Codependency Misconceptions and How to Heal
You may have heard the term “codependency” at one point or another. Often people refer to codependent relationships; however, codependency is a pattern of behaviors in which one person frequently sacrifices their own needs in order to meet the needs of others. There are many misconceptions surrounding what codependency is, what causes it, and how to heal.
What is Codependency and What Causes It?
One definition of codependency is a pattern of behaviors that occur within a relationship in which one person has high needs that result in the other person spending a majority of their time and energy responding to those needs, even at the expense of their own needs as well as resulting in enabling unhelpful behaviors of the partner with high needs. According to SUN Behavioral, codependent tendencies may be rooted in childhood and are often caused by emotional needs not being met by caregivers. Since the first model of what a relationship looks like is typically informed by our relationship with our parents or other caregivers, if this relationship is unhealthy, it is likely that these unhealthy patterns will persist in other relationships outside the home.
If there was abuse, neglect, or other harmful dynamics within the home, children may learn to appease the needs of others in order to gain approval or a sense of safety. In addition, it may feel “normal” for the individual to neglect their own needs even as they grow older if they have been conditioned to or hold the ingrained belief that their needs are not worth tending to. One or more caregivers in the family unit often has not been fulfilling their role as guardian due to addiction or other mental health diagnoses; therefore, the child may develop low self-esteem, poor boundaries, perfectionism, a lack of sense of self, guilt, shame, control issues, and people-pleasing and approval seeking behaviors that they carry with them into adulthood.
What are Misconceptions About Codependency?
There are a plethora of misconceptions about codependency. One misconception is that anyone who helps others is being codependent. The difference between genuine helpful behavior and codependency is that codependency enables problematic behavior while neglecting one’s own needs in favor of taking care of someone else’s needs. Another misconception is that codependency can only exist in families with a history of alcoholism. While codependency can occur and was first identified in families with a family member affected by alcoholism or another addiction, the presence of substance abuse is not necessary for codependent tendencies to develop. Much like any other experience, codependency exists on a spectrum – it is a misconception to believe that you are either codependent or you’re not. People can simultaneously experience codependent tendencies in one relationship without experiencing it in other relationships that are healthy.
Codependents often may be perceived as clingy, weak, needy, controlling, and immature people who create dysfunctional relationships. Nevertheless, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Codependent individuals are empathetic, kind, and caring people who have learned to seek the approval of others instead of their own self-approval in order to survive unsafe situations. It is not the codependent’s fault for developing these survival mechanisms and engaging in relationships that continue to harm or take advantage of them; however, codependent people can take responsibility for breaking these destructive relationship patterns and cycles in order to care for themselves and have a healthier, higher quality of life. While codependency is not an official diagnosis in the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, it often co-occurs with other diagnoses such as post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety-related disorders. Some mistakenly believe that people with codependent tendencies will always be codependent and that those who learn to interact in relationships this way cannot overcome it. Nevertheless, healing is always possible and unhealthy ways of interacting in relationships can be unlearned.
How Can You Heal From Codependency?
Despite misconceptions, healing from codependency is possible. The first step is building awareness around your codependent tendencies and recognizing that you can say no or check-in with yourself first before trying to help someone else. From there, build healthy relationship habits and boundaries. For sustainable change, work on increasing your self-image and feelings of self-worth. Breaking out of codependency is challenging, but the help of a licensed mental health professional can help you in your healing process. Contact Embrace Therapy today!
By Sarah Engelskirchen