We hear the word codependent, and our minds go in several directions, but what does it mean, and could it be applied to you?
How does a codependent relationship develop? Codependency is a learned behaviour that usually stems from past behavioural patterns and emotional difficulties. It was once thought to be a result of living with an alcoholic parent. Experts now say codependency can result from a range of situations. We will look at some of those behaviours in this article.
Codependency is usually rooted in childhood. Often, a child grows up in a home where their emotions are ignored, punished or a very high expectation to be the perfect child. This emotional neglect can give the child low self-esteem and shame. This leads to several feelings:
- Difficulty making decisions in a relationship.
- Problem identifying your emotions.
- Difficulty communicating in a relationship.
- Valuing the approval of others more than loving yourself.
- Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem.
The simplest explanation is that codependency is seeking love based on feelings of insecurity or inadequacy. A codependent person looks to their partner to repair their self-esteem or a best friend, alleviate their pain, and complete their inner emptiness. Yet, there is never enough love.
How to Tell the Difference between love and codependency?
All around you, you hear the words “true love” and “soul mate” thrown around. There’s a common belief that you can only be delighted if you find the right person to complete you, that love is a powerful drug you can’t escape. But is an intense, all-consuming relationship genuinely love, or is it something else? You may have heard the word codependency but don’t know what it means. How can you tell if your relationship is healthy or you’ve got what is sometimes called love addiction?
What is Codependency?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is an authoritative guide that healthcare professionals use to diagnose mental illness. But the DSM does not recognize codependency as a distinct personality disorder. The term codependency originated from drug and alcohol addiction, and it has various, sometimes vague definitions. At the risk of repeating myself, let me share a simple explanation.
The simplest explanation is that codependency is seeking love based on feelings of insecurity or inadequacy. A codependent person looks to their partner to repair their self-esteem, alleviate their pain, and complete their inner emptiness. What ends up happening is that the partner cannot be the person they are.
Instead, they are forced to fulfil a role the codependent person has chosen for them, and that is to provide unconditional love and security. Yet, there is never enough love. The codependent person keeps working on trying and pleasing their partner to ensure they get the love they crave. It becomes a self-perpetuating habit with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. That’ is why codependency is also sometimes called relationship addiction or love addiction.
Stages of Love Addiction
The early stage of love addiction is very similar to any romantic relationship. Still, there is an unusual amount of attention on the partner and a burning desire to please him or her. This gradually progresses into an obsession where the codependent person begins to rationalize problematic behaviour in their partner. Healthy boundaries start to get blurred. The codependent person may withdraw from friends and give up previously enjoyed activities to focus on their partner.
The middle stage of codependency is characterized by increasing efforts to overlook problematic aspects of the relationship. There are growing feelings of anxiety, self-blame, and guilt in the codependent person. Self-esteem starts to plummet, and the person begins making compromises to maintain the relationship. All this while, resentment, anger, and disappointment grow as the love addicted person tries to (unsuccessfully) change their partner with manipulation, nagging, and blaming. During this stage, a codependent person may use addictive substances or behaviours to cope.
In the late stage of codependency, the emotions begin to take a toll on physical health. Codependent people can suffer from various stress-related disorders, such as headaches, sleep problems, digestive issues, eating disorders, sciatica, allergies, and TMJ. Addictions and obsessive-compulsive behaviours take a stronger hold. Feelings of anger, despair, and hopelessness grow.
Critical Differences Between Love and Codependency
How can you tell the difference between healthy love and codependency? Most people experience a surge of emotions when they first fall in love with someone. However, in healthy relationships, this initial euphoria settles down into more calm content.
With love addiction, the relationship is rooted in feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. The result is that a codependent person loses a sense of themselves and focuses entirely on their partner’s needs.
Love Addiction Can Be Destructive
You might argue that a certain amount of codependency is healthy. After all, isn’t being in love all about putting your partner first? And isn’t the whole point of being in a relationship knowing you have someone by your side? So what if you’re not entirely independent anymore?
The destructiveness of love addiction begins when there are elements of lack of self-esteem and fear of rejection. In a healthy relationship, there is self-assurance and trust. You revel in your partner’s love, but there is not a need to feel accepted or loved all the time.
It’s important to note that relationships are not black and white. People in codependent relationships experience some benefits, but these benefits are usually short-lived and overtaken by feelings of insecurity.
Strategies to Overcome Codependency
If you suspect you are in a codependent relationship, there are steps you can take to break the unhealthy cycle.
Understand that you cannot please everyone all the time. It’s okay for your partner to be disappointed or upset with you occasionally. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t always be there for your loved one. Put yourself first sometimes.
Your happiness shouldn’t depend on whether your partner is happy or not. Arguments are healthy in a relationship. When you disagree, walk away first. Let the dust settle and then discuss the problem rationally.
The biggest issue with codependency is focusing too much on your partner. Yet, you cannot be an excellent partner to your loved one if you don’t love yourself first. Spend time with family and friends, adopt a hobby, embrace yourself. Don’t make your partner the centre of your universe.
Codependency and What it Means
People with love addiction often put up with all kinds of unhealthy behaviours, such as cheating or physical or verbal abuse by their partner. Codependent individuals convince themselves they can change their partner. It’s important to know you can walk away or get support if you are in an abusive relationship.
Talking about your feelings with the right individual can help you in navigating your way out of the feeling of being codependent. There is no shame in seeking help. Don’t let an actual or perceived stigma against talking about this prevent you from seeking help.
Codependency is not love, even if it is your parents. It is a love addiction that can destroy any relationship and destroy you as a person. By becoming aware of the pitfalls of codependency, you’ve already taken the first step towards a healthy relationship with yourself. Now all you have to do is get the help you need to recognize love addiction in any relationship that you are having a challenge.