Codependency was a term first used in the 1980’s to describe relationships with someone struggling with alcoholism and addiction, and someone that supports someone to the point of enabling. But as we’ve learnt more about codependency, we’ve realised it’s actually a very real form of addiction: codependency is addiction to relationships. It may be much more common and socially acceptable than other forms of addiction, but it is equally as painful, destructive, and unhealthy as any other addiction. In order to identify and manage codependency, let’s take a closer look at what it is and how it operates in our life.
What is codependency?Simply put, codependency is an addiction to a relationship. When we fall in love, our brains release an absolute hurricane of feel-good hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. It’s totally natural to enjoy this feeling and genuinely love having that companionship- we’re only human. But like any other chemicals, we can get hooked on that feeling and chase it to the point of destruction. It’s like falling in love is the high and breakup/divorce is the painful withdrawal. Codependent relationships are often characterised by some deeply dysfunctional patterns and dynamics. A common scenario is someone that loves and attaches very intensely, will be attracted to someone that is more emotionally closed off and less expressive. You have this push and pull situation playing out, and they’re each enabling each other to stick to their role, instead of exploring the full range of human behaviours. Relationships shouldn’t be so rigid, and you shouldn’t need your partner to feel safe or whole. There’s a lot of theories as to why and how people become codependent. It’s more common in people who grew up in environments of addiction or witnessed codependent parents in their relationship, as we often subconsciously recreate traumatic situations in an event to find mastery over them as an adult. Or maybe that’s the only love we’ve ever known, so anything else feels weird and foreign. We also have to admit that we live in a society with warped expectations around relationships. We grew up on Disney and Hollywood, seeing that dynamic of damsel in distress or knight in shining armour. Neither are complete without the other, there’s lots of dramatic singing and pining for each other. Real relationships just aren’t like that, it’s dangerous to find your identity in someone else, and those rigid roles just aren’t how we really operate as people.
How to know if you are codependentCodependency isn’t a clinical diagnosis, it takes a lot of self awareness and being open to feedback to really awaken to the realisation. If you need your partner to play a certain role for the relationship to work- that’s codependency, If you need your partner to change for you to be happy, that’s codependency. If you don’t feel complete without your partner, that’s codependency. If you define yourself in relation to your partner, that’s codependency. Relationships should be about two partners feeling equally respected, empowered, challenged and supported. The roles in a relationship aren’t rigid, both parties should be free to voice concerns or disagree without fear of being abandoned or facing negative consequences.
How to manage codependencyLinking your self worth to other people is one of the most dangerous things you can do for your mental health. It’s vital you take the time to be alone and explore who you are apart from any attachments or relationships. Being alone has allowed me to reflect on my values, behavioural patterns, identifying fears, triggers, buttons, likes, dislikes- and be really honest with myself. A lot of us don’t like ourselves because we haven’t spent enough time figuring out who we are, we’re afraid to be alone with ourselves. This fear and dislike of oneself is what keeps people in that cycle of chasing love or staying in an unhealthy/codependent relationships. The highs and lows of codependency are just one big frantic attempt to avoid being or feeling alone, it’s just a distraction. Like any other addiction, you’re using an external substance (relationships) to numb the pain. Once you process and heal your pain, you remove that emotionally charged trigger and relationships can’t control you. Therapy is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I understand it’s not accessible to everyone but if possible, seeking help from a therapist or doing some research online could really improve how you feel. Fixing the root cause will inevitably change your life for the better, help process difficult emotions, allow you to develop healthy relationships in the future, and can nip problems in the bud. Codependency is an addiction, and addictions can certainly be dealt with and managed. It takes a lot of self awareness and hard work, but a better and healthier future is out there for you.
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