Oftentimes, when you have a close relationship with someone, it can be very easy to form an attachment to them. We, as humans, naturally look to our loved ones for advice, affection, reassurance, or support—which is entirely normal and healthy, in moderation. When someone begins seeking validation and puts their identity in their relationships, this is usually a sign of codependency.
Codependency is an especially common pattern found in the loved ones of someone in recovery or actively battling an addiction. Codependent behaviors often mirror anxiety, depression, and Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) is a commonly diagnosed personality disorder associated with overly reliant people seeking self-fulfillment in relationships.
Depending on a family member, friend, or significant other to support and comfort you in life is natural. Humans thrive off the intimacy and feelings of togetherness that they gain from their connections with others. However, dependency and codependency are not the same things. Codependency is a toxic and unhealthy degree of dependency that destroys your own well-being as well as your relationships.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is an imbalance in the relational dynamic where one person has an unhealthy attachment or dependence on the other individual. Codependents thrive off of pleasing others and receiving validation from them. Their motive is to satisfy and serve others before themselves, which is why it is so common in recovery.
The loved ones of an addict devote a huge part of their lives to doing whatever they can to keep their child, friend, or significant other away from their addiction. This feeling of always needing to “help” becomes overbearing and winds up doing more harm than good—for both people involved.
Codependent behaviors aren’t always extreme and unmanageable, however, they are still not healthy for a relationship. Codependency is often referred to as an anxious attachment style when someone never feels good enough and always needs to prove themselves. When an addict is in recovery, their loved ones often feel like they need to go above and beyond to help and support them—but that’s not always the case and it results in the opposite effect.
Common signs of codependency include:
- Lack of self-esteem
- The need for control
- Fear of abandonment
- Feeling guilty when you do something for yourself
- Fear of rejection
- Your self-worth is based on other’s opinions
- You put your wants and needs last
- Avoiding conflict and confrontation at all costs
- Staying in unhealthy, toxic relationships because you’re afraid to be alone
- Micromanaging others
- Constantly needing someone else’s approval
Although codependency has not been recognized as a mental illness or a personality disorder, the patterns of codependent behaviors are rather referred to as a mental and behavioral condition. When someone struggles with severe codependent behaviors, it is possible they might have Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD). The signs of DPD are extreme neediness, clinginess, codependency, and fear of abandonment. The behaviors of someone with DPD are similar to that of codependency but at an extreme level.
Codependency and Addiction
The role of codependency in addiction recovery is developed when someone is overly attached to caring for the addict. In early recovery, you need the space to do things on your own without someone else hovering over you. Having the freedom and independence to make your own decisions can facilitate long-term recovery. If you’re overhelping your loved one, you will jeopardize their recovery process. This can also result in enabling. Codependents latch on to people with addictions because they thrive off tending to their struggles. Addicts attach to codependent people because they will justify their addictive behaviors in order to please them. Codependent relationships are fulfilling because they’re both supposedly getting what they want, even if it’s destructive and unhealthy.
“If you’re chronically or habitually more focused on others than on yourself, you can become like a ship that’s all sails with no anchor. You float around on the currents and breezes of others’ needs, requests, desires, and schedules—adrift, at best; at worst, lost.”
Codependent relationships will only threaten the recovery process and inhibit growth and change on both ends. If you recognize signs of codependent behaviors, remind yourself that you are not the cause or cure for someone else’s addiction. The responsibility of someone who has a loved one in recovery is to support and comfort them as needed within a healthy distance. Maintaining boundaries on both ends of the relationship is crucial for your emotional and physical health and well-being.
American Addiction Centers expands on an article by Psych Central and lists a few steps toward forming healthy boundaries in relationships:
- Learning that having needs and preferences different from the loved one is okay
- Defining personal emotions rather than what “should” be felt
- Setting limits on one’s own behavior as well as others’ behaviors
- Being able to recognize and pursue one’s own needs rather than those of others
- Respecting one’s own boundaries as well as the boundaries of others
If you or a loved one struggle with codependency, consider scheduling a consultation with a mental health professional. They will help you identify if you demonstrate codependent behaviors or signs of dependent personality disorder (DPD). Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is another healthy option for someone dealing with codependency or DPD to receive support and guidance.
What is Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)?
Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a 12-step support group for anyone that struggles with codependency. The 12 steps of CoDA are designed to help you develop healthy relationships by working through and overcoming destructive, codependent behaviors. CoDA’s program supports its members by providing a safe environment for them to open up about their personal experiences while connecting with other members.
Community groups are a great reminder that you don’t ever have to go through something alone. Connecting with someone else and hearing about their own personal circumstances could provide you insight and guidance for your own.
If you or someone you know struggles with codependency, Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is a safe, confidential space for you to share your story while listening and receiving from others.