What Is Co-dependency?

Co-dependency refers to mental, emotional, physical, and/or spiritual reliance on a partner, friend, or family member. It is a learned behaviour that can be passed down from one generation to another, as well as an emotional and behavioural condition that affects an individual’s behaviour to have a healthy mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with co-dependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive. This behaviour is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behaviour.

How Does a Dysfunctional Family Lead To Co-Dependency?

A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. These families do not acknowledge that problems exist.  They do not talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs, so that they become “survivors”. They learn behaviours that help them to deny, ignore or avoid difficult emotions.

The Different Forms of Co-dependency

This comes in all shapes and sizes and has varying levels of severity. Foundationally it is due to a poor concept of self and poor boundaries, including the inability to have an opinion or say no. It can develop in various relationships such as a parent-child, partner-partner, spouse-spouse, and even co-worker-boss.

Signs of Co-dependency

Co-dependency refers to an imbalance in relationship patterns where one person assumes responsibility for meeting another person’s needs to the exclusion of acknowledging their own needs or feelings. Co-dependent relationships are thus constructed around an inequity of power that promotes the needs of the taker, leaving the giver to keep on giving often to the sacrifice of themselves. Co-dependency might include some (not necessarily all) of the following:

• A sense of “walking on eggshells” to avoid conflict with the other person
• Feeling the need to check in with the other person and/or ask permission to do daily tasks
• Often being the one who apologizes, even if you have done nothing wrong
• Feeling sorry for the other person even when they hurt you
• Trying to change or rescue troubled, addicted, or under-functioning people whose problems go beyond one person’s ability to fix them
• Doing anything for the other person, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable
• Putting the other person on a pedestal despite the fact that they do not merit this position
• A need for other people to like you in order to feel good about yourself
• Struggling to find any time for yourself, especially if your free time consistently goes to the other person
• Feeling as if you have lost a sense of yourself or within the relationship

Why Is Co-dependency an Unhealthy Dynamic?

While everyone has loved ones and feels responsible for them, it can be unhealthy when someone’s identity is contingent upon someone else. Even if the giver doesn’t feel this way immediately, they will more likely enjoy giving their love and being relied upon. Hence, the relationship can develop to very unhealthy degrees as it progresses.

Another inherent issue is that it becomes difficult for the giver to extricate themselves from the relationship since they might feel the other person relies on them so much, even if they know in their gut it is the right thing to so. The taker will feel so reliant on the other person that they can have difficulty leaving a toxic relationship.

How to Reduce Co-dependent Tendencies

The first step is to focus on self-awareness. This can be done on your own, but therapy and counselling will help you unravel your Co-dependent tendencies. Many who struggle with Co-dependency often do not seek help until their life falls apart.

Once you are on that journey, try your best to do the following:
• Learn to speak lovingly and positively to yourself, and resist the impulse to self-criticize
• Take small steps to some separation in the relationship. Seek activities outside of the relationship and invest in new friendships. Focus on figuring things out, like what makes you who you are, and then expand upon them.
• When tempted to think or worry about someone else, actively turn your attention inward. This takes practice so be kind to yourself along the way.
• Stand up for yourself. By working on building your own sense of self-esteem, you will find more strength in yourself.
• Do not be afraid to say “no” to someone when you really do not want to do something

Co-dependency is a behaviour that comes in many forms and levels of intensity. It often leads to an unhealthy relationship dynamic that progressively gets worse over time as the co-dependent person loses a sense of themselves. Self-awareness and active redirection from the behaviour are key in reducing co-dependent tendencies, so be kind to yourself as you work through years of learned behaviour.