Monday, 4 June 2012

Codependency within relationships

The word "codependency" gets thrown around a lot — there are codependent couples, codependent companions, codependent caretakers. But what does codependent actually mean (and is it really all that bad)?

“Originally, the term codependent was developed as a way to describe the responses or behaviors that develop from a person living with an alcoholic,” explains Mary Catherine Segota, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Executive Health in Orlando, Fla. Now, it’s often used to describe someone who treats a relationship like it’s more important then themselves — a hopeless romantic who becomes “addicted” to his partner, or a caregiver who constantly puts the needs of her loved one first.

The number of codependent personalities out there is hard to estimate — that’s because codependency is typically researched in the context of drug and alcohol addiction. But the two are not all that different. In fact, one of the key aspects of today’s “codependent personality” also pertains to people who have relationships with addicts: Enabling.

Segota describes “enabling” as a behavior that is used to ease relationship tension that’s caused by one partner’s problematic habits. Enabling is rarely seen in healthy relationships — these behaviors include bailing the partner out, giving him another chance, ignoring the problem, accepting excuses, trying to fix the problem, or constantly coming to the rescue.

“Individuals who are codependent tend to get involved in relationships with individuals who are unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy,” says Segota. “The codependent individual tries to provide and control everything in the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires, which perpetuates the lack of fulfillment in the relationship.”

Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship

Codependent personalities usually follow a pattern of behaviors that are consistent, problematic, and directly interfere with the individual’s emotional health and ability to find fulfillment in a relationship. According to Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a consultant, educator, and author of numerous books including Understanding Co-Dependency, “Signs of codependency include excessive caretaking, controlling, and preoccupation with people and things ‘outside of ourselves.’”

A codependent individual is hyper-vigilant, like a bear protecting its cub. She may also exhibit compulsive behaviors — which can be sexual or come in the form of excessive work, exercise, eating, spending money, anorexia, or nicotine addiction.

Here are eight signs of codependency:

Having difficulty making decisions in a relationship.
Having difficulty identifying your own feelings.
Having difficulty communicating in a relationship.
Valuing the approval of others more that valuing yourself.
Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem.
Having fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval.
Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships, even at your own cost.
Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others.

Are Codependent Personalities Really That Bad?

While being completely codependent will have negative effects on an individual’s emotional health and relationship, exhibiting some signs of codependency isn’t always awful.

“A touch of codependency occurs in all of us from time to time,” says Wegscheider-Cruse. “It is when the behaviors become exaggerated, when we lose choice and deny these behaviors, and hide our true feelings that our behavior interferes with our daily living and the quality of our relationships.”

If you seek out or maintain — even feed off of — relationships that are not fulfilling or healthy, you could be codependent. But according to Wegscheider-Cruse, once codependency is identified, it can be successfully nipped in the bud — and the individual can recover.