Co-dependency is more common than you think.
It’s the plot in just about every movie, song, TV show and novel – the end all, be all love of your life. And what does it do? It programs us to believe that love is a drug and we must have it at all cost.
The co-dependent’s mantra: “I’ll do anything for you if you just love me.” And my other favourite “I’ll finally be complete if I can find someone who truly loves me.” Does this sound like the beliefs in your head? I’m here to tell you that if it does, then you’re most likely a co-dependent, love addict or both.
Fear not – do not be ashamed or feel you are alone. So many people operate from co-dependency. We developed this way of being to survive. And it’s ok. And now it’s time to change!
Co-dependency is the worst
How do I know? Because I was co-dependent. To put it simply, co-dependency is the sacrifice of self for others. Instead of developing a healthy relationship with ourselves, we become people-pleasers who will do anything for perceived approval, love and affection. Why does this happen? Because of what we experience during childhood.
Co-dependents typically have an anxious attachment style in relationships because their needs were not met during childhood. Also, anxious attachment styles typically partner with avoidant attachment types which amplify the co-dependency.
If we aren’t loved and truly seen as who we are as children, we can’t internalise that love for ourselves and form healthy relationships as adults.
Co-dependents are children who took on trauma and shame and never felt loved – or worse yet, felt as though there was something wrong with them which made them unloveable.
Co-dependents can be people-pleasers, perfectionists and doormats – we will do anything as long as we think our partner/child/boss/friend might like/love/approve of us – or at least not abandon/reject/be disappointed with us. And like alcoholism and drug abuse, co-dependency is an addiction.
Think about it this way, as children we tried everything in our power to be loveable. If we grow up feeling “unloveable” oftentimes, we will try everything in our power to be loveable in our adult relationships. Which again doesn’t work. What we have to do is truly love and value ourselves and embody the belief that we are worthy and we are enough.
Besides our early childhood relationships, culture is also to blame. Movies, books, music and television shows idealise addictive relationships. People have come to believe that their “perfect” mate will complete them and they must do everything possible for approval from their partner/boss/children. It’s a draining and soul-destroying state of being.
Always remember that your partner will not make you happy. Depending on them for your happiness and putting pressure on the relationship to provide you a constant source of happiness, will not work.
So What is Co-dependency?
The best definition I’ve found is from Dr. Becky Whetstone:
“Co-dependency is a disease of immaturity caused by childhood trauma. You don’t have to be from an overtly abusive family to have been traumatized — the main requirement is that you took on shame at one point that caused you to have the fundamental core belief that, “There is something wrong with me, or I’m defective.”
Once a person concludes that they are defective they change themselves to compensate for the issues they feel that they have. Therein lies co-dependence. A person becomes co-dependent, the moment they lose themselves in childhood and morph into some sort of false self, such as a pleaser, rebel, perfectionist, bully, controller, clown, or any sort of personality that is not the real, authentic self.”
The main belief behind co-dependency is typically I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH or I AM UNLOVEABLE.
This belief forces us to constantly behave in ways that require other people’s approval.
Co-dependents also tend to form relationships with narcissists – or other addicts such as alcoholics, who are more than willing to take everything the other person is giving.
Because co-dependents have unclear and unstable boundaries and very little ability to find self-worth from anything other than fixing or pleasing other people – even if they are not recognized or even treated very badly – a co-dependent will stay in an emotionally damaging relationship and may even stay in a dangerous and physically abusive relationship fearing they are not good enough to find another partner.
Primary symptoms of co-dependency include:
- Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem, meaning, and difficulty loving the self
- Difficulty setting functional boundaries with other people and difficulty protecting the self (people-pleasing, can’t say no)
- Difficulty owning one’s own reality appropriately and difficulty identifying who one is and knowing how to share that appropriately with others
- Difficulty addressing interdependently one’s adult needs and wants and difficulty with self-care
- Difficulty experiencing and expressing one’s reality in moderation, (are you controlling or out-of-control?) and difficulty being appropriate for one’s age and various circumstances
Secondary symptoms include:
- Blame. Co-dependents think other people’s behaviour is the reason they are unable to be healthy in relationships, but in reality they have a bruised relationship with the self and blame others to avoid dealing with it
- Negative Control. Trying to control others by telling them who they ought to be, or allow others to control them by telling them who they should be (because they have no control over themselves)
- Resentment. Using resentment as a way to try to protect themselves and regain self-esteem. This anger makes a co-dependent feel better about him or herself, but the real problem is blaming others for their own inability to protect themselves with healthy boundaries (and low self-esteem – it’s easier to deride someone else than yourself)
- Impaired spirituality. Co-dependents either make someone else their higher power through hate, fear, or worship, OR they attempt to be another’s higher power.
