Codependency: a word we hear all the time, yet one that is often misunderstood or misused in the context of relationships and our behaviors within them.
So what even is codependency? This concept is crucial in the world of relationships, both personal and therapeutic, so let’s start unraveling this complex and dynamic web together.
What is Codependency?
At its core, codependency refers to a relationship pattern that some may describe as “dysfunctional” or even “toxic,” where one or both members of the relationship rely heavily on the other(s) for emotional, psychological, or even physical needs. This reliance is often rooted in a deep-seated feeling of insecurity, low self-efficacy, low self-esteem, or fear of abandonment.
As a result, the “codependent” partner will often make big sacrifices in their life—usually to their own detriment or harm—to meet the demands of their partner and keep the relationship. They will do this even when it feels awful, or they get the sense that they are “losing” themselves to the relationship. This pattern can go on for years if left unchecked, and is unhealthy for everyone involved.
Codependency is often talked about in the context of romantic relationships, but it can be found in relationships of all types: platonic, romantic, professional, familial, and communal. So where does it come from?
Where does Codependency Come From?
Although not always the case, the origins of codependency can often be traced back to one’s core family system or early childhood experiences. People who grow up in chaotic, unpredictable, or emotionally unsupportive environments may be more prone to developing codependent tendencies. This is because as children, they learned that they “needed” to take on the role of caretaker for the sake of the system, sacrificing their needs to maintain some semblance of stability. This is a coping mechanism that, while often helpful in such chaotic early environments, inadvertently reinforces our insecurities and morphs into a constant need for approval and validation.
Common Signs of Codependency in Relationships
Codependency can manifest in various ways depending on the relationship, but there are common signs and behaviors that therapists look for:
- Excessive or Chronic Caretaking: Codependent people typically feel overly responsible for how others feel, including their thoughts, actions, needs, and overall well being. They may neglect their own needs, even to the point of self-destruction, to care for others.
- Lack of Boundaries, or “Porous” Boundaries: People who struggle with codependency struggle to understand where they end and the other person begins, often on an emotional level. This can be seen as a lack of emotional boundaries, or “porous” boundaries. A porous boundary is where someone technically has a boundary, but others are frequently able to cross those boundaries without much push-back.
- Emotional Enmeshment: Having no or low boundaries can often lead to emotional enmeshment. This can often lead to a lack of personal autonomy for both the codependent person and their partner, as well as an inability to develop a separate sense of self. The result is often a struggle to identify one’s own emotions, needs, and desires separately from the people around them.
- Fear of Abandonment: A codependent individual often stays in harmful or unsatisfying relationships because they’re afraid of being alone or rejected. This is something that can come up when talking about painful or traumatic experiences from childhood, as codependent individuals often come from backgrounds where important relationships felt unstable, unsafe, or always at risk of being lost.
- Unclear, Difficult Communication: People with codependent behaviors can find it hard to express their thoughts, feelings, and needs honestly and directly. This often arises from fear of upsetting or losing the other person.
Understanding these signs is the first step towards breaking the chains of codependency. But how can one move towards healthier relationship patterns?
Breaking the Cycles of Codependency
There are several steps you can take if you recognize yourself in the words above and want to change. Here are a few ways to start the process of breaking the codependency cycle:
Recognize the Issue
As a trauma therapist in Seattle, I encounter many individuals who come to learn about their codependency, and I love being able to help them find new and healthier ways of relating to themselves and the people around them. One of the first things that happens is we work together to identify the codependent behaviors and raise awareness of how it shows up in their lives.
That said, awareness is the first and arguably the most important step towards change. If you resonate with the signs mentioned above, it might be useful to explore these patterns with a therapist or support group who can point out the patterns in yourself that are easy to miss.
Seek Support or Professional Help
Therapy and support groups can be instrumental in untangling yourself from codependency. A skilled therapist can provide a safe space to explore your feelings, fears, and underlying beliefs driving. codependent behaviors.
If you had difficult, painful, or traumatic experiences in your childhood or adolescence, it’s even more important to find a therapist who is trained in trauma-informed approaches to healing codependency.
Learn about and Establish Boundaries
Learning to set healthy boundaries is a crucial part of recovery from codependency. It involves understanding your personal needs, rights, and space, and being able to communicate these to others. It also means implementing those boundaries, even when it feels downright impossible or terrifying to do so.
This is where having a strong support circle around you is crucial: friends, healthy family relationships, a therapist, or a support group can go a long way in helping you stay accountable to yourself and your boundaries.
Mindfulness and Self Compassion
Cultivating mindfulness can help you to be more present and in tune with your feelings, needs, and desires as they’re happening. Emotional awareness is the key to breaking the cycle of automatic codependent reactions, and can enable you to make conscious, intentional, healthier choices.
As you practice mindfulness, it will also be important to practice gentleness and compassion with yourself. Change takes time, and it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. Show yourself the same kindness and understanding you would show to a friend.
Therapy for Codependency in Seattle
As a therapist in Seattle who helps clients overcome and prevent codependency and more, I’ve worked with many people who have found great success in setting compassionate boundaries, practicing radical self care, and busting through the constant strain of codependent behaviors in their most important relationships.
To learn more about counseling for codependency in Seattle, contact me for a free consultation to see if I’m the right fit for you. I can’t wait to hear from you!