What the Heck is Codependency?
“I do NOT need a support group!”
Ten years ago I was an emotional basket case, but a support group where everyone sat around week after week complaining about their miserable lives?
Or so I thought. Actually, the first time I heard about codependency and a support group to match, I had no idea what the term meant. I just knew that the person telling me about it knew I could use some help. I mean,
I was falling apart on every level.
Fresh out of a marriage and straight into a toxic relationship can certainly land you there.
Come to find out later that support groups aren’t really as awful as I thought they were. After my own stint going to Nar-Anon and Codependents Anonymous, I learned a great deal about myself, people, relationships, and the world.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is essentially defined as an unhealthy attachment to a person. It’s a “dependency” on another in a way that’s not really very healthy.
It is a term that came out from the recovery movement years ago, where counselors began to notice that on the opposite end of an alcoholic or addict was a partner or family member that had certain “characteristics” that weren’t all that healthy.
And, as such, the addict and the partner were “co” dependent upon each other in an unusually unhealthy dance.
Codependency is a state of “dis-ease” that many experts believe stem from some sort of childhood abuse or neglect. Or maybe from living in a family where addiction or mental health issues were present in one or both parents.
The dysfunctional personality traits a codependent person displays as an adult may likely have been formed while growing up in an atmosphere that did not have appropriate emotional boundaries. For me, that meant growing up in a home with an alcoholic father and a mother suffering from clinical depression and anxiety disorder.
The textbook definition of codependency is:
“Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction who requires support” or “a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”
Listen, on a broader scale, codependency is something that affects everyone on the planet to a degree.
⇒ It is the programming that’s gone into the subconscious mind over the course of a lifetime.
⇒ It’s the code that’s been written under the radar.
⇒ Or, for the biblical perspective, it’s that carnal nature gone wild, having lost sight of God’s perspective of us.
Whether it’s Jack and Jill, who live in the suburbs with two kids and careers that rock or Mike and Mary, who are the classic narcissist/victim combo, or Jane and Veronica, the alcoholic and the enabler, codependency characteristics exist in people and relationships across the board.
Why? Because at the core, codependency is an unhealthy attachment or separation from the true self. It’s you disconnected from YOU at your core and God.
It’s an absence or a lack of self-love, which affects the way we interact with ourselves and the world. In other words, it’s you being even just the slightest bit “dependent” upon another person for you level of happiness or peace.
Basically, a codependent person is acting out an addiction. He/she is trying desperately to soothe a deep wound that formed during childhood. Just as a drug addict tries to fill that void with drugs, a person suffering with codependency tries to fill that void with love and approval.
They NEEEEEEEEEED love and acceptance from another to feel good about themselves. Their self-worth is found in external dependencies, like people, money, looks, etc.) and not the internal.
People pleasers, over-givers, energy leeches. You get the idea.
You can be codependent on a partner, parents, friends, or even you children. How do I know? I’ve been right there on the front lines and I assure you it can destroy a relationship quickly or cause a relationship much dysfunction and heartache.
How codependency affects people
According to a leading codependency expert, Pia Mellody, a codependent person cannot do five things:
- Cannot experience the appropriate levels of self-esteem.
- Cannot set appropriate boundaries.
- Cannot own their own reality and has lost a sense of self (disassociation)
- Cannot deal with adult dependency issues regarding needing and wanting
- Cannot experience reality and emotions is moderation or healthy ways. May explode or not feel at all.
If you can identify with these characteristics, I want to assure you that there is hope for those struggling with codependency. As with any “issue” it can be your downfall or it can be a new beginning. Any problem or addiction can be a doorway to self-discovery and healing.
Codependency causes you to look outside for fulfillment
If you are codependent, you have spent much energy trying to use something outside of yourself to fill a deep-seated wound or void. This wound could be shame, guilt, anger, feelings of abandonment, and so much more.
You feel empty, confused, very alone, and afraid. Over time you have discovered that “people” make you feel better. Their attention and love soothes your wound. A codependent mother bases her life around her children in an unhealthy way. She bases her whole identity in being a mother and loses herself in the process.
A codependent lover is addicted to her partner and approval is CRUCIAL or he/she will end up in a downward spiral fast. One negative look or word can cause so much drama in a codependent relationship. At the same time, a codependent person may not even be happy in the relationship; she may feel trapped in an abusive, controlling relationship, unable to break free.
She is powerless to change things up or get out.
Codependency and relationships
When you fall in love, there really is a chemical high that occurs. It is euphoric. If this is healthy, it creates a healthy attachment, which is good. But this high does not last forever as we all know. Healthy relationships can continue to function well after the high ends, as the attachment is healthy. For someone with codependency, when the “high” goes away, the “crazy” comes out.
Codependents obsess and pretty much drive their partner away. Sometimes this occurs quickly and sometimes partners’ last years in this awful cycle. For the codependent, there is a serious fear of abandonment, jealousy, the constant need for attention (which if you don’t get can send you into a tailspin), a victim mentality, control, manipulation, stalking, and more.
Codependent people may seem very together on the outside, but on the inside they are most assuredly not. Over time, as the disease progresses, they will hardly be able to function, their thoughts will be negative, they will typically not have any friends, and their sense of purpose will fade.
They will isolate and wrap their whole life around one person and as they do, their needs go out the window. They don’t know how to take care of themselves because they are desperately trying to take care of everyone else.
I’ve been there. Lived through it all and now I write and speak about it. My recovery involved a lot of inner work; a journey back to “me” and learning how to really love myself and reconnect with God. It’s a journey I’m still walking…
Wounded souls everywhere
The way I see it, there are a lot of wounded souls walking around and many of them are looking at others to soothe and heal the pain, but the truth is that we must be the ones to recognize our wounds and then take the necessary steps to begin a journey of healing and growth. Others can play a role, but it is NOT their role to “fix” us.
Psychotherapists talk about digging through layers to get to our childhood days and address the root issues there. Priests talk about original sin and encourage people to ask for forgiveness there. Shamans talk about journeying back to find the original prints (even if it’s in a former life) and healing it there.
As you can see, there are various ways to look at the roots of codependency, but most point us in the direction of going back and contending with something from our past in order to get free.
So, moving forward I want you to start thinking about your relationship issues and contemplating how your present issues probably don’t have much to do with your partner or object of dependency.
No. They’re simply a “pawn” in your life that trigger things in you that you have the opportunity to heal or work on. That boyfriend or husband that is driving you crazy or hurting you over and over is in your life for a reason and it’s not necessarily about him; it’s more about you and your life journey. Your spiritual journey.
We’ll get more into the spiritual views regarding codependency in another post. For now I just want you to begin to digest this truth:
“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story & hustle for your worthiness.” Brene Brown
I don’t know about you, but hustling for our worthiness gets extremely tiring.
There is help for you if you feel like you have codependency traits. Many people have found hope and freedom through 12 step recovery groups, support groups, spiritual counseling, and more.
I am a firm advocate of mindfulness meditation, prayer, and a personal relationship with your Higher Power for codependency recovery. There’s no magic pill, dear ones. Healing and recovery takes time, discipline, consistency, an inner journey, and patience.
Take some time to learn about codependency. Read, watch videos, share, talk with others, etc. This is your recovery journey, and my hope is that you define yourself less by coda characteristics, and more from the TRUTH of who you really are at your core.
Here’s a great article to read next!