Being a compassionate, nurturing person is admirable. We are taught from childhood to be selfless and considerate, as these virtues were instilled by our parents, teachers and other elders. Somewhere along that path of thoughtfulness, however, one can end up in the land of obsession.
Codependency is one of those vague, catch-all terms that is hard to grasp. The groundbreaking book Codependent No More, written in 1986 by Melody Beattie, presented the concept of toxic caregiving, which she called “codependency.” Beattie does not attempt to label those who are so devoted to their loved one as crazy, but instead points out the danger signs that indicate the vast gray area of dysfunction.
If the caregiver’s life begins to revolve around and be defined by a loved one, it may become a problem of codependency. These types of relationships are unhealthy and damaging to both parties’ mental, emotional and sometimes physical health.
Codependency is a psychological condition characterized by one person who is a part of a relationship caring for the other in order to meet his or her own emotional needs. The caregiver defines his or her self-worth by helping the person in need and is often controlled or manipulated by them. In most cases, the person in need of care has a mental health condition or substance abuse problem, issues that the codependent person will make excuses for and try to justify, thus allowing the person’s problem to rule both the relationship and the caregiver’s life.
Traits of a codependent
Codependency is present when caregivers invest all of their time and energy in the person who is ill or struggling with an addiction in an attempt to fix or save that person. The codependent becomes enveloped in the other person’s happiness at the expense of their own.
A need for control that inhibits one’s ability to share feelings or take necessary risks
Dependence on the approval of others to feel good about oneself
Mood disorders such as depression or anxiety
The dangers of codependency
Although most codependent relationships have one party as the codependent and one as the person either needing the help or displaying a stronger and often narcissistic character, in some relationships both members have a codependency problem. Any type of interpersonal relationship can be codependent, including those between spouses, romantic partners, children and parents, siblings, other family members, friends and even co-workers. When codependency is related to a substance use disorder, often it involves a parent, threatening the family’s overall behavioral health.
The primary problem with codependency, however, is the warped dynamic that develops between the parties. The inflicted party often becomes more defiant and less responsive to the directives of the helping party, as a sense of pride kicks in, protecting him or her from feeling manipulated and controlled. Along with this reaction is the lack of respect the inflicted party has towards the helping party. The invalid may begin to see that person as being as sick as he or she is.
Treatment for codependency
People who are codependent, who gain their sense of self-worth from the rush they get by helping someone in need, are often reluctant to admit their behaviors are unhealthy. They feel they have a purpose in life, saving their loved one from certain demise.
Just as mental health disorders and addiction require proper, specialized treatment in order for a person to fully recover, the same principle applies to treating a person who is a codependent. Treatment can include both therapy and medication, with cognitive behavioral therapy being the most effective at reshaping the codependent’s dysfunctional behaviors.
Therapy can also help to identify any underlying issues such as childhood abuse or neglect or other emotional and behavioral issues. These problems must be addressed in order for the codependent to halt destructive behavior and make a thorough recovery. Therapy should emphasize self-love and healthy self-esteem, learning how to put oneself first, learning how to create healthy boundaries and, in certain cases, how to regain control by leaving or changing the unhealthy relationship.