Healthy relationships typically involve two people coming together and sharing a life but also managing healthy boundaries, whereby they have their own interests, careers, friend groups, hobbies, and time to themselves.
If one person in a relationship begins to become dependent or reliant on another, this could be because they are going through a difficult period in their life, and so they seek emotional support from their partner in order to get back to a healthy state of mind, where they are managing their mental health wellbeing, and where they feel capable of effectively managing their life.
However, in some instances, people can begin to exhibit codependent behaviors, and this is where healthier relationships can begin to break down and fall into something unhealthy, whereby the healthy boundaries are no longer respected, and suddenly more toxic, negative behaviors are exhibited.
What Is Codependency?
A codependent relationship refers to the instance whereby two people form a bond defined by reliance upon one another. This is a form of an unhealthy relationship that typically extends to instances of codependent behavior patterns, where one person in the relationship controls or manipulates the other.
One person within the relationship may be psychologically reliant upon the other person in order to fulfill their own needs or to facilitate or enable a habit or behavior, such as an addiction to drugs.
Different Types Of Codependent Relationships
A codependent relationship can take many forms. For instance, in the case of families, parenting will typically involve a great deal of self-sacrifice and putting the needs and wants of a child before their own needs.
This could result in a mother being too overbearing toward their child in an attempt to protect them, and because of this continued behavior, the child may also feel dependent on the mother for safety, as they might feel unsafe without guidance or the presence of their parent.
This unfortunately can be especially damaging for a child, as they may forgo or ignore their own feelings, putting the wants and needs of their parent above their own. This can then become problematic for the child in later life in terms of their mental health and ability to connect healthily with others.
These experiences could affect future relationships, as the child will likely become dependent on a spouse, and may often exhibit feelings of fear and anxiety when confronted with situations that require them to rely upon themselves.
Elsewhere, it could also prevent a child from ever truly growing up. Since it is common for children to become adults and then leave home when they come of age, this process might be interfered with if a codependent parent attempts to prevent their child from doing so.
This explains why sometimes children never leave home once they become adults. Whilst outsiders looking in might observe the situation as being one where the child simply needs to accept adulthood, and their responsibilities, and move on, it could actually be the sign of an unhealthy codependent relationship between the parent and the child.
This in turn could prevent the child from being able to fully become an adult, from being able to connect with others, it could also prevent them from getting opportunities in life (which they might have otherwise been able to take advantage of if they were free of responsibilities) because they would be too busy trying to please an overbearing parent, rather than focusing on their own lives, aspirations, and responsibilities.
Examples of types of codependency could come in the form of abusive relationships, in which one person could exhibit codependent traits such as being a ‘people pleaser’, meaning that they desperately attempt to please their abusive partner, but are constantly belittled, spoken down to, and generally made to feel that their own self worth is lesser than their partner’s.
It is typical, therefore, that a person who has low self-esteem will fall into such a relationship. They will continually seek external validation, as opposed to looking inward and validating their own feelings and emotions.
They may frequently seek this validation from their abusive partner, and will likely never get it, but may be too scared to be alone or may feel trapped within the relationship and unable to walk away from their partner.
In the long term, this could severely affect a person’s mental health and well-being, as they would feel they are not able to resolve the situation, and would likely develop mental health conditions such as depression as a result.
It is quite common for a codependent person to form a relationship with a narcissist. This is because narcissists consider themselves to be highly important and that their own needs and wants are more important than the feelings and desires of those around them.
Because of this, if they end up in a relationship with a codependent, they may manipulate this person into doing what they want them to do, especially if it involves things that will benefit them. The codependent person will prioritize the narcissist’s needs and wants above their own, and will attempt to do anything to please them.
This can become a vicious cycle, and it may be impossible to break the cycle if the codependent person never realizes they are being used or manipulated. For instance, if their friends question the relationship, the codependent person may attempt to defend and justify the actions of their partner, or they may not even realize that they are being manipulated.
Codependency In Relation To Addiction
Codependency can often be linked with addiction. Becoming addicted to a substance can lead a person to experience feelings of loneliness, as they may be taking drugs to stop feeling alone or alleviate other negative feelings they may be experiencing.
As a result of this, they might find it harder to keep together a relationship or form them. Codependent people might then opt to resort to behaviors that are detrimental to their well-being, such as being reckless with their finances and spending money to fuel an alcohol addiction, being careless at work, neglecting life commitments, or generally seeking support from others.
A codependent partner in the context of addiction will enable the other person’s addiction, and this could range from keeping the addiction secret, to actually providing the drugs to their partner.
For instance, some codependent romantic relationships could involve both people in the relationship being codependent on each other in order to fuel both of their addictions, meaning that they help each other to facilitate each other’s addictions.
Sometimes this could occur as a result of the breakdown of communications within a relationship, which may then result in one, or both people taking substances in order to cope with the negative feelings associated with the unhealthy relationship, or both people may have met each other whilst being addicted to substances, and therefore, form an unhealthy connection to each other that is linked with their drug usage.
This is particularly dangerous in that both individuals within the relationship could potentially be enabling and encouraging each other’s substance usage, and this not only would exacerbate each other’s conditions, but it would also cause an unhealthy reliance upon one.
This may then lead both people in the relationship to become caught not only in addiction cycles but also in codependency cycles. Without the help of healthcare specialists and people outside of the relationship, the individuals involved may never escape it, and this could have dire long-term consequences.
The Main Aspects Of Codependent Relationships: The Three Stages Of Codependency
It is generally considered that codependency can fall into three roughly defined stages. The beginning stage will involve a codependent person potentially becoming obsessed with another person.
In doing so, they may begin to forget themselves and may even start to neglect their own needs in favor of seeking the attention or approval of the person they are obsessing over.
The second stage is where some of the mental health issues such as anxiety may begin to arise, together with the person potentially expressing feelings of self-blame or guilt. In reflection of the relationship they are in, they may begin to experience a drastic drop in their self-esteem, as they continually seek approval and validation, but never receive it.
As a result, this will be harmful to their own view of themselves. Depending on the nature of the relationship, who is taking control of it etc, this behavior could then escalate to a situation where the codependent begins to nag or attempt to manipulate their significant other, in an attempt to change the situation and how it is affecting them.
This assumes that they are the more dominant person within the relationship. If the person is in fact being manipulated, gaslit, blamed for problems etc, and is the one being controlled, they might not ever have the strength or self-esteem necessary to stand up for themselves.
This could mean that this destructive cycle will continue until the relationship is ended by one of the people involved, or a friend or family member gets involved in order to change things.
The third and final stage is where a person’s mental and physical health is likely to become affected. The person could begin to develop conditions such as an eating disorder, insomnia, depression, and many more. This would also be exacerbated considerably if the person is also addicted to a substance. At this stage, the person would require help as soon as possible.
Breaking The Cycle: How To Overcome Codependency
Therapy is generally the key way to treat codependency. It is possible to change learned behaviors and reverse the behaviors that have been learned, and this will usually be achieved by regularly talking to a counselor, a therapist, through couple’s therapy, or via another form of healthcare specialist.
If people are suffering from mental illness, it could be linked in some way to their codependency, or it could even be worsened by it. Whatever the case may be, prescription medication may be given to people in these situations, in order to address the symptoms associated with the mental health disorders the person is suffering from.
Since codependency typically can materialize as a result of a person having low self-esteem issues and a general low sense of self-worth, they are likely to highly benefit from therapy and other similar sorts of programs, as they will be able to help them build their belief and strength within themselves step by step.
Becoming more aware of themselves could also help people who are struggling with codependency to more easily recognize these behaviors within themselves, as well as recognize when other people might be toxic or attempting to control them.
Moreover, therapy could help individuals to find courage and strength within themselves to walk away from a bad relationship and walk away from people who are a dangerous and destructive influence on their lives. They could also learn how their relationship was unhealthy, and how healthy relationships should look.
Seeking Professional Treatment For Codependency
When seeking options for how to overcome codependency, and in relation to substance abuse, there are various forms of treatment that people can potentially take. One way that people can seek treatment is with residential treatment centers (also known as rehab centers).
These treatment facilities provide a range of different resources, medications, and forms of treatment that can help people to treat their addictions and overcome codependency for good. This could be achieved through an inpatient treatment program, that would require the individual to reside in a particular medical center for the majority of their treatment, or via an outpatient treatment program.
With outpatient treatment programs, people will usually attend regular weekly sessions (which might be on a part-time) basis at a local medical center, rehab center, or a hospital. In this instance, the individual would not reside in the treatment center, but would instead attend several sessions over an agreed period, whilst also keeping up with their other life commitments.
For the substance side of treatment, people can take part in procedures such as medical detoxes, in order to safely remove any harmful substances from their bodies with the use of prescription medication, whilst also overcoming the withdrawal symptoms associated with the substance they are addicted to.
Once this part of the treatment process has been completed, people can take part in different forms of counseling and therapy options such as couples therapy, family therapy, and one-to-one sessions. These types of treatment can help a person to treat their addiction as well as the codependent behaviors they are exhibiting at the same time.
Treatment for codependency will typically vary from person to person, and more extensive, longer-term forms of treatment may be required for psychological conditions related to addiction and codependency, such as depression and anxiety.
Couples therapy will likely be a key aspect of treatment for codependency and will involve both people within the relationship being honest and forthcoming about the problems they each have, how they are linked to the other person, accepting that these problems exist, and then working on a plan moving forward, which seeks to improve and strengthen the poor boundaries that exist.
In some instances, it might be more beneficial for the couple to spend time apart temporarily or indefinitely, and this will largely depend on whether or not this will lead to both people recovering in a more effective manner as a result of this action.
Other changes that could be necessary and which might be suggested within the therapy process could include different ways of communicating with each other, methods of changing mindsets to avoid negative thinking, creating healthier boundaries through respecting each other’s space and time, refraining from enabling each other’s addictions or negative behaviors, and being more supportive of each other in an emotional sense.
Through programs such as the 12-step program, the 4-step program, counseling, and therapy, people could slowly learn to unlearn unhealthy ways and negative learned behavior, and instead learn to focus more on self-love, the importance of having a good sense of self, and building up the courage and confidence to avoid engaging in codependent behaviors and substance use in the future.
If you or a loved one is seeking treatments for codependency, Feinberg can help you. With access to professional assessments, interventions, care referrals, and much more, Feinberg can help you to receive the treatment that works for you, and which will help you to get regain control of your life.