Codependency is unfortunately an under-recognized mental illness in today’s society. With so many people suffering from unhealthy relationships, drug addictions and gambling problems, more information needs to be readily available about codependency recovery.
It’s important to first understand what codependency is, what causes it and how you can begin to become more independent. Through various forms of recovery and treatment, there is hope for everyone out there who believes that they are suffering from codependency.
What is Codependency?
When your true self gets buried under years of hurtful emotions – often the result of growing up in a dysfunctional family – the result is codependency. It is characterized by feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, insecurity and the desire to fulfill everyone’s needs but your own.
The Root of the Problem
What many people don’t realize is that the root of most codependency problems is the inability to recognize one’s self worth. Instead of focusing on their own personal goals and needs, codependents tend to put others’ needs before themselves and remain in unhealthy relationships due to fear of being alone. These ‘relationships’ commonly refer to romantic relationships, but they could also refer to the relationship between an alcoholic and his alcohol or a gambling addict and the slots in Vegas.
What Causes Codependency?
More often than not, codependency occurs in adulthood as a result of a traumatic experience as a child. This may include having neglectful parents, alcoholic or drug addicted parents, or suffering from emotional or physical abuse. Parents of codependence may have other addictions, such as gambling, or they may have been afflicted with an illness for much of the child’s life. As a child, codependents may have needed to look after their siblings or their parents who were suffering from an addiction, and this role of caregiver transfers on to their adult life.
Symptoms to Look Out For
- Low self esteem: If you feel as though you don’t live up to your own or other’s expectations, or you are constantly comparing yourself to other people, you may have low self esteem. Sometimes people over-compensate for their lack of self-esteem by appearing to be narcissistic, so it can be hard to diagnose someone else with codependency without digging into their mind.
- The desire to constantly please everyone: While it’s certainly not a problem to want to please those that you care about, codependents feel as though they are obligated to please everyone all the time. This feeling can be so extreme that they often can’t say ‘no’ to anything without feeling guilty or anxious. The desire to please others overrules the desire to please themselves.
- Playing ‘mother’ all the time: That is, needing to take care of everyone around them. When others have a problem, codependents drop all of their own problems in order to help this other person. This desire to take care of everyone can get so extreme that they will feel rejected if someone does not accept their help.
- An inability to communicate honestly: Some codependents may spend so much time trying to please others that they ultimately lose sight of their own goals and desires. Because of this, many codependent people can be seen as incredibly indecisive. Others, even though they know what they want, may hide those desires from others in order to be accepted or seen as agreeable. Instead of suggesting their own ideas, they may keep them hidden in order to not upset others.
- Obsessive thoughts: Codependents focus so much on other people or behaviors that the thoughts begin to become obsessive. He or she becomes so immersed in the behavior or the relationship that they begin to over-think every little aspect of their lives. If they make one mistake, they blow that mistake out of proportion within their mind and cause themselves a lot of anxiety.
- Dependency: Such is the root of the problem. Since they can’t find their own self-worth within themselves, codependents oftentimes look for other ways to to feel wanted or needed. In the case of a codependent in a romantic relationship, they may be so dependent on that other person for their happiness that they will stay in a relationship even if it is unhealthy. Their fear of abandonment is far worse than the pain of staying in the harmful relationship.
The Road to Recovery
Although it may seem like a never-ending circle of self-doubt and dependency, codependency can be treated. Since the habits of a codependent are so deeply ingrained – often since childhood – it’s important to seek outside help in order to fully recover. So how can a codependent get back on the track to a healthy lifestyle?
In most cases, codependents will visit a therapist that will help them delve into their childhood. They may have to think back to memories that they have blocked from their mind completely, which may take time and frequent psychiatric visits. Those suffering from this condition may participate in both individual and group therapy sessions, allowing open conversation with others who are suffering from the same symptoms. Since so many feelings have been bottled up inside for so many years, the recovery process is often an extremely emotional one. Through healthy catharsis, codependents can release all of the negative emotions that have been bottled up for most of their lives. The first step is getting back in touch with their own thoughts and feelings.
Realizing you are codependent is the first step to recovery. Once you have realized that you are exhibiting symptoms of a codependent person, you are now aware of behaviors that have been negatively affecting your life for years. Every time you feel as though you need to help or please another person, dig a little deeper. Is something inside of you telling you to do otherwise? Do you have hidden, internal desires that go against everything that you have been doing for years? You are hidden inside yourself, and the trick is knowing how to let your mind speak to you again. These deeply imbedded patterns of thought will not change overnight, but once you are more aware of them you have more of an ability to change them.
Denial is often the hardest step to get over. Whether you are stuck in an abusive relationship, are an alcoholic or a drug addict, you tend to deny that any problems exist. If you grew up in a household that did not fulfill your needs, you may have essentially “shut them off” in order to avoid getting hurt even further. While time cannot be erased, you can accept yourself for who you are and create a new clean slate from which to work off of. Once you accept that you have a problem, the only way to move is forward.
If you feel as though you are suffering from codependency and don’t know where to begin, search around your area for groups that help others who are suffering from the same symptoms. Once you realize that you are not the only one who is suffering, you can help yourself grow through therapy and the stories of others.
If you feel as though you are codependent on a person or negative behavior, you are not alone. Take the steps to recognize your own self worth through Udemy’s class on reclaiming your happiness, self-esteem and independence. Sit down and make a list of all the positive aspects of yourself. Chances are, you’ve been dwelling on the negative so long that you forgot how many positives you had! Learn to love yourself, and everything else will fall into place soon after.