One of the themes of my memoir is codependency. If you read my book (when it is published, of course), you will notice that I seem to flit from one relationship to the next. It started when I was fifteen-years-old. I met a guy who was five years older than I and reminded me of my father. He looked like him. He had the same build, the same thick lower lip, the same dark hair. He was also emotionally unavailable like my father, but I didn’t connect the dots. I didn’t realize I was trying to get a do-over. I just knew I felt very comfortable around him. Kind of like he was family. We were drawn to each other like magnets. It seemed like love at first sight. Me, the codependent, him the emotional manipulator.
The terms codependency and dysfunctional have morphed somewhat in the last couple of decades. Grasping the true meaning of these words can be harder than turning a doorknob once you have slathered your hands with lotion (I cannot be the only one who has tried this!).
When more information became known about how family dynamics play into recidivism rates of alcoholics, the term co-alcoholic was used to talk and write about the partner in a relationship with an alcoholic. In the mid eighties, researchers realized that there were more similarities than differences in those addicted to drugs and those addicted to alcohol. The terminology changed and those addicted to either one or both were given the term chemically l dependent. The powers that be then changed the term co-alcoholic to codependent. There you have it. Your history lesson for the day.
The longer I work with clients in private practice, the more I see codependency to be a very important issue to work on. I had suffered from codependency much of my own life. I knew what it caused me to do, the bad choices I made in relationships, and the anxiety I experienced when the guy I liked didn’t seem to be as interested. I knew I had dated and even married men who were narcissistic and even abusive because I was afraid to be alone. Ross Rosenberg, an expert on codependency, calls this “the human magnet syndrome.” I had overcome codependency so I knew I could help others do the same. But there is so much to learn about codependency that experience alone doesn’t teach. I decided to research this subject myself so I could better serve my clients.
The subject of codependency is fascinating and has a rich history. In fact, when the first book of its kind came out in 1986, it sold 8 million copies. People from all over the world wanted help for codependency, and Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More, was just what they were waiting for.
Various books on the subject will have different lists of the symptoms that will help a person know if they may be codependent, but there are some core factors to help you spot the signs in yourself.
7 Symptoms You Are A Codependent
1. You have low self-esteem. In fact, you may have almost no self-esteem. Or you may have “other” esteem, which is, according to Pia Mellody, author of Facing Codependency, someone who gets their self-esteem from the things they own. A fancy car, a designer bag, a huge house, kids who do well in sports or dance, etc.
2. You are a people pleaser. You will sacrifice your own needs and desires for the other person, time and time again. You have a hard time saying “no.”
3. You have poor boundaries. You do not recognize when you have crossed someone else’s boundary. You are unaware that people’s boundaries may be different. You feel responsible for other people’s feelings. You attempt to care-take when you are not asked for help.
4. You are a caretaker. You have a need to control those around you. It may seem like you are helping or taking care of others but what you are really looking for is for that person to do things that make you feel safe. Do you find yourself asking your spouse or partner to put on their seatbelt? Are you a backseat driver? Do you want the last say in conversations about politics or religion? Do you do for others without ever needing the relationship to be reciprocal?
5. Obsessions. Do you find yourself constantly thinking about others, needing to know where they are or what they are doing? Do you text over and over when someone doesn’t return your text message right away? Do you cancel plans rather than miss “that” call?
6. Dependency. Do you believe you cannot make it in life without a partner? Have you gotten into a bad relationship because to you it’s better than being alone?
7. Denial. Do you stay in unhealthy relationships because you think you can change the other person? Have you taken abuse from someone and stayed when they told you, for the 10th time, that they are going to change?
Earlier I said that I had been codependent for much of my life. I was raised in an alcoholic family. Many codependents are adult children of alcoholics, but that is not the only way this happens. Subconsciously I began to try to get a redo of my relationship with my father, who was very emotionally unavailable. The men I met all seemed very different from each other, and I was immediately completely smitten with them. I felt very comfortable. They reminded me of something. My childhood! They were all emotionally unavailable, like my dad. I didn’t figure this out for many years.
There is hope for healing from codependency. There are great self-help books. Working with a therapist can facilitate the process. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has a module called Interpersonal Effectiveness. The skills taught in this module are well-researched, not just for codependency, but for those who consistently get caught up in chaotic relationships.