Relationship Codependency Exposed

Excerpted from the April 21, 2011 A Fine Time for Healing show

Relationship Codependency: The Curable Addiction,

by Randi Fine

Roughly 100 million Americans suffer the effects of codependency today. Relationship codependency is often referred to as the “White Knight” syndrome, because the codependent tends to be a rescuer.

Codependency is a commonly and loosely used term that we often hear, but many of us do not know exactly what it means. Within the context of addiction there are three types of codependency; the enablers, the persecutors, and the victims. Throughout a codependent’s relationship with the focus of their addiction, they will play all three parts, whether simultaneously or separately.

What is codependency?

Codependency in general is the relationship that exists between everyone and everything. In order to live emotionally healthy lives, we all must have relationships.  The type of codependency I am discussing today is the kind of relationships one seeks out and engages in for reasons that are emotionally unhealthy.

Codependency can be and usually is a debilitating addiction. It is in essence toxic love. A codependent person has a psychological addiction to painful, frustrating, and unequal relationships. Codependents will often put others needs before their own while ignoring or discounting their own feelings, their own desires, and their own needs.

They are rescuers; codependents are drawn to those who lack stability and/or act irresponsibly in a particular area of their life, because they have a compulsive need to help, nurture and/or control others. They are always looking for the potential in others, rather than accepting others as they truly are. Codependent people become addicted to hope that the other person will change, beyond all evidence or rationale.They will often focus on these types of relationships as a way to avoid dealing with the problems in their own lives.

How does someone develop this disorder?

The emotional disorder of codependency begins in childhood and develops over a period of several years. Often as a child they had been subjected to dysfunctional family dynamics such as repeated anger, extreme rigidity, violence, manipulation, and/or abuse in the home. These detrimental assaults often occurred in secrecy and behind closed doors. The unpredictable behavior of the parents, and the constant chaos and turmoil made the child feel unsafe and their world feel unstable. It was high drama, crisis living all the time.  As a result, the child may repress their feelings, not develop healthy coping skills.  As a child, they had discovered that their compliancy and over pleasing were effective in placating their parents or guardians. They were always performing; that was how they coped, but it soon became a pattern of behavior.

In another scenario, there may have been a parent in the family with substance abuse or other addictions. The emotionally developing child may have found his or her self in an inappropriate caretaking role. Whatever the case, in time, that child’s self-esteem became entirely dependent on the unpredictable and ever changing moods of their parents or guardians. A child in this case never develops a clear sense of who they are as individuals. And because of unhealthy family relationships, the child never learns healthy emotional boundaries between themselves and others. They find that as adults they are dependent on others to tell them who they are. Children take these distorted survival strategies into adulthood. This kind of upbringing plays a vital part in what that person believes they are deserving of in life as an adult.

What are emotional boundaries?

Emotional boundaries are the appropriate and protective borders that exist between us
and others. They give us the confidence to set the bar to how we expect others to treat us.

When children grow up in a healthy family, they are helped and encouraged by their parents to individuate, to develop a separate self-concept, to be a unique individual within their family. We learn about our boundaries by the way we are treated as children. When our boundaries are healthy, we recognize the difference between intimacy and enmeshment. We have defined ideas of how we expect others to treat us.  The more developed and defined our boundaries are, the clearer our sense of self is.

When our boundaries are healthy and flexible, we are able to use our discretion about what feels right and what doesn’t. If our boundaries are too rigid, we may withhold closeness to others, will not express our feelings or let our emotions show. We may project the appearance that we are overly self-sufficient. When our boundaries are too loose, our life is one of chaos and drama. We give too much of ourselves to others and feel overly responsible for their lives.  We say yes when we really want to say no.  We are overly empathetic, absorb the feelings of others. We do not want our emotional walls to be too high or too low. We want them to fluctuate appropriately.

How do those on the outside looking in recognize codependency in someone else?

Some of the nicest people we will ever meet are codependent. They are great friends to
have because they are understanding, helpful, and likable. They strive to please everyone in their life because they believe that others only like them when they do.  At first glance they appear to be happy, but that is merely a facade.

The mantra for the codependent is “Love Conquers All.”  They may go from relationship to relationship thinking, “If he or she would only change, this would be the perfect relationship, the one I’ve always dreamed of.” But it never is. In relationship addiction, codependents feel as if they have to be in a relationship in order to feel good about themselves.

Codependent people deny and rationalize away the obvious, believing that if they love their partner enough, that person will change.  They may make excuses for others by saying things like, “He is really trying to change.” “She didn’t mean to hurt me.” “He really does love me.”  “She had a painful past and is doing the best she can do.”

Over time, codependents become emotionally dependent on their significant other,
and obsessed with their partner’s needs and problems. They may become overly empathetic; obsessed with the pain and suffering of their partner and feeling the need to sacrifice themselves. When they fail to make their partner happy or change their partners’ self-defeating behaviors after all their efforts, the codependent blames his or her self for not trying hard enough or not loving that person enough. Then they try even harder to fix the problem. It is a downward spiral.

Many co-dependents have what is called a cross-addiction; in addition to their obsession with another, they may also abuse drugs, alcohol, shopping or food themselves.

To hear the rest of this transcript, please listen to this episode on my blog talk radio show A Fine Time for Healing

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