Codependency, also known as relationship addiction, is a learned behavior pattern that can be passed from one generation to another. Codependent relationships are dysfunctional helping relationships where one person supports or enables another person’s poor mental health, addiction, under achievement or irresponsibility. At the core of codependency, there exists the refusal to acknowledge a problem and a belief that one’s needs should be sacrificed for others regardless of the consequences.
It is a behavioral and emotional condition that affects the ability for someone to have a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. Codependent behavior is learned from watching and imitating family members who display this type of behavior. Codependency can affect anyone.
The codependent will focus their attention and energy on a family member or friend who is ill or addicted. The codependent usually sacrifices their needs to take care of a person who is sick. They lose contact with their own needs and desires, and sense of self when codependents place other people’s welfare, health and safety before their own. They have good intentions but their care-taking becomes compulsive and co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role to an individual in need. For example, a mother may make excuses for a misbehaving child, or a wife may cover for her alcoholic abusive husband.
Codependents view themselves as victims and are attracted to the same weakness in love relationships and friendships. The codependent develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from being needed. When the care-taking becomes compulsive the co-dependent feels helpless but they cannot break away from the repeating cycle of behavior that causing co-dependency.
Codependents have trouble being who they are and have low self-esteem. They look for anything external to them to make them feel better. Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine and become addicted whilst others may start gambling or engage in indiscriminate sexual activity. They often take things personally so they often react in anger or hurt when taking in other’s view and comments. This means there are little to no boundaries in their life so any remark, comment or action reflects back upon them.
The codependent fears they will be rejected if they are not successful at everything or indeed express their feelings or needs. They feel unlovable and have a fear of being exposed and so they do not share openly or trust others easily. They may expend enormous amounts of energy to look after another person feeling they sincerely want to help. Codependents feel angry, abused, and unappreciated when their advice is ignored
Codependents go out of their way to please others hoping to receive love, approval, or be accepted and liked. If approval is not given the co-dependent will feel victimized and they feel that everything that happens to them or the person they are helping is a reflection on the codependent. This perception and trapped feeling makes them feel powerless and do not understand their role in creating their own reality.
Codependents develop techniques to lie to themselves because they do not directly deal with their feelings. Since they feel responsible for the behavior and actions of other people, they will seek to maintain control and may blame others for their loved one’s poor behavior or blame themselves for another’s poor behavior.
Codependent couples often experience imbalance of power or one partner has taken on responsibilities for the other. They’re anxious, resentful, and feel guilty and responsible for their partner’s needs, feelings and moods. Despite their pain, they can feel trapped in the relationship because they fear that they can’t function on their own. Mutual co-dependency and insecurity makes the prospect of intimacy threatening.
It is not easy for codependents to let go of focusing on someone else. Turning that around so that your focus is on you doesn’t make you selfish. In fact it displays respect for someone else’s autonomy and boundaries by sending them healing light and love, not judging them, practicing meditation, writing positive things about yourself in a daily journal, taking a time out and taking a deep breath to gather thoughts in tricky situations, following your own interests and having fun.
The key to overcoming co-dependency is relaxing and building a self-focused loving relationship. Dr Herbert Benson, from Harvard Medical School, has developed a type of relaxation, called the Relaxation Response, that doesn’t require any spiritual beliefs. This was very effective to reduce stress, anxiety, depression and anger. Sit in a relaxed position, and close your eyes. Starting at your toes and progressing to your face, relax each muscle, and keep them relaxed. Breathe normally through your nose, and feel the sensation of your breath tickling the tips of your nostrils with each inhale and again with each exhale. Avoid controlling your breath. Meditate daily for 10 to 20 minutes with a few minutes grounding before returning to normal activities.
Healthy relationships and interconnections arise from inter-dependency and not codependency. Inter-dependency requires two people that are capable of autonomy. When couples love each other, their lives are intertwined and they’re affected by and need each other. However, they share power equally and take responsibility for their own feelings and actions and contribution to the relationship. With self-esteem they can manage their thoughts and feelings on their own and don’t have to control someone else to feel fine. They allow for differences and honor one another’s separateness and uniqueness.
So they are not afraid to be honest and can listen to their partner’s feelings and needs without feeling guilty or becoming defensive. Since their self-esteem doesn’t depend upon their partner, independence doesn’t threaten the relationship and they don’t fear intimacy. There is mutual respect and support for each other’s personal goals and both are committed to their relationship.
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