Understanding Codependency

So, you’re having an amazing day, in fact it’s one of the best days you’ve had in a very long time. Everything is going well, starting with an amazing night’s sleep the night before. The morning comes and you’re alarm goes off and you jump out of bed instead of hitting the snooze button three times likes you normally do. You get dressed in one of your favorite outfits. You drive to work, and traffic is unusually good, you get to work early, and your coworkers compliment you on how good you look. You met a deadline, give a killer presentation, you’re on top of the world this day can’t get any better. Your workday is over, and you return home and your spouse says or does something to upset you, or your child comes home with a bad note from the teacher. Now how do you feel? Are you still on cloud nine, or have you been knocked down a few pegs? If you’re still on cloud nine that’s awesome and that means you’ve learned how to control your inner world and not let your outer world have to much of an impact on you. However, if you have been knocked down a few pegs and you’re not on the cloud at all, chances are you may suffer from codependency like a large part of the population. Weinhold & Weinhold (2008) state “codependency is present in an estimated 98 percent of the adult population and is responsible for most human misery.” (p. xi).

98 percent is a large number and let’s face it that’s basically everyone right? Which normalizes it and means it’s very common. While it’s very common some may not fully understand what codependency is or how it happens. In its simplest form codependency is when some aspect of who you are is dependent on something on someone outside of you. The above example explains it perfectly, that persons’ entire mood and emotional state was dependent on outside forces, whether it’s good or bad. When things were going well, this person was on cloud nine, however when something upsetting happened this persons’ mood completely changed. And that’s what codependency is, it’s when who we are, how we feel, what we want, or what we do is dependent on something or someone outside of us. I once worked with a person who was a professional, they were a college professor, and enjoyed hobbies of flying planes and scuba diving. This person was of a certain prestige and their prestige was very important to them. This person also had a drinking problem and was charged with their first DUI. The shame and embarrassment they felt after getting this DUI was palpable. They were more concerned with what people would think if they found out they had a drinking problem and how it would affect their image. Their feelings of shame and embarrassment aren’t uncommon, in fact it’s quite normal, however this person’s shame and embarrassment was heightened. And it was all because they identified so strongly with their prestige and felt that the DUI threatened that. In short, they had no idea who they were outside of being this professional person. And that’s codependency in a nutshell. Codependency happens when people don’t know who they are, don’t know how they feel, or what they want or don’t want.

“Loss of a relationship is painful, but if you lose yourself in a relationship, when it ends, it’s devastating, because you are lost.”

― Darlene Lancer

Now that we have a basic understanding of what codependency is, now let’s talk a little about how it developed and more importantly how do we recover from it? The term codependency became popular due to its connection to alcoholism and addiction. Early on people who loved people who suffered from the disease of addiction were considered to be codependent, however the term is now used more widely. Some research suggests that codependency is linked to childhood trauma. It’s thought that when our childhood needs of love and connection aren’t met, we continue to have those needs even in adulthood.  These unmet needs therefore create our codependent patterns. When our parents and caregivers don’t meet those needs, we look to others to meet those needs instead.

How then, do we recover from codependency? As with anything else, self-awareness is key, because we cannot fix, what we don’t acknowledge. Second to awareness is willingness, as it’s a crucial component here. Are you willing to admit that you may have codependent patterns? If so, are you willing to work on them? There are many ways to work on codependency patterns, there’s therapy of course, and there are Codependent Anonymous meetings (CODA). However, here’s a good place to start, I love this question because it forces us to strip ourselves down of everything we identify with. So, ask yourself this question and hopefully your willing to answer. If everything and everyone you loved were taken away from you, who would you be? Who are you outside of being your partners spouse, your children’s parent, your parent’s child, your job, etc. if you woke up tomorrow morning and all these things were gone, who are you?

Think about it and let’s discuss. I look forward to hearing from you.

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