What is Codependency?

Codependency refers to a pattern of behavior that is learned by children of dysfunctional families while growing up. Although these beliefs that they hold can be beneficial to the family unit by enabling it to survive, the child becomes conditioned to rely on those behaviors in an effort to cope within the family system and in the long run, this becomes extremely harmful to the child.

This condition of codependency is characterized by someone sacrificing their personal needs to try and meet other people’s needs. It’s also associated with feelings of shame, insecurity, and a low self-image. Although this term originally described a person’s dependence on a partner or family member’s addictive behavior (often regarding alcohol and drugs), these days it’s more broadly associated with the behavior of someone whose thoughts and actions revolve around another person or thing.

How Codependency Develops

As previously stated, codependency is often rooted in childhood. For instance, a child who is often called upon to meet the needs of others will eventually become conditioned to suppress their own needs and may, in a sense, become addicted to the role of caregiver.

Another example is a child who grows up with a parent who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or who experiences emotional neglect, abuse, or the reversal of the parent-child role where the child is expected to meet the needs of the parent.

In all these instances, the child may step up to the plate so that the family doesn’t go experience chaos. They become the family hero, but they soon start to over-function and ultimately develop a codependent pattern of behavior which tends to recur in adult relationships.

Signs of Codependency Include:

  • Putting others’ needs before your own all the time
  • Feeling like you have to fix everyone and everything around you
  • Difficulty identifying or expressing your feelings
  • Difficulty making decisions or communicating in a relationship
  • Feelings of low self-worth, frustration, and inadequacy

The Consequences of Being The Hero in the Family

They lose their sense of self and identity in that constant battle to anticipate and meet the needs of others around them. From the outside, the consequences of assuming the role of the hero in the family may not seem great.

Most people will probably think that the child is ‘very responsible,’ or ‘mature beyond their years’ when in actual fact, they are doing a great deal of damage to themselves in an effort to do what is right. On the outside, the child is anticipating what others need and doing everything they can to meet those needs and make everyone happy, but on the inside, they feel a deep pain.

They feel overwhelmed by tasks that are beyond their level of maturity and (since no matter how hard they try to perform like an adult, it’s just not possible), they live with chronic feelings of frustration, anger, and inadequacy.

These behaviors become automatic in the child and persist into adulthood where they create havoc in relationships because the ‘family hero’ has deep-seated beliefs they are responsible for everyone (or everything) around them and that they know what is wrong with others and they can fix it.

They think that the needs of everyone around them are more important than their own and that they must help everyone who needs it. With such people, boundaries don’t exist in their adult relationships, and they don’t believe that they should talk about problems (probably so they don’t become a burden to anyone else), and usually, they over-function under stress, ultimately leading to exhaustion.

Psychotherapy Treatment for Codependency

Because codependent behaviors are often learned during the early years and heavily reinforced as the child grows up, it can prove difficult to change these patterns of behavior alone. Psychotherapy can help you to resolve codependency issues that can dramatically improve your self-esteem and relationships, and decrease depression and anxiety.

With the help of a skilled therapist, affected persons will be able to understand why they overcompensate and why they put everyone else first and themselves last all the time, so that you can start to improve your self-care and set clear boundaries so the people in your life can start to take responsibility for their own needs.