We all depend on each other. But there’s a difference between healthy dependence and codependence.
There are certain words that get thrown around a lot, but which, when you stop and ask what they mean, most people don’t seem to really know. “Codependent” is one of those words.
“They’re so codependent,” we might say about our parents when they start squabbling (again) over some small thing. The friend who can’t seem to stay broken up with her cheating boyfriend is labeled “codependent,” as is the friend who keeps bringing booze home to her alcoholic husband, refusing to admit he has a problem.
But is the word “codependent” really a catch-all for anyone in an unhealthy relationship? And is depending on someone necessarily a bad thing? There’s nothing inherently wrong with being needy. We all use each other to get our needs met; how else are you supposed to do it?
Melody Beattie popularized the term “codependent” in her 1986 bestseller Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. After the book’s publication, the word infiltrated the public lexicon, and Beattie became one of the biggest names in the self-help world. She describes codependency as getting so wrapped up in someone else’s problems that you lose sight of your own needs. This behavior tends to be rooted in childhood, and frequently crops up in families affected by addiction or mental illness. Children in these households learn early on that they can’t rely on their parents to give them what they need; they often assume a caretaker role in an attempt to keep the peace in a chaotic home.
So what do we call the perfectly natural and healthy neediness we all have for each other, that makes us seek out relationships in the first place, and feels so good when it’s reciprocated? That’s “interdependence,” and it’s different from codependence. Interdependence indicates a healthy dependency – one that doesn’t involve neglecting your own needs, trying to control other people, or making yourself miserable in the name of trying to make someone else happy.
Psychotherapist Leon F. Seltzer writes in Psychology Today that in a codependent union, “two individuals lean so heavily on one another that both of them are left off balance…the relationship is reciprocal only in that it enables both of them to avoid confronting their worst fears and self-doubts.” This leaves both partners feeling “alone, inadequate, insecure, and unworthy.”
Could codependence be the cause of your unhappiness? Recognizing it is the first step toward recovery. Here are 16 signs that you could be a codependent person…
1. You seem to have a knack for choosing the wrong person.
Do you always fall for the “fixer-uppers”? You know the ones – the chronically underemployed, the alcoholics, the ones with untreated depression? Codependent people love a project. They’re drawn to needy partners they think they can fix, and who seem likely to depend on them.
2. You struggle with low self-esteem.
People who don’t feel good about themselves often feel like no one will love them unless they make themselves indispensable. To make up for their low self-esteem, they give too much and never stop to ask if they deserve to have their needs met, too.
3. You think about your partner all the time.
Sure, it’s normal to think about your partner throughout the day. But if you’re unable to concentrate on anything else because you’re obsessively re-reading your texts, wondering if he’ll call, and mentally replaying your last interaction, that’s not healthy.
4. When your partner is upset, you’re even more so.
If something is going on with your partner, it drives you to absolute distraction. He may be only mildly upset, but you’re absolutely beside yourself, discussing your partner’s problem with your friends as if it were your problem. There’s a difference between caring about your partner’s feelings and taking them on yourself.
5. You don’t have a lot of interests outside your relationship.
When you started dating your partner, everything else got pushed aside. Friends, hobbies, and your weekly girls’ night out aren’t as important as your relationship; you cancel things to keep your evenings open for him even if the two of you don’t have plans yet.
6. Your friends marvel at your ability to handle a crisis.
You’re the go-to person when shit hits the fan; you seem to actually function better in crisis mode than you do in your everyday life.
7. You always have an answer for everything.
You pride yourself on knowing what to do and how to help people; if you’re wrong, it’s never your fault – so you never feel the need to apologize.
8. You have a hard time opening up to people.
Because you’ve got such a warm and caring personality, other people find it easy to open up to you. And while they might think they know you, you’re actually keeping them at arm’s length, afraid to really let people get close.
9. You feel unhappy a lot of the time and you don’t know why.
Taking care of other people and never doing anything to take care of yourself exacts a toll.
10. You’re secretly afraid no one really loves or needs you.
As much energy as you spend trying to make everyone happy and meet everyone’s needs, you still worry that deep down, people don’t love you – and they don’t need you, either.
11. You have a habit of keeping secrets and fudging the truth.
Telling the whole truth often makes other people unhappy and results in conflict – and conflict scares you. To avoid it, you play fast and loose with the truth, and keep secrets you’re afraid might hurt people.
12. You rarely think about what you want.
How can you know what you want, when you’re so busy worrying about what your partner, your family, and everyone else wants?
13. You don’t ask for help.
You love to jump in and help other people, but you’re reluctant to ask for help yourself. Past experience has taught you it’s a bad idea to rely on others.
14. You know exactly what’s wrong with everyone else.
There’s a saying in 12-step recovery programs: “Let it begin with me.” But you’d rather let it begin with someone else – and you know just where they should start. You’ve got great plans for fixing other people’s lives.
15. Making life decisions sends you into a panic.
While you’re prepared to tell everybody else what they should do, when it comes to making decisions about your own life, you become indecisive, even paralyzed. Because you don’t know what you want, you’re terrified of making the wrong choice.
16. You give until you can’t give anymore.
When your cup is empty, it’s really empty. You’re generous and kind and loving and understanding and patient – until you suddenly snap. You become bitter and angry, which in turn makes you feel guilty. You end up withdrawing altogether because you don’t know how to fix things.
If any of the above sound familiar, there’s hope and help for you. Seeing a therapist is a great start, and if you have a family history of alcoholism or addiction, attending an Al-Anon meeting can be helpful, as well. People can still need you, and you can need them; you just need to turn your codependence into interdependence.
Image via tumblr.com.
Comment: Have you ever been in a codependent relationship?
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