- Addictions, or Mental or Physical Illness. The use of outside relationships (in love addiction) or illnesses to soothe the internal pain through giving unconditional love and attention to someone or something else
- Difficulty with Intimacy. Intimacy involves sharing one’s own reality and receiving the reality of others without either party judging that reality or trying to change it. Co-dependents have difficulty identifying who they are, so cannot share intimately
In other words, you should be very aware of this the next time you are on that dating app. Questions to ask yourself regarding co-dependency:
Do you NEED a partner?
Does your life revolve completely around your partner?
What you be devastated and destitute if they left you?
Would your world collapse without them in it?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you might be dealing with co-dependency.
Are you sacrificing yourself/your time/your passions for others?
Do you only feel loved even if there are other people around for your to “serve” and “fix”?
Do you put others first?
Are you exhausted and deep down know there is something wrong, but not quite sure what it is?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you might be dealing with co-dependency.
What is love addiction?
Love addiction is the need to be in love – DEEPLY IN LOVE – at all times. Like an alcoholic or drug addict, love is a high for these folks. It is an addiction to the feeling of being in love, that wildly passionate and highly bonding feeling of consuming togetherness that occurs at the beginning of a relationship.
The love addict strives to constantly have the emotional high. They want to feel loved, and they will do anything to get their partner to give them that feeling. If you’re watching nothing but The Notebook, and reading Nicholas Sparks you’re after a love addict relationship. Turn back now! Here are some indications of love addiction:
- Unable to be single – must be in a relationship or at least looking for one
- Love addicts often have several relationships going at once to maintain the “high”
- Constant relationship drama. To maintain the high, constantly breaking up and making up keeps the emotions up
- The need to feel highly intense emotions with a partner or else do not value the relationship
- Inability to stay in a relationship if the drama is not constant
- Elaborate fantasies about the perfect relationship or the perfect partner
All love addicts are co-dependents in many ways, but not all co-dependents are love addicts. Co-dependents will stay in a relationship forever. Unlike love addicts, it is not the “high” they are seeking, rather it is the fear of abandonment they are running from. But love addicts, like co-dependents, will do anything for the high.
How to heal co-dependency and love addiction
Like all healing, it starts with admitting you have an addiction and need help – and then figuring out what is causing the addiction.
The root cause of all addictions is trauma and a sense of not being good enough or loveable which causes disconnection – disconnection to ourself and disconnection to others. Addictions cover up our despair and help us cope. Unless we investigate why we don’t feel good enough or loveable (and heal our childhood trauma) we will continue to seek out addiction as a way to deal with our pain.
But first start with your self.
Who are you?
What do you love?
What do you want to accomplish in life?
What lights you up?
What do you hate?
Once you have identified you are co-dependent or a love addict the fun begins. You get to discover just who you are and have the best love affair of all time – a love affair with yourself.
What is healthy love?
The only way to have a healthy relationship is to have a healthy relationship with yourself first. High self-esteem, high self-worth, valuing the self (not in a narcissistic way) but authentic validation of the self creates meaningful relationships. As within, so without. Connect to yourself first and then go out and connect to others.
Finding healthy relationships to use as models helps as well. Most relationships are more addiction than love so you will have to be very careful who you choose. Here are some clues:
First, the love is non-possessive, or at least minimally so. Second, healthy love fosters growth, rather than stagnation or regression. Third, healthy love is based on mutual respect that results in a partnership. Finally, healthy romantic love strives to be unconditional. Healthy love does not keep score, or ask you to give up your life, or expect you to save your partner from anything. Healthy love loves just as you are and asks nothing more. You are good enough and you are loveable just how you are now.
How to Heal Co-Dependency
Healing co-dependency involves going back to the root cause of the issue. The root cause is usually linked back to experiences we had during the ages of 0-7 (some times in past lives) and is linked to shame. By using Belief Hacking™ to access the experiences, emotions and beliefs locked into the subconscious, we can clear and re-write the experience causing you to behave co-dependently.
Actionable steps include:
- Make of list of everything you are ashamed of – or at least what you deem to be your “negative” qualities
- Next make a list of all of your attributes and everything you are proud of
- Forgive yourself for believing that you are not loveable – practice self-acceptance
- Determine your values (what does and does not work for you)
- Install and reaffirm boundaries: show others what behaviour you will and will not tolerate
- Put yourself first: stop doing things for others and practicing saying NO
- Prioritise self-care: make a list of what you need to feel healthy and well and DO IT
- Learn to calm the nervous system and respond instead of react