Could you be codependent?
Codependency is not a very well-known term, but yet it is something that is extremely common. It originated as a description of a situation in which someone was affected by another person’s alcohol or drug dependency. However, over the years, this definition of codependency has evolved.
A ‘codependent’ now includes any type of relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, poor physical health, immaturity, irresponsibility or underachievement. The codependent lives in hope that the dependent person will change their behaviour, and they often feel that they have the tools to help them do that.
In ‘Codependent No More’, author Melody Beattie writes: “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behaviour affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behaviour.”
Symptoms of codependency
Many codependents feel that they are not good enough or compare themselves unfavourably to others. They are unsatisfied in their own life but believe it’s more important to help others with their lives before their own. Low self-esteem is a major reason why it is difficult to come out of this codependency way of relating. They believe that they don’t deserve any better in life.
Similar to people-pleasing, this is where someone goes out of their way to take care of someone else. A codependent will take care of someone else’s needs to the detriment of their own. They will also continue to help even when it has become clear that the other person is not using the help or advice given. They also do something for the other person that that person is capable of doing for themselves. This is very different from those times when the assistance is genuinely wanted and needed and they want to give that help.
A need to be in control comes from feeling like everything is out of control. Codependents find themselves deeply involved with those whose lives are chaotic and unpredictable. The codependent therefore tries to control both themselves and those around them to bring a sense of safety and order into their lives.
Codependents struggle to communicate honestly their wants, needs or emotions. This may well be because they are so invested in others that they are very unaware of what their needs or feelings might be. They also struggle to properly hear what other people are saying to them because this may dispute what they believe to be true for the other person.
Codependents spend a huge amount of time thinking about others often to the point of obsession. In relationship with another person they spend the majority of their time thinking about what can be done to help, change and/or manage the other person. They spend time thinking about the impact the other person has had on their own life and how much better it would be if the other person would only change. They also spend time thinking about what it will be like in the future should the other person change or not change.
As a result of low self-esteem codependents need and want others to like them in order to feel okay about themselves. They will often stay in a relationship with someone out of a need for this dependency to continue even if the relationship is not working.
Many codependents live throughout their whole lifetime without ever realising the relationship pattern they are in or that codependency is even an issue. They know that things are not the way they would like but they are often in denial about the part they play in this dynamic. There is also further denial within the relationship in that they will ignore or avoid the problems they face or they will pretend that things are not as bad as they really are.
This may seem like a long and very negative list. However, if you find that you can relate to any of the above, you have already taken the first step to make positive change – that of breaking the denial. With this process of change it is important to get help and support. Don’t be tempted to rush into any big changes. It is worth taking the time to investigate why codependency has become an issue in the first place and to then look at ways that you would like to change this system of relating to others. Ultimately we can only have control over one person and that is ourselves. Do you feel ready to take back that control?
For more information on codependency and support, try reading ‘Codependent No More’, by Melody Beattie, and visit www.codaireland.com and www.drugs.ie.
Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at firstname.lastname@example.org or