We Need to Talk About Co-Dependency and Love Addiction

by Christina Cannes

Co-dependency is more common thank 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 expense.

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 or love addict.

Co-dependency is the worst

How do I know? Because I was codependent. I grew up in an emotionally and physically abusive and totally dysfunctional home where love did not truly exist. Because of this exposure to constant abuse from the ages of about 0 to 18, I did not develop a healthy self-esteem and never received love and affection from my parents. So I went out into the world looking for that ultimate love that I had seen in all the movies – I would do anything for it – and I mean anything. And to my disappointment and ultimately, self-destruction, I found out I was co-dependent instead.

If we aren’t loved as children, we can’t love 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 are doormats – we will do anything as long as we think our partner might love us – or at least not abandon us. And like alcoholism and drug abuse, it is an addiction.

Think about it this way, as children we tried everything in our power to become loveable. That didn’t work so we try everything in our power to be loveable in our 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, make life worth living, or otherwise take a meaningless existence and make it more worthwhile. How do we escape the programming? I’ll tell you how.

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. Co-dependents are immature or childish (emotionally they act like a 15-year old) to such a degree that it hampers their life over-and-over again. It must be said that 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 “developmentally immature,” or 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.”

Codependents 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 no boundaries and no ability to find self-worth other than in 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, that is to say, difficulty protecting the self (people-pleasing, can’t say no)
  • Difficulty owning one’s own reality appropriately, that is to say, difficulty identifying who one is and knowing how to share that appropriately with others
  • Difficulty addressing interdependently one’s adult needs and wants, that is to say, difficulty with self-care
  • Difficulty experiencing and expressing one’s reality in moderation, (are you controlling or out-of-control?) that is to say, 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: 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.

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. Here’s the soundtrack to your new life (see Whitney below):

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