As simple as the name implies, Codependency is any kind of reliance which could be mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual, a need with another individual who likely would be a partner, friend, or a family member. Codependency typically includes very high self-sacrifice, an excessive focus on another individual’s needs in spite of suppression of one’s own emotions, and deliberate attempts to fix other people’s problems.
Dr. Exelberg said that “Codependency is a circular relationship in which one person needs the other person, who in turn, needs to be needed”, which means that they enjoy giving their love and being relied upon by another person. The codependent person, known as ‘the giver,’ feels worthless unless they are needed by — the other person who is otherwise known as ‘the taker’ or ‘the enabler’. The issue is that it becomes difficult for ‘the giver’ to separate themselves from the relationship since they feel that the other person relies on them so much and asserting boundaries or not doing what is not even directly asked but probably just implied, puts them in the wrong. Here is a list of signs which you can check if you identify with:
- Feeling sorry for your partner even when they hurt you
- A sense of ‘walking on eggshells’ to avoid conflict with your partner
- Feeling the need to check in with your partner all the time and ask permission to do daily tasks
- Often being the one who apologizes even if you have done nothing wrong
- Doing anything and everything for your partner, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable
- Putting your partner on a pedestal despite the fact that they don’t live up to your expectations
- A need for your partner to like you in order to feel good about yourself
- Struggling to find time for yourself because your free time consistently goes to attending to your partner
- Feeling as if you’ve lost a sense of yourself or your identity specially inside the relationship.
Assuming that most of us would have identified with at least 3 or 4 points that were listed, I want to mention that, Codependency does not mean all the caring behavior or feelings but only those that are excessive to an unhealthy degree. It becomes codependency only when there is imbalance in the relationship that is, when responsibility of self becomes extremely low priority than responsibility for the relationship with partner.
It is very easy to fall into the cycle of codependency but very difficult to overcome one. And how does that cycle start or is it something that is present naturally? To be honest, codependency is normal for us as we all grow up. It is encouraged and is a part of our culture. We grow up watching our parents portray that our happiness and safety are dependent on another person’s happiness. We are taught that it is wrong to prioritize our well-being over other people’s happiness. Such learnings would have been what we call the first feelings of guilt associated with not being able to make another person happy or in short: not being useful to someone other than our own self. Most of us watch either of our parents basing their happiness on the other one’s mood and wellbeing. It becomes a belief for us and we carry such an engrained belief into our adulthood, that our partner’s well-being and happiness is our responsibility. Hence, our relationship with one of our parents usually translates into another codependent relationship with our partner, which in turn again only reaffirms our old belief. an example which most of us can relate to could be, a lot of women get into relationships with men who smoke or drink and believe that it is their job to make them sober. Movies and advertisements also are a part of this cultural reaffirmation. Women failing to get their partners sober, end up feeling like failures. Their self-worth takes a hit and they make their life about accomplishing different goals for their partners and then for their children, after failure to do so with their partner.
A few other common examples of codependency are:
- A father feeling inadequate because his children don’t ask him for advice because they are grown up
- A mother feeling disappointed that her child does not cry in her absence and eats food on his own without her needing to feed him/her.
- A man feeling inadequate that his partner does not take him to meetings with her friends and does not need him to enjoy such meetings or when his partner doesn’t need to seek suggestion or rather permission to make an important decision
- A woman feeling inadequate and useless when her partner gets used to caring for himself, not needing to be reminded of his daily tasks