We are often influenced by the environment around us, both for good and for bad. When someone we love is struggling, it often affects how we feel too. When our judgments and actions are guided by how others feel, whether it concerns drugs or other addictions, we call it co-dependency. This is not a diagnosis, but can rather be seen as a description of an action and thought pattern that many develop who live with someone with addiction problems when it comes to drugs or other things.
When care turns into co-dependency
To be codependent is to follow the same patterns as the addict, without having an addiction yourself. The understanding of co-dependence thus lies in patterns of action and thought, not in the problems that form the starting point. The action and thought pattern of co-dependents can be about an excessive need to take care of other people, preferably one or more people in the family. Often they feel so much responsibility for the well-being, happiness and actions of others that they forget about themselves. We often see that the need for care and closeness is trivialized, and the person does not recognize their own value. Because you are so concerned with looking after others, you forget yourself. This can harm your own health.
When one thinks that self-sacrifice and pity is what love is, then this can cause problems. In families where one family member is struggling, codependency can develop in everyone around. Even if the choices are made out of love, a child who experiences codependency can carry this on into adulthood. This can then cause problems because co-dependency was the child’s first experience of care. But it can also be the opposite, and develop in parents who experience that the child is struggling with drugs, mental disorders or other things. They may have such a strong desire to help that this may do more harm than good.
Symptoms of codependency
Codependency can be difficult to identify. Both because many symptoms are repeated in other disorders, but also because it is difficult to give a single definition of what codependency is. Some experience physical symptoms such as stress, sleep difficulties, headaches, as well as stomach and intestinal problems. Even so, it is most often a combination of physical and psychological ailments.
A person with codependency often operates emotionally through another person or event. One has unconsciously built up a survival strategy which involves excessive care for others and denial of one’s own needs. This can then have consequences such as constant stress, the feeling of failure and a search for confirmation from others. Confirmation from the person you want to help can therefore increase your self-esteem. At the same time, a lack of confirmation can give a feeling of failure and reinforce low self-esteem.
Other factors such as guilt, perfectionism, difficulty in identifying where to set boundaries and fear of rejection are also symptoms that can be signs of codependency. Furthermore, excessive worry, inability to express anger and frustration in a healthy way, and sacrificing leisure and activities for the benefit of a single person can also be recognized in codependency.
Influence later in life
It is therefore important to understand that co-dependency can affect large parts of life. For an adult, it can affect both social life and working life, and can also lead to psychosomatic ailments (physical ailments as a result of psychological ailments). This can be seen, among other things, in that codependency can weaken a person’s relationship with their social network. You may struggle to commit to other people. Others may take on far too much responsibility and feel that they will get nothing in return. They may then feel either a failure or distance themselves from the person and gradually begin to isolate themselves.
Codependency can lead to not living life optimally, as well as feeling an urge to perform and to get recognition and confirmation in order to feel good.
The positive thing that is important to note is that this can be changed. You can work your way out of codependency or learn to deal with it. The important thing is to be patient with yourself. Remember that behavior that has lasted over time and that arouses strong emotions can be difficult to break. It is therefore a process where you have to remind yourself that patience is required and that you will manage this.
Knowledge, understanding, acceptance and patience are key words to start the work of recognizing and dealing with co-dependency. You will get good help with all this from a therapist, while in therapy you will look at the way forward and explore what you actually want yourself. Treatment is therefore a way out of co-dependency , destructive action patterns and negative thoughts. At the same time, it is a path towards increased self-confidence, new ways of showing love, and better self-esteem. It can also provide more balance in your own life and between relationships for the future.