The term “codependent relationship” arose and was used for a long time in the context of couples, where one of the partners had an addiction — from alcohol, drugs, games, casinos, etc., and the second, accordingly, developed emotional codependence.
However, now in psychology, this concept has expanded significantly.
Relationships between close people with an exaggerated sense of caregiving are called codependent.
They can not only be between a man and a woman but also between a parent and a child, friends/girlfriends, etc. But any close relationship implies an emotional connection and inclusion. How to distinguish where healthy relationships are, and where not? And how to get out of a codependent relationship?
What is a codependent relationship?
The topic of codependency is becoming more and more popular and discussed. Fearing to fall into such “networks”, partners (more often still partners) look closely at their relationship and analyze how healthy they are. As we have already said, codependency can occur not only in romantic couples, moreover, there should not even be two people: Karpman drama triangle is also an example of codependency. But more often we are talking about romantic relationships, so we will focus on them more.
Throughout our lives, in songs, books, and films, we have been taught that love is to live for another, for the sake of another, to idealize a partner, to love selflessly, to sacrifice oneself. Love is an accidental and great miracle that can be scared away.
A partner is the meaning of life and the bearer of happiness. The focus must be on him, not on yourself. It would seem, how many beautiful stories… What can be embarrassing about them? Well, the fact that in real life such an obsession and focus on another person is far from manifestations of love and brings both a lot of suffering and pain.
There is a difference between the concepts of “interdependence” and “codependency”.
Stephen Covey (an expert on personal development, family issues, personal effectiveness, etc.) gives this definition:
“Interdependence in a relationship occurs when partners have learned to live autonomously enough to build a life together and strive to support each other manifestation of all the best qualities. Healthy relationships contribute to the development and growth of partners. In such a relationship there is air, partners respect each other’s boundaries. They are psychologically mature, aware of their needs and characteristics. Everyone has their own life (friends, colleagues, interests, hobbies), but at the same time, they give each other attention and time.”
Codependency is a state of deep absorption and strong emotional dependence on another person. Excessive focus on it leads to disruption of one’s natural and healthy life. Such a person is absorbed in what controls the actions of a partner and thus regulates his state.
Signs of a codependent relationship
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In codependent relationships, the following characteristic features and signs can be distinguished:
The desire to save a partner, persistent help to reinforce a sense of self-worth, the reverse side of this process is pressure and control.
- Lack of awareness of mental boundaries — both one’s own and a partner’s; their violation.
Ignoring and misunderstanding their needs, focusing on a partner.
- The need for constant approval and support to reduce anxiety.
- Feeling yourself in the position of the victim “trapped” in the Karpman triangle.
Suppressed or “frozen” feelings. Experience has proven that it hurts to feel, it is safer to become invulnerable and immune.
- The need to switch from obsessive thoughts and obsession with relationships, while switching to other types of addictions — shopping, alcohol, work, food.
- Displaced aggression, resentment.
- The inability to experience true love and intimacy.
- Lack of self-sufficiency, interest in oneself, one’s personality, and life. A codependent person does not have sufficient psychological maturity and awareness. A person defines his identity only through relationships.
- The responsibility for your happiness and well-being is shifted to your partner.
Jealousy and suspicion.
In codependent relationships, the personal space of one person, absorbed by the space of another, disappears as such, merges with the background. And now the person himself does not understand where they are and where the other is.
To the psychologist’s questions: “What do you want for yourself?”, “What is most important to you in a relationship?” — clients who are in codependent relationships answer:
“I want him to call more often and be more affectionate”,
“She must stay with me all the time and not go out with her friends”, etc.
The answers contain a desire to change the partner’s behavior to fit their expectations, while they do not understand one’s own I and personal needs, there is no focus on oneself, for example: “I want to feel happy”, “I want to be less angry”, “I want to become more confident”.
Why does it happen? Why do love for another and love for oneself become mutually exclusive?
Causes of codependent relationships
We learn to build relationships based on the example of parental relationships and models accepted in society.
For a person in adulthood to be able to fully live and realize themselves, from early childhood they must have a sense of security and tranquility. Parents give this feeling through love, care, predictability, emotional responsiveness, acceptance of various reactions and emotions of the child, including aggression.
Thanks to this, the baby develops a basic trust in the world, a positive perception of themselves for life. Later, such a person easily builds communication with others, is ready to share emotional resources for free, and enjoys them. They have something to give to others because they received an abundance of resources from their parents.
Cruel and rude attitude, lack of attention, unpredictability in the behavior of mother and father forms an anxious type of attachment in a child. This happens in situations where today the parent is sober and generous, tomorrow drunk, angry, and beating. Or if the parent has psychological/psychiatric problems, and their mood changes unpredictably — then they love and hug, then they speak irritably and repel. When a child grows up in such conditions, they are in constant fear that today they will be taken care of, tomorrow they will be left alone and left to the mercy of fate.
But the baby cannot survive on its own, so protection mechanisms are activated. They try to predict the behavior of their parents and respond in time to always be good, to please. They adapt, learn to “get”, deserve, and earn the love of their parents. “If I am sure that they love me, then I can live in peace,” such children think. At the same time, tension arises in their psyche from a feeling of deprivation and exhaustion.
