What is codependency? The term is often associated with addiction. For example, the codependent might “enable” an addict’s behavior or contribute to relationship dysfunction by becoming overly immersed in the actions, consequences, and behaviors of the addict (their dependent). In doing this, the codependents neglect their own mental and physical well-being. This is certainly one definition of codependency and how the term came about in the first place. However, codependency can often occur with many of us in everyday life, even if we aren’t intimately involved with an alcoholic or addict.
Codependency can happen in our romantic relationships, friendships, or relationships with our children, when a desire to help or stay connected to someone becomes a need or a fixation. The following are all examples of codependent behavior.
- Caretaking: Caretaking in itself isn’t a problem, but when it goes to extremes, it can be. An example of problematic caretaking could be visiting your adult child’s apartment and finding it a mess. You find yourself immediately going into cleaning mode, picking up clutter, washing the dishes and putting things away for them. It comes to be problematic when we engage in these caretaking behaviors and then feel resentful or angry after doing them.
- Controlling: An example of controlling behavior could be feelings of jealousy and paranoia in your relationship which lead to you accusing your partner of cheating without having proof or legitimate rationale, just your feelings. Your partner comes home late and you immediately assume they are cheating and as a result, you angrily lash out at them. Or you see your partner on their phone texting and smiling and jump to the conclusion that they are seeing someone else. This behavior typically comes from deep-seated insecurity and can be detrimental to a relationship. Even apart from intimate relationships, controlling can take place any time we are trying to manipulate an outcome that we are ultimately powerless over.
- Obsessing: Obsession can take many forms. In codependent behavior, it typically takes the form of obsessive, repetitive, fearful thoughts. This could be obsessing about your partner (wondering what they are doing at all times, not being able to focus on work or your friendships because all you can think about is your partner, etc.). This can also take place with children. An example of this could be your teenage daughter has just started driving and you are consumed by thoughts of something bad happening to her. You, in turn, start calling and sending multiple text messages to her.
- Victimization: “Why me? Why does this always happen to me? It seems I can never get anything right, so why do I bother?” These types of statements typically come about when we are feeling unappreciated and want someone to reassure us and make us feel good. When we engage in playing the victim, it typically ends with others around feeling resentful towards us.
- Neglect of self-care: This is a huge component of codependency and one many of us are familiar with. It occurs when we put such an emphasis on helping others that we neglect ourselves. You may find yourself overextending yourself at work and then getting home and cleaning the house that your partner and kids left a mess. Of course, doing nice things and helping others is encouraged in our society and can be very positive. However, when it is to the detriment of your own self-care, this is where it can be problematic. Once a day, if you are used to only thinking/worrying about others, try asking yourself, “What is one nice thing I can do to take care of myself today?”