Am I Codependent? Take The Codependency Quiz
If you try looking up the term “Codependent” in a diagnostic manual or psychiatric handbook you will not find it listed as a psychiatric disorder or condition.
In fact, you will not find it listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website or in any other psychiatric or psychological reference dealing with psychiatric disorders.
The term codependent differs from depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder or even Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) in that it is meant to describe a style of behavior in a relationship rather than a psychiatric disorder.
The term “codependent or codependency” had its origin in the recovery community (Alcoholics Anonymous) sometime in the late 1970’s and was used to describe a type of dysfunctional relationship between addicts and their partners (enablers).
Over time it has probably become one of the most well-known terms in the popular psychology lexicon.
What Is Codependency?
The term codependency was originally coined by researchers studying the dynamics of alcohol addiction in families. It became clear to those who worked with alcoholics and their families that there was a very unhealthy two-way dependency created when a family member was addicted to alcohol.
Since then the term codependency has been expanded and used to describe almost any type of relationship where the dependent partner may be physically and/or psychologically dependent or addicted to a substance or may have chronic emotional, physical or financial problems.
The codependent partner (enabler) tries to control or protect the other partner and the relationship.
In an effort to keep the relationship from changing or suffering from the consequences of the addicted partner’s behavior, the codependent partner (enabler) takes charge of the dependent partner by making excuses, hiding destructive behaviors, pitying him and generally enabling the dysfunctional pattern to continue.
A codependent person is someone who often shows excessive or even inappropriate caring for the dependent person. Both partners “need” each other in an unhealthy and symbiotic fashion.
Codependent people will often come from families where their personal needs were secondary to the needs of the family. The family may have been dealing with an addiction or some other difficult chronic problem.
Neediness And Responsibility
Codependents are somehow made to feel responsible for other family members who depend on them in an unhealthy way. They learn to repress their own feelings and serve mainly to comfort and care for someone else.
As adults, codependent people are at greater risk to form relationships with others who are needy or emotionally unavailable. The familiar feeling of denying one’s own emotions for the sake of someone else’s is a strong pull towards repeating the early family dynamic.
Once they enter into a relationship codependents will feel that their controlling behavior is in the best interest of the family. They are convinced that the survival of the family depends on their taking control.
Unfortunately, they are often doomed to feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied with the relationship and themselves.
The codependent is living his life through another.
The sense of personal identity, of discovering who you really are, is sacrificed unwittingly for a compulsive and repetitive learned behavior. The feeling of being consumed by another’s needs can create an anxious or depressed mood that may cause yet another disturbance in the couple’s life.
The codependent will often suffer from low self-esteem as they look to others for approval, validation or even gratification. They may feel fragile, hollow or empty unless they are in a relationship with a dependent partner.
They also fear being rejected or abandoned by the dependent partner, thereby keeping them in a relationship despite knowing that it is intrinsically harmful.
There is an obvious distinction to be made between an unhealthy codependent relationship and a healthy one where partners know how to take care of each other without losing their own identity.
How Do I Even Know If I Am Codependent?
What follows is a list of characteristics that codependents often exhibit. You may be codependent if three or more of these fit your personality.
You feel responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, and well-being.
It is easier for you to feel and express anger about injustices done to others than about injustices done to you.
You feel best and most comfortable when you are giving to others.
You feel insecure and guilty when someone gives to you.
You feel compelled to help people solve their problems.
You lose interest in your own life when you are involved with someone.
You are often unable to stop talking, thinking and worrying about other people and their problems.
You stay in relationships that don’t work and tolerate abuse in order to keep people loving you.
You can leave bad relationships only to form new ones that turn out just as bad.
You feel empty, bored and worthless if you don’t have someone else to take care of, a problem to solve, or a crisis to deal with.
You often have trouble identifying what you are feeling.
You often get upset when someone refuses your help.
I thought it would be helpful as well to provide a link to a codependent assessment inventory created by Mental Health America. This is a simple 60 question true/false tool that will help you to better assess codependency. (Click here for the tool)
How Do You Overcome Codependency?
Codependency can be treated. The couple can be helped to understand and change the behaviors that have trapped them in this cycle. Like any problem, recognizing that it exists and deciding to change is the first step.
If you would like more information about codependency you can go to Codependents Anonymous.
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About the Author
Dr. Stan Hyman is a licensed psychotherapist and life coach in private practice in Miami, Florida. He works with couples struggling with powerful issues such as infidelity, codependency and intimacy. He also specializes in treating addictions, anger, anxiety, stress, depression and work life balance.