Recognizing Codependent Relationships: Coping Tips

Codependency refers to a dysfunctional pattern of behavior in a relationship where one person excessively relies on the other for emotional support, validation, and self-worth. Codependent relationships can be challenging and unhealthy for both individuals involved. It typically involves one person, the codependent, excessively relying on another person, the enabler, for their sense of self-worth, identity, and emotional well-being. For the codependent person, this can look like embodying low self-esteem, people pleasing, excessive caretaking, difficulty expressing emotions, fear of abandonment, difficulty with assertiveness, and many more characteristics. 

Low self-esteem

Individuals who exhibit codependent behaviors often have an exaggerated need for approval and validation from others, causing the individual to act out of low self-esteem. When it comes to the feelings of others, codependents frequently prioritize the needs and desires of others over their own, and often at the expense of their well-being. They may have difficulty setting boundaries and saying no. 

Lack of personal identity

Sometimes, codependent people have a weak sense of self, making it difficult to define their values, interests, and goals independent of anyone else’s thoughts or opinions. This may look like having weak or fluid opinions on deep topics, such as political views, personal values, or personal interests. They find it easier to rely on someone else’s values or opinions, losing their sense of self through this process. 

Excessive caretaking

Another attribute of codependents is excessive caretaking. They often take on the caretaker role, feeling responsible for others’ happiness and well-being. Feeling compelled to solve others’ problems instead of letting them figure it out on their own is a common feeling that codependent individuals face. If this applies to you, it might be helpful to take a step back and focus that caring energy on yourself instead of another person. 

Difficulty expressing emotions

A common attribute of codependent behavior is the inability to communicate their needs and emotions effectively. Since they are so focused on others, it is harder to identify their feelings in real-time. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to express their emotions at that moment when it is necessary, causing emotional outbursts later on after the incident has long passed. One reason they may suppress their feelings and avoid communicating is possible conflict or rejection from someone else.

Fear of abandonment

Codependents often have an intense fear of being abandoned or rejected. This fear can derive from earlier childhood trauma, where they have been abandoned or deeply rejected. If not dealt with or healed, this fear can drive them to engage in clingy or controlling behaviors to maintain adult relationships. There is a sincere need to control situations and people around them to manage their anxiety and insecurities. They may have difficulty accepting that they cannot control or change others. Feeling out of control can cause severe anxiety, resulting in damaged relationships with others. 

It’s important to note that codependency exists on a spectrum, and individuals may display varying degrees of these characteristics. If these behaviors sound familiar, either in yourself or someone you know, reach out to our team of therapists who can help overcome codependent behavior. We would love to help you heal!

By: Lindsey Schmid, LPC-A

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