Today I will be explaining what is Codependency and what are the signs to look out for. I will also introduce how it could affect your life, why it could have happened, and what you can start to do about it.
Remember to have your journal and pen handy to take down some ideas of what you can do about it towards the end of this podcast.
What does Codependency mean?
You may have heard the word Codependent many times on the internet but do not really know what it means.
Codependency basically means that you don’t know who you are. You have no identity, and you wrap up who you are in other things or other people. To be co-dependent means to be out of touch with your own feelings, what you need and what you desire.
Many people find the word codependent demeaning and derogatory but like everything, there is a positive and negative side to being co-dependent, like with all other ways of living your life.
Codependency is a Fawn trauma response where to survive your trauma, you learned pretty early on that pleasing others would keep you safe and would help you to feel loved.
All of these are natural instincts that we all have as humans. The Fight, Flight, Freeze, and the Fawn response. They all are there to help us to respond appropriately to threatening situations.
Trauma response is how we learn to cope and survive things we found difficult to cope with. Some of us fight back by being aggressive or controlling, others run with the Flight response and the Freeze response is where we become numb and disconnect ourselves to cope.
But because of past trauma, we learned to cope with difficulties in one of those ways and we sort of got stuck that way because that’s what we learned.
The great news is that what you learned as a child to cope can be unlearned. As there is nothing wrong with any of these responses (Fight, flight, freeze, or fawn). It can just, as you can imagine cause problems for us as adults if we continue to be stuck responding to most difficulties with one of these.
Pete Walker & Codependency
According to Pete Walker in his book Complex PTSD from Surviving to Thriving, co-dependents:
worry about expressing their rights needs and boundaries in a relationship
Are susceptible to being exploited, abused, or neglected
They feel comfortable listening to other people rather than expressing their own thoughts feelings and desires
They also feel more comfortable offering to help others rather than asking for help.
It is totally fine to have some of these traits some of the time. When you behave like this constantly and it is part of your character, it could have negative repercussions. Which I will go into later on in this podcast.
Real-life Examples of Codependency
Here are some examples of people I’ve made up who are co-dependent. Make a note in your journal which one is most like you:
Catherine has four children aged five to 15. Her life is about and for her children. Everything she does is to cater to their needs. Even the food she eats is about them as she will only cook what they want even if she cooks four different meals.
Jacob’s dad, Francis drinks around a litre bottle of vodka a day. He also goes to the pub at the weekends often consuming up to 6 pints of lager. He doesn’t eat, sleep is poor. He has also lost his job and ended a 10-year relationship. Francis refuses to register for benefits so he would be supported by the government financially.
He survives because his son Jacob supports him financially. He pays for his rent, and all his bills and provides money for his alcohol. Jacob worries about his dad and that his alcohol issues will kill him, this is affecting his work and his own relationship.
Pauline is 45 years old, single, and eight stone overweight. Her doctor is concerned as her blood pressure is high and she has sleep apnea. She promised her doctor that she will attend slimming world once a week, but she struggles to do this as she never does anything for herself.
She managed to build up the courage to go and booked a session to attend. Two hours before her session, her mum called her upset that she had an unexpectedly high electric bill and if she could come now to sort it out. What do you think Pauline did?
Jessy is in a twenty-year relationship with Patricia. Unfortunately, Patricia is often very verbally abusive both in the home and often humiliates him in public. She is the breadwinner and controls all the finances. Jessy has no say in virtually what happens in the home and leaves Patricia to make all the decisions.
These four, Catherine, Jacob, Pauline, and Jessy are all codependent.
Catherine’s identity is tied up with being a mother. She gives everything to her children and leaves nothing for herself. She doesn’t know who she is outside of being a mother.
Jacob is tied to his father. In many ways, he enables his father’s behavior. This means that he stops his father from experiencing the consequences of his actions. Because his dad doesn’t experience the consequences of his actions, he probably feels he doesn’t need to change as everything is alright for him. He has a roof over his head, food when he needs it, he has his bills paid for him.
Pauline constantly considers everyone else above her own needs as everyone else is more important. Even above her own physical well-being
Jessey is also co-dependent with his wife. He never challenges her poor behavior and always covers up for her when she hurts other people. He constantly apologies on her behalf or minimises what she does.
How did you find these examples?
Does any of these sound like you?
I’m not saying here you need to go the total opposite and don’t love and support other people, because this is what makes us human. It’s not all about what we can get from other people, it is just as important to give.
