Are You Codependent and Can Counseling Help?
The concept of codependency – which was initially developed to describe the behaviors and responses arising in individuals who live with someone abusing alcohol or drugs – has acquired a number of definitions over the years.
According to Codependent Anonymous, codependency describes "a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one's relationships and quality of life
It also often involves putting one's needs at a lower priority than others while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others."
Codependents often have low self-esteem, practice self-denial, and are excessively compliant in regards to the needs of others, regardless of whether these others are family members, friends, romantic partners, or professional associates.
How Does One Become Codependent?
As with most of our beliefs and behaviors, the ability or inability to develop behaviors that effectively meet our needs is initially acquired during childhood.
Therefore, codependency also describes a set of maladaptive and compulsive behaviors that an individual acquires in childhood. These behaviors are usually in response to formal or unstated family rules created to help members cope with a great deal of psychological stress and turmoil.
While this turmoil and stress is often the result of one or both parents being alcoholics or dependent on drugs, codependency is just as likely to occur as a result of growing up in a family coping with the chronic mental or physical illness of a member, or in which physical, emotional, or sexual abuse occurs.
Some examples of family rules that can hinder development and lead to codependency are:
- No one wants to hear about your problems
- Keep your feelings to yourself
- Do as I say, not as I do
- Don't rock the boat
- You should put others needs above your own
- Don't be selfish
- Whatever you do, make us proud
- Always be your very best
Most of these are familiar expressions, and many families rely on one or more of these rules. Unfortunately, these types of rules restrict the free and healthy development of a child's self-esteem and problem-solving skills. As a result, children living with these types of rules often develop behaviors, problems-solving techniques, and reactions that leave them unfulfilled as adults.
How Can You Tell If You're Codependent?
Generally, if you seem to repeatedly get into relationships with people who are needy, unreliable, or emotionally unavailable, if you feel unfulfilled in your relationships no matter how much you do, if you don't assert yourself when you have a need, or if you don't make the time to play and just have fun in life, you may be codependent.
Other signs of codependency can include:
- Being distrustful of others
- Needing to control people's behaviors (their own as well as others)
- Avoiding feelings and emotions
- A heightened awareness of potential threats
- Accepting a "caretaking" role in relationships
- Recurring stress and physical illness
- Intimacy issues
Although one need not experience all of these symptoms in order to be classified as codependent, if two or more feel familiar you may have codependent tendencies.
As can be seen from the list above, codependency primarily impairs our relationships with other people. Unfortunately, codependent people are unlikely to get into relationships with those who have healthy behaviors and boundaries. And, even when they do, a codependent is likely to continue operating within their own system of maladaptive beliefs and behaviors.
This creates a vicious cycle for the codependent, as the problems they've experienced in previous relationships are continuously carried over into the next.
How Can You Overcome Codependency?
If you believe you're codependent, individual counseling and therapy can help you become more aware of your self-limiting beliefs and behaviors, as well as learn healthier and more respectful assertiveness, communication, and problem-solving techniques and skills.
This having been said, counseling and psychotherapy can only be beneficial if the therapist is aware of their own codependent tendencies. If your counselor or therapist and you develop a therapeutic relationship with codependent qualities, the pattern of codependency is repeated and therapy is less likely to be as beneficial. Given this, you need to be careful when looking for a professional to work with, and I highly recommend seeking a few referrals from your family physician, a member of the clergy, or another professional you trust.
In addition to professional counseling, you may also consider seeking the help and support offered by one of the many self-help groups for codependents. These are commonly called CODA groups, and you can find more information about their groups online (http://www.coda.org). If you can't locate a CODA group in your area, you may also consider an ACA (adult children of alcoholics) group, as these often deal with similar issues as CODA groups. You can find more information on ACA groups online (http://www.adultchildren.org).
Some may claim that we live in a codependent society wherein everyone is either an addict or a caretaker. However, even if there is some truth to this statement, it doesn't make it acceptable or mean that you should give up all hope. You can feel more fulfilled in your relationships and feel better about yourself and your life, and professional support, counseling, and therapy can help.
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For more information contact:
Haleh Rambod, M.A., MFT
2111 Geer Road, Suite 505-507
Turlock, CA 95382
4100 Moorpark Avenue, Suite 106
San Jose CA, 95117