Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.
A formal definition of codependency has escaped psychology as a field for some time. It was originally a term proposed to describe the behavioral traits of partners of the chemically dependent (addicts). To date, there are no official, defined medical diagnostic criteria for the phenomenon we call “codependency”. It has come to mean, among other things, extreme devotion, sacrifice, and attachment to another person, object or even company in an unhealthy manner.
The term codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, researchers revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, you’re likely codependent. Researchers also found that codependent symptoms got worse if left untreated.
The good news is that they’re reversible. If you suffer from some or all of the following, you could be codependent: low self-esteem, people pleasing, poor boundary setting, caretaking, control issues, dysfunctional communication style, problems with intimacy, denial and painful emotions
Therapy can help people understand why they overcompensate, fulfill everyone’s needs but their own, or put themselves last. Inner child and cognitive behavioral therapy are both well suited to treating codependency, although any form of therapy is likely to help. Therapy can help a person identify codependent tendencies, understand why the behaviors were adopted in the first place, and develop self-compassion in order to heal and transform old patterns.
Some common characteristics of codependency include:
- worry or anxiety
- “bending over backwards” to take care of others
- not knowing or not trusting one’s own feelings
- feeling guilty for “not doing enough”
- feeling isolated or depressed staying in bad relationships (or sabotaging potentially good ones)
- trouble with emotional connection and intimacy
- sexual problems
- lack of energy
- low self-esteem
- inability to set boundaries
- inability to share (or experience) feelings (emotionally numb)
- striving for achievement (at any cost)