However, when you are co-dependent the emphasis becomes more on what you give rather than what you receive. You can go as far as to say that many who are co-dependent actually don’t like to receive anything and would struggle with it.
Typical Signs of Codependency
Some other typical signs of codependency could include the following:
Again, have your journal handy to make a note of which one applies to you
- self-worth that depends on what others think about you
- a habit of taking on more work than you can realistically handle, both to earn praise or lighten a loved one’s burden
- a tendency to apologize or take on blame in order to keep the peace
- a pattern of avoiding conflict
- a tendency to minimize or ignore your own desires
- a habit of making decisions for others or trying to “manage” loved ones
- a mood that reflects how others feel, rather than your own emotions
- guilt or anxiety when doing something for yourself
- doing things you don’t really want to do, simply to make others happy
- idealizing partners or other loved ones, often to the point of maintaining relationships that leave you unfulfilled
- overwhelming fears of rejection or abandonment
- You struggle to express your true feelings. Especially anger. This might have been a bad and not accepted emotion as a child or you witnessed the results of being angry yourself.
- The positive side of being codependent
- I will now talk more about the positive side of being Codependent. These assets are an asset but in moderation. Like with anything else in life, you need a balance
You will find that co-dependents are:
People can rely on you
- You are caring
- You can be a superhero to everyone else
- They can also depend on you
- Co-dependents can easily sense if you are not happy or uncomfortable – they are sensitive to how others are feeling
How Codependency can affect you negatively
- On the Negative side, codependency can have a negative impact, especially on you and the people in your life.
- You can often be very self-critical, even when you’ve done a great job and it’s clearly not your fault
- You feel so responsible for everything and everyone
- You can be really afraid of disappointing or upsetting other people
- You find it difficult setting boundaries for yourself, saying no
- You may find that you need to numb your feelings and tend to use food, alcohol or drugs to do so
- You can also be a perfectionist and struggle to accept that you’ve made a mistake
- You find intimacy difficult as it needs to be a two-way street, you struggle to be open in your relationships and find it difficult to trust
- You can be a bit of a martyr where you have taken care of everyone else, giving without receiving then feeling resentful and angry, taken advantage off
- You can work extremely hard, taking too much on, not knowing when to stop
- You can also be critical of others and to a degree controlling when you feel that you are not getting back what you gave.
- You could struggle with your emotions either experiencing anxiety or depression. One of the main reasons for this is because your anger emotions are switched off and you either can’t or refused to acknowledge those feelings. The only emotions left for you then is fear or sadness. I will at some point do a separate video on this.
- Another negative side is that co-dependents can enable other people’s poor behaviour. By enabling, for example, as this mainly applies in relationships where the other person has an addiction. This could be your spouse, child, sibling or even parent.
- As an enabler, you struggle to let the person with the addiction take responsibility for their actions. You would do all you can to protect them which could often be to their detriment. This is because many with addictions need to feel the full extent of how the addiction is affecting them and others for them to feel the need to change.
- If as the enabler, you are being overprotective, paying for their alcohol, cleaning up their mess, trying to make excuses for their behavior etc. They might not feel that their addiction is causing any problems as you are fixing all the issues.
Why does someone become codependent?
This could be for a number of reasons:
- According to Pete Walker, co-dependency begins in childhood. She learns early that a modicum of safety and attachment can be gained by becoming the helpful and compliant servant of her exploitive parents.
- One of your parents is more than likely a Narcissist, whereas as a child you were forced to become your parent’s needs. You had to become a child-parent where looking after others and putting other people first was normal.
- You weren’t taught to take care of yourself
- Even if your parents weren’t narcissists, you could still be turned into your parent’s therapist, substitute spouse if your parent is a single parent etc
- If your parents were co-dependent, you would get your model of how you relate to others from them. You wouldn’t learn how to set boundaries, how to put yourself first etc.
What can you start to do about it?
I will go into more about how to recover from Codependency in another blog as it deserves that special attention
But in the meantime, the main thing you can do to start to recover from codependency is to start to pay attention to yourself. To start taking care of yourself.
Put yourself first.
When you are on an airplane, the first thing the air hostess says is to put your oxygen mask on, even before your own children. Why, because without you, what will happen to all those people that has grown to depend on you.
In your journal, write down why you think it is hard for you to start to take care of yourself.
What are your thoughts and feelings when I suggested this is what you needed to do?
What to do next
What do you think about the contents of this article. Feel free to contact me to let me know and also let me know of other articles you would like to see on this website.
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