear.