Codependency is a concept that refers to a psychological, spiritual, or emotional reliance on another person in a way that is self-destructive or other harmful and often includes enabling behavior. Codependent relationships are often out of balance, and a codependent person may ignore their own needs in favor of their loved ones' needs. Codependent people have trouble establishing healthy relationships and may end up in one-sided or even abusive relationships. Codependent relationships can be intimate relationships, or they can occur between family members or within caretaking relationships. A caregiver, for example, may become unable to set boundaries with the loved one being cared for and begin to neglect their own well-being.
Relational Elements of Codependency
Intimate codependent relationships often mean one or both codependent people have low self-esteem, but more often the relationship dynamics are marked by one person being overly dependent on the other person. Sometimes codependency is early learned behavior from dysfunctional families, and other times it develops later in life. Sometimes this is the case with caretakers where either the caretaker, through their sense of duty, or the one cared for loses their sense of self or autonomy and unequal power dynamics are present.
Codependency is characterized by control patterns and a lack of clear boundaries in relationships. Codependent people are often people pleasers and need a lot of validation. Sometimes they have mental disorders, such as narcissism, borderline personality disorder, or other disorders — including substance use disorder.
Relationship addiction (or love addiction) is not a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, neither is codependence, but the addictive traits are similar to substance use and process addictions. Dependent personality disorder, however, is listed in the DSM-5 and is an anxiety disorder marked by helpless and dependent behaviors, some of which are similar to that of codependency.
The term “codependence” has become popularized and overused, but it’s time to seek help when codependent behaviors and dynamics begin to undermine a person’s self-esteem and interfere with their wellbeing.
Signs of Codependency
- You are unable to set boundaries in relationships.
- You have low self-esteem.
- You ignore your own needs and put your partner's needs first.
- You feel addicted to another person (codependency is often called relationship addiction).
- You're in an abusive or unhealthy relationship and can't leave.
Codependency and Addiction
Codependency and other types of addictive behaviors are often co-occurring, which isn't surprising when codependent people have alcohol use issues or other substance use disorders. Through therapy, people with addiction can often uncover their codependency and how it co-exists with other disorders. In fact, the term "codependency" evolved out of the observation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) treatment group members noticing that partners of alcoholics shared codependent traits. In the AA paradigm, a dynamic may evolve where a codependent partner takes on the role of caretaker to the substance-addicted person. Addressing both the addiction and the co-dependencies is vital to treating the substance use problems.
Treatment for Codependency
Treatment for addiction and co-occurring codependency may consist of family therapy, individual therapy, psychodynamic therapy, group support, or other treatments. Caron has a well-trained staff and substance use programs to treat both codependency and substance use disorder. At Caron, we can also determine what other health issues or mental illnesses might be present so the codependent/addicted person receives a holistic, integrated treatment plan to help them develop a healthier, happier path. Reach out today for a consultation.
By Ramona Roberts, Psy.D.