What is co-dependency?

Co-dependency is a condition that affects individuals who have developed an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on another person. This condition is often characterized by a person’s inability to function independently, leading them to rely heavily on others for their emotional and physical needs. Co-dependency is a dysfunctional relationship dynamic in which one person takes on the role of the “giver,” sacrificing their well-being and needs for the benefit of the other person, often referred to as the “taker.” Co-dependency can manifest in various forms, including romantic, friendship, and familial relationships. In short, co-dependency is the need to feel needed.

Karpman’s Drama Triangle

If you are struggling to comprehend the concept of co-dependency, delving into Karpman’s Drama Triangle may be a helpful resource. Stephen Karpman first described the Drama Triangle in the 1960s. This model outlines individuals’ roles in dysfunctional social interactions, including the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer. In a co-dependent relationship, one person may take on the role of the Rescuer (the “giver”), constantly trying to fix or save the Victim (or “taker”). This can lead to a cycle of dysfunction, with the Rescuer becoming increasingly enmeshed in the other person’s life and the other person becoming increasingly dependent on the Rescuer. Over time, the Rescuer may feel resentful or exhausted, leading them to adopt the Victim or the Persecutor role. It may be worth the effort to understand this model better. Many resources about the Drama Triangle are available online.

Some common symptoms of co-dependency include:

  • Low self-esteem: Individuals with co-dependency often have a negative self-image and may struggle with feelings of worthlessness or inadequacy. They may believe that their own needs and desires are not as important as those of others.
  • Excessive need for approval: People with co-dependency may strongly need to be liked or accepted by others. They may go to great lengths to please others, even if it means sacrificing their own needs or values.
  • Difficulty setting boundaries: Individuals with co-dependency often struggle with setting limits or saying no to others. They may feel guilty or anxious when they do not meet the needs of others, even if it comes at the expense of their own well-being.
  • Fear of abandonment: People with co-dependency may have a deep-seated fear of rejection or abandonment by others. They may cling to relationships, even if they are unhealthy or abusive, out of fear of being alone.
  • Intense desire to please others: Individuals with co-dependency may prioritize the needs and desires of others over their own. They may feel a strong need to be needed and may go to great lengths to make others happy, even if it is not in their own best interest.
  • Difficulty expressing their own needs and desires: People with co-dependency may struggle to identify and communicate their own needs and desires. They may be so focused on meeting the needs of others that they neglect their own needs, leading to feelings of resentment or burnout.

Co-dependency and substance abuse

Co-dependency is often associated with substance abuse. This is because people who are co-dependent may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with their emotional pain and feelings of inadequacy. Conversely, individuals struggling with substance abuse may also develop co-dependency as a result of their addiction, as they become increasingly reliant on their loved ones for support.

Co-dependency and childhood

Co-dependent relationships between parents and children can be particularly damaging, as they can have long-lasting effects on the child’s development and well-being. Children who grow up in co-dependent relationships may struggle with low self-esteem, difficulty setting boundaries, and an excessive need for approval. They may have difficulty expressing their own needs and desires as they have been conditioned to prioritize the needs of others. This can lead to difficulties in forming healthy adult relationships, as they may find it difficult to assert themselves or communicate effectively.

Lack of boundaries

In co-dependent relationships, the absence of boundaries is a common characteristic that can have a detrimental impact. It is crucial for both parties to identify and communicate their personal values and establish healthy boundaries. By doing so, individuals can cultivate self-respect and respect for others, increasing self-esteem.

Co-dependent behaviour

Co-dependent behaviour is a pattern of behaviour that can manifest in various ways:

  • Excessive caretaking involves taking responsibility for others’ needs, often at the expense of one’s own needs and well-being.
  • Enabling refers to behaviour that supports or encourages someone’s unhealthy or destructive habits or behaviours.
  • People-pleasing is a behaviour in which an individual prioritizes meeting others’ needs and expectations over their own needs and desires.
  • Negatively impact an individual’s mental and emotional well-being. Individuals who engage in co-dependent behaviour may experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

What to do if you realize you are caught up in a toxic co-dependent relationship

  • Soul searching – Do a writing exercise answering the question “Who am I”?

Engaging in a writing exercise about “Who am I?” can be a powerful tool for self-discovery and personal growth. By reflecting on one’s identity, values, and beliefs, individuals can better understand themselves and their place in the world. Through this process, individuals may discover strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for growth, and develop a stronger sense of self-awareness. This exercise can also help individuals clarify their goals and priorities, leading to a greater sense of purpose and direction in life. By better understanding themselves, individuals may also be better equipped to navigate challenges, make important decisions, and build fulfilling relationships.

  • Create healthy boundaries.

Creating and communicating healthy personal boundaries is essential to maintaining healthy relationships and promoting overall well-being. The previous exercise is important in helping individuals to understand what they are comfortable with, allowing them to set clear boundaries that align with their needs and values. Once these boundaries have been established, it is important to communicate them clearly and assertively to others. This can involve expressing one’s needs and expectations, setting limits on behaviour that is not acceptable, and advocating for oneself when necessary. While setting and communicating boundaries can be challenging, it is an important step towards building healthy relationships and promoting personal well-being.

  • Work through your deeper stuff. By exploring the root causes of one’s emotional and psychological challenges, individuals can better understand themselves and their experiences.
  • Pay attention to how you talk to and treat yourself. Much of low self-esteem is self-inflicted. Train yourself to speak gently and encouraging rather than telling yourself what you should or shouldn’t be doing or what’s wrong with you.
  • Start a spiritual practice where you spend time alone with yourself. Meditation is an ideal way to help you become calmer and more self-aware.
  • Look for the positive in your life. Make a grateful list each day and read it to someone.
  • Stand-up for yourself if someone criticizes, undermines, or tries to control you.
  • Let go of control and the need to manage other people. Remember the saying, “Live and let live.”
  • Accept yourself. You don’t have to be perfect.

It is essential for individuals who suspect they may be co-dependent to seek professional help to learn healthy coping mechanisms and develop a stronger sense of self.