If this dynamic sounds familiar, it’s likely you’re trapped in the web of codependency, a pattern of behavior where your self-worth and identity hinges on another’s approval.
Codependency was first defined nearly 50 years ago to describe unhealthy relationships characterized by excessive control or compliance, often with one partner lacking self-sufficiency and autonomy.
The concept was originally conceived in the context of addiction. It helped to explain “enabling” patterns used to ease relationship tension caused by drug and alcohol abuse. We now understand that enabling behaviors (such as rescuing a partner, bailing them out, making and accepting excuses for their behavior, and constantly trying to fix problems) also are common in non-addiction-related codependent relationships.
Through constantly sacrificing for others and ignoring their own needs, codependents find self-esteem by winning a partner’s approval. Because they lack self-worth, codependent people have great difficulty accepting from others.
Codependent personalities tend to attract partners who are emotionally unstable. They may find themselves in relationship after relationship with needy, unreliable, or emotionally unavailable counterparts.
How can you tell if your relationship is unhealthy? Here’s a list of common feelings and symptoms associated with codependency. You may be in a codependent relationship if you identify with any of the following statements:
- You feel as if your life revolves around your partner.
- You cancel plans to accommodate your partner’s whims.
- No matter how hard you try, nothing you do is ever good enough.
- You’re a classic peacekeeper and people-pleaser.
- You’ve found yourself in relationships with addicts, drug users, or have been verbally or physically abused.
- You’re always smiling and try to appear cheery, even when you’re feeling mad or sad.
- You play the role of caregiver in your family or with your partner.
- You feel ashamed about what’s really going on inside your relationship, but keep that secret to yourself.
- You feel trapped in the relationship, but feel that if you did leave, you’d be a horrible person for abandoning your partner
- Your mood is dictated by your partner’s mood and behavior.
- You feel devalued or disrespected in your relationship.
- Anxiety is the emotion you feel most often in your relationship.
- You spend a lot of time trying to conform or balance your partner’s wishes and preferences.
If you see any of these signs of codependency within yourself or your relationship, you’ve taken an important first step in rewiring dysfunctional patterns. Continue to educate yourself about the consequences of remaining in an unhealthy dynamic. By learning to identify and label codependent behaviors, you can begin to deconstruct the entanglement in your relationship.
Remember, healthy love is about creating partnerships that are inter-dependent and characterized by mutual respect and honesty. Recovery is possible through emotional healing and redefining the way you value yourself.