Having matured, such people seek love and support in others, seek to find their “half” and “stick” to it to compensate for the internal deficit. They are looking for a relationship that will provide a sense of protection and security — something that was not received in childhood.
At the same time, it also seems to a person that resources are severely limited, the world is dangerous, life is complex and unpredictable. Serious emotional problems centered on the fear of abandonment lead to an obsession with control.
However, complete control is impossible, this is a utopia. Relief from anxiety is only for a short time because tomorrow everything can change. Because of this, the codependent constantly wants attention, gifts, and compliments to confirm that they are loved and needed. They don’t trust the partner, doubt, are jealous. Deep inside, they believe that they’re to blame for the fact that their parents did not love them, and feel guilty.
Our hero is afraid to be in a situation where they need to be themselves. Sometimes they unconsciously look for a counter-dependent person — a codependent partner who avoids intimacy, intimacy.
Counterdependency is a special form of codependency, codependency in the passive stage, or “dependency on independence.” The counter-addict does not enter into a relationship, because they’re afraid of being absorbed by someone, they’re afraid of losing their fragile identity. Feeling too painful for them, they choose calmness and loneliness, sublimating the inner need for love and acceptance through the profession and other implementation options.
Are codependent relationships viable?
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In theory, some codependent relationships can be viable. This is determined, among other things, by the types of attachment of both partners.
The Bartholomew and Horowitz classification is often used here. Depending on the image of oneself and the image of others, 4 types of attachment are distinguished:
- Reliable — a person has a positive image of himself and others;
- Avoidant-rejecting — a positive image of oneself and a negative image of others;
- Anxious — a negative image of oneself and a positive image of others;
- Anxious-avoidant — a negative image of oneself and others.
Depending on the types of couples with which form a codependent relationship, options are possible:
- Anxious + Reliable — such partners can form a stable alliance if both have enough awareness, desire, patience. One needs to learn from a partner of the type of mental maturity, the other needs to withstand jealousy, control, resentment for some time. Initially, there will be no understanding in the couple, because the Reliable will run away from the control and all-consuming relationship of the Anxious. The latter will at first perceive such behavior as a rejection, but if they understand that this is not a rejection and retreats, then the relationship can be strong and harmonious.
- Anxious + Avoidant-rejecting — such an alliance is most common. The avoider is “comfortable” with an anxious partner who invests in a relationship for two. In turn, the Anxious, deep down, consider themselves unworthy of happiness, uninteresting, useless. The avoidant partner runs away from the Anxious, which confirms the Anxious’s view of themselves. In general, such relationships are built according to the model “Avoidant — runs away, Anxious — catches up.” They are destructive, exhausting, toxic, but can last a very long time.
- Anxious + Anxious — a rare union due to the excessive similarity of partners. Each seeks to merge with the other, which does not give both happiness, but causes problems. Both are psychologically immature, so in principle, it is difficult for them to build relationships. Such an alliance can only continue because no one dares to break them. For both partners, the fear of loneliness is more frightening than quarrels and resentments.
How to get out of a codependent relationship?
You can get rid of codependent relationships and come to healthy interdependence if each of the partners becomes a whole, mature person. For this, it’s important for a codependent to switch to themselves— to engage in themselves, their self-development, while learning to communicate, to be in contact with people.
It’s often pointless to simply end one relationship and start another: without work on oneself, a person with a high degree of probability implements the same model they are used to.
You should immediately tune in to the fact that personal, emotional maturation and working through problems is not the fastest process and requires quite a lot of resources. But such an investment will certainly pay off. The codependent will help:
- individual psychotherapy — problems that have been going on since childhood are very difficult to correct on their own. The help and support of a good specialist will be very useful;
- support and mutual aid groups;
- psychotherapeutic groups;
- literature on codependency (you can start with the book “Liberation from codependency” by B. and J. Weinhold).
Codependent people are subconsciously not ready to grow up, because growing up means that a person takes full responsibility for their life, for themselves, for their choice. they need to realize that neither parents, nor life, nor partners is responsible for their happiness. And also, to have an impulse and interest to grow up, they need to see more opportunities and resources in it than in the current child’s position.
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- Johnson, R. Skip (13 July 2014). “Codependency and Codependent Relationships”.
- Marks, A.; Blore, R.; Hine, D.; Dear, G. (2012). “Development and Validation of a Revised Measure of Codependency”. Australian Journal of Psychology.
- Ainsworth, Mary D. Salter (1969). “Object Relations, Dependency, and Attachment: A Theoretical Review of the Infant-Mother Relationship”. Child Development.
- Irving, Leslie (1999). Codependent Forevermore, The Invention of Self in a Twelve Step Group. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 30. ISBN 978–0–226–38471–9.
- Hendriksen, Ellen. “Is Your Relationship Codependent? And What Exactly Does That Mean?”. Scientific American. Scientific American. Retrieved 12 January 2017.
- Dear, G.E.; Roberts, C.M.; Lange, L. (2004). “Defining codependency: An analysis of published definitions”. In S. Shohov (Ed.), Advances in Psychology Research
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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