Codependency occurs when a person cares excessively and inappropriately for others. They try to lead other people’s lives for them. Furthermore, this behaviour often harms others as it takes away their ability to care for themselves. Codependency is usually learned in an alcoholic or dysfunctional family where a person takes on or is given the role of caretaker in the family.
10 Signs of Codependency
1/ Caretaking – Person feels responsible for other people
2/ Controlling – Person feels out of control and tries to control others
3/ Problems with intimacy – the codependent chooses people with problems in order to take care of them. The relationship is usually quite troubled
4/ Lack of self-esteem
5/ Poor communication skills
6/ Poor sense of self identity
7/ Anger – Codependent gives to others but does not get from them
8/ Fear of confrontation
10/ People Pleasing
Causes of Codependency
1/ Dysfunctional families – Codependents develop within such families. These families have certain characteristics that lead to the development of codependency. These are:
a/ Addictive or other self destructive behaviour is present. The codependent takes the role of caretaker of these injured people.
b/ There are other codependents in the family whose behaviour becomes a model.
c/ These families have poor communication
d/ Dishonesty and denial are often present
f/ Real feelings are not shown – anger is frequent
g/ There are poor boundaries
h/ Family members have low self worth
2/ Gender Roles – Codependency is experienced by more women than men (though I have worked with codependent men) due to certain societal expectations:
a/ Women are expected to be the nurturers in society
b/ The hatred of women can produce a lack of self-esteem in them.
c/ Women are encouraged to put others peoples’ feelings and interests before their own.
d/ A woman’s assertiveness is discouraged
3/ Childhood Mistreatment and Abuse – When a child is mistreated or abused certain traits can emerge that relate to codependency:
a/ Lack of self esteem, self worth
b/ Feeling responsible for other people’s behaviour – when children are mistreated they often assume it was their fault. That come to believe that they ‘caused’ the abuser to act the way they did
c/ Constant psychic pain can produce a need to focus on others as it is to painful to be with the self
d/ Fear of asserting real feelings
e/ Need to control others since childhood caretakers were out of control
f/ Caretaking often emerges when parents emotionally acted like children (often angry) and demanded to be taken care of
Codependency as an Addiction
Codependency is, in fact, an addiction. It can be a difficult addiction to treat because it doesn’t appear harmful like drugs or alcohol. This fact can support the codependent’s denial of having a problem.
Codependency emerges as having the same characteristics as addiction. These are:
1/ An obsessive quality – a consuming need for others
2/ A way to medicate pain such as stress, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem
3/ Perfectionism is quite strong
4/ Personality development is delayed
5/ May have origins in childhood abuse
6/ Constant need for control
7/ Deep sense of shame
8/ A strong need to preserve appearances –always giving the impression that everything is fine
9/ Little or no boundaries
10/ Feelings of isolation and aloneness
How I Help
First and Foremost, I help people FOCUS ON THE SELF. This is easier said than done as I frequently feel like a border collie having to herd codependents away from their obsession with others, back to themselves. Therapy includes:
1/ Understanding the Family of Origin
2/ Focusing on personal needs
3/ Learning self care
4/ Becoming aware of feelings
5/ Looking at the inner child
6/ Confronting inner wounds
7/ Looking at the issue of shame
8/ Anger management – Learning healthy assertion
9/ Establishing healthy boundaries
10/ Learning healthy ways of relating
I also encourage people to join groups such as Al-anon, CODA etc. in order to hear other people’s stories and to receive support.
In my experience as a Toronto therapist I have always been fond of codependents. They are goodhearted people who, for various reasons, had this essentially good quality morph into something that is harmful to themselves and others. This fact must be impressed upon codependents again and again, for they are under the illusion that they are being helpful.
It is not selfish or wrong to take care of the self in a loving manner. When we do this we can, in fact, be loving and helpful to others in a manner that is truly helpful.