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The word “codependency” gets thrown around a lot: There are codependent couples, codependent companions, and codependent caretakers. But what does codependent actually mean — and is it really all that bad?
What Is Codependency?
“Codependency is typically discussed in the context of substance use, where one person is abusing the substance, and he or she depends on the other person to supply money, food, or shelter. But codependency is much broader than that,” says Jonathan Becker, DO, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore,“ Dr. Becker says. ”Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person. In a codependent relationship, there is usually one person who is more passive and can’t make decisions for themselves, and a more dominant personality who gets some reward and satisfaction from controlling the other person and making decisions about how they will live.”
Jose Rojos, now 36, was in such a relationship for close to three years. Seven years ago, the professional dog groomer was living with a boyfriend in the South with whom he was madly in love. There was one problem: His partner was insanely jealous, clingy, and prone to dramatic mood swings.
“He would hide my driver’s license so I would stay put,” Rojos recalls. “He would also buy me all sorts of gifts, including a pet schnauzer, to keep me around. I was in love with him and couldn’t leave, but his mood swings grew so severe that I became afraid and knew I had to get out.”
And get out, he did. Rojos relocated to New York City and severed all ties with his ex. “He was not a bad person, but he was bad for me,” says Rojos, who is now in a healthy long-term relationship.
While the jealous and controlling behavior in Rojos’s former relationship was definitely an issue, “Codependency [also] becomes problematic when one person is taking advantage of the other financially or emotionally,” Becker says.
Enabling is another sign of an unhealthy codependence. Mary-Catherine Segota, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Counseling Resource Services in Winter Garden, Florida, describes enabling as a behavior that’s used to ease relationship tension caused by one partner’s problematic habits. Enabling behavior, which is rarely seen in healthy relationships, includes bailing your partner out, repeatedly giving him or her another chance, ignoring the problem, accepting excuses, always being the one trying to fix the problem, or constantly coming to the rescue.
8 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. “Signs of codependency include excessive caretaking, controlling, and preoccupation with people and things outside of ourselves,” says Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a consultant, educator, and author of numerous books, including Understanding Codependency.
Signs of codependency include:
- Having difficulty making decisions in a relationship
- Having difficulty identifying your feelings
- Having difficulty communicating in a relationship
- Valuing the approval of others more than 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
Is a Codependent Relationship Really That Bad?
Not all codependent relationships turn sour, Becker says. “Any healthy relationship will have some codependency and give and take,” he explains. For example, it’s reasonable if one partner looks to another for advice or guidance on a major decision, he says.
But if you seek out, maintain, or even feed off relationships that are not fulfilling or healthy, you could be codependent. Once codependency is identified, it can be successfully treated, Becker says. Here’s how:
Pursue counseling. “Talk to a mental health provider to help rebuild your sense of self and realize why you rely so much on the other person,” Becker says.
Consider couple’s therapy. Sometimes the relationship can be helped or even saved by therapy to reduce codependency, he says.
Reconnect with friends and family. “Being in a codependent relationship can lead to isolation, which fuels the loss of self,” Becker says. “Call or email those people from whom you’ve distanced yourself, and start to rebuild these relations.”
Carve out “you time.” “If you once enjoyed music and gave up lessons or practicing, pick up where you left off,” Becker suggests. “Return to doing the things you once enjoyed before you became so enmeshed with the other person.”
Seek treatment for substance abuse. “If you are abusing drugs or alcohol, talk to your doctor about treatment options,” he says. “This holds for the other partner, too, as there are support groups and resources for family members affected by substance abuse, such as Al-Anon.
This article originally appeared on EverydayHealth.com: Do You Have a Codependent Personality?
By Beth Gilbert, Everyday Health
Additional reporting by Denise Mann
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