Have you ever started a relationship making concessions to keep your partner happy and then struggled to stop? Compromise becomes a habit that often leads to codependency. Sometimes it’s immediate, and others, a more slippery slope. Either way, there are signs- sometimes screaming red flags- that can alert you to codependent tendencies within a relationship.
What is Codependency?
While codependency began as a term to describe typical patterns of relating to someone with an alcohol addiction, the meaning has evolved. The term has expanded to include a scope of relationships where one person relies on another for their fulfillment and often enables their partner’s negative behaviors. Instead of meeting their own needs first, a codependent person will repeatedly relinquish their boundaries and sacrifice their happiness for their partner. Rarely do they find the balance of celebrating their partner or working toward mutual satisfaction.
This pattern frequently begins organically, where the “codependent” partner feels good and comfortable with their altered boundary because making their loved one happy feels good. Over time, as they continue to concede and rearrange to keep the relationship alive or keep the peace, that feel-good effect of their sacrifice becomes unsustainable. Engaging in codependent behaviors resembles love addiction in that the self-sacrificial nature of the relationship can be damaging.
Recognizing the signs
Codependency is a term that can be a catch-all for behaviors that lead to one person in a relationship feeling reliant on the other for their fulfillment, with or without their consent. Some of the most common signs of a codependent relationship, or a person who has headed that direction, can be recognized internally. Paying attention to the impact or ripple effect of the misplaced priority on other areas of life can help identify codependency.
A codependent person often struggles with believing they deserve to feel fulfilled or should fight for the things that matter to them. Offering their own expectations up to be trampled may feel like the natural order of things to someone who struggles with recognizing their own worth. Low self-esteem is the fertile ground where we easily move from insecure to codependent.
Wanting to bring joy to loved ones is one thing, but people-pleasing is another entirely. When the desire to create happiness or pleasure for someone else causes us to choose to deprive ourselves, we call this people-pleasing. Needing someone else’s approval over our own to feel validated creates an imbalance of power that may disguise itself as something to celebrate, but in truth, it is a finite joy. Working for external validation instead of internal validation likely feels good but will only cause harm to both parties as it wears on.
If your boundaries are lacking, non-existent, or survive through strict implementation, you may find co-occurring challenges with codependency. After all, relying on someone else’s approval to feel any sense of self-worth can make it rather difficult to develop and enforce limitations that preserve your own needs and values. No matter which way it falls, boundary issues spell trouble.
Blurry boundaries are easy to dismiss and may be moved without much awareness. Contrarily, too rigid boundaries may push people away, reinforcing the codependent person’s belief that they are unlovable.
An inability to regulate and respond to emotional input is another hallmark of a codependent relationship. It can be tricky to find stable ground. A tendency toward being passive to appease others’ needs may lead to reactive emotions in other areas of life. Loss of control when people-pleasing may heighten the desire for control in work or home aspects that feel more easily kept in line. Ricocheting from emotion to emotion based on external stimuli can make a codependent relationship feel as tumultuous as the turning tide.
Signs of Codependency
Not everyone will have every sign on this list. Still, checking in with the ways emotions are felt and received can be a powerful indication of whether or not codependency is at play in a relationship.
|Low Self Esteem||Trying to rescue people|
|Poor or inconsistent boundaries||Strong sense of guilt|
|Obsession||Need for control|
|Rigid Emotions||Dysfunctional communication|
|Denial||Fear of being alone|
|Chronic Anger||Fears of abandonment|
|Difficulty expressing emotions||Change aversion|
Many of these emotional coping mechanisms begin as an attempt to protect or correct childhood trauma. The way we love, the way we are shown love, and how we form attachments can shape our perception of self and what healthy relationships could look and feel like. Many puzzle pieces make up the picture of who we are and how we experience relationships.
Whenever others’ needs or opinions supersede our ability to recognize those things within ourselves, we are treading dangerous waters. However, codependent behaviors do not always mean a codependent relationship. Beginning an honest conversation with yourself about how you seek validation and satisfaction in relationships can be a valuable tool in recognizing codependency. Healing requires taking action to return power where it belongs- with the self, always.
Our next article will focus on how to break codependency habits once you recognize them. Check back for the latest update, or explore our website to learn more about how we help women heal from the trauma of addiction.