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Codependency is the ‘excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction’.  The word was originally used at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to describe the partners of the alcohol addiction sufferer. The partners, although not alcoholics themselves, were addicted to the alcohol abusers.
People in relationships that involve codependency often find themselves in a controlling pattern of psychological reliance on someone with a condition.   This is a psychological diagnosis, characterised by an attachment that manifests emotionally, physically, or spiritually. A codependent relationship can exist between lovers, family, or friends.
Research has shown that codependency is often caused by a lack of self-confidence, poor boundaries and poor sense of self. This is accompanied by an inability to say ‘no’ to people, often with the idea of people-pleasing.
There are three elements that can contribute to a codependent relationship, biology, psychology, and society. For someone who is codependent, their prefrontal cortex may be failing to suppress empathic responses. This leads to an excess of empathy, causing weak personal boundaries and being overly sensitive to others’ emotions.
It is common for people who are codependent to be psychologically predisposed to care for others. This usually happens when the person has grown up around abuse or neglect. Codependency may also be the result of a shift in societal views, whether that be the role of women in the household or the exposure to substance abuse.
Basing our existence, character, and behaviour on other people means that our identity hinges on others. This is unhealthy; relationships with others are as important as the relationship we have with ourselves.
It is not uncommon for there to be a vivid ‘giver’ and a ‘receiver’ in a codependent relationship, coined as a ‘relationship addiction’. These relationships become emotionally abusive and often one-sided. ‘Givers’ lose their true identity by focusing on making the ‘receiver’ happy, meaning the ‘receiver’ becomes narcissistic and accustomed to this dynamic.
There are five elements that form a codependent relationship:
Codependents often find it challenging to identify how they truly feel, minimising or changing their emotions to fit with the relationship. They dedicate their time and emotions to making sure others are doing well, ignoring their own issues or thinking they don’t need help.
Codependents have low self-esteem. They often seek recognition or praise for doing certain things, hoping for validation from others. They are unable to ask for what they want and find it difficult to set boundaries.
Codependents are loyal to the point that they will stay in toxic environments and harmful relationships for too long. This compromises their own personal values in order to avoid rejection and hurt.
Putting aside your own interests and wants in order to satisfy the needs of others means disregarding yourself. You cannot develop as a person if you seek the approval of others and are afraid to express your beliefs and opinions.
It is not uncommon for a codependent person to use sex as a way to gain attention and approval when it is love and affection that they are after. The same works for gifts and favours; codependents will offer things to those they want to influence or impress.
Codependency is an imbalance. In a relationship, one person needs the other (giver) and the other wants to be needed (receiver).
You might be the ‘giver’ if you experience some of the following symptoms of codependency:
This is not a sign of healthy relationships, but a sign of an uneven relationship dynamic. Dysfunctional relationships that exhibit codependent behaviours do not have healthy boundaries, turning into destructive relationships.
Those with a dependant personality disorder often:
These symptoms begin in young adults, and the causes are unknown. However, research has shown causes that may contribute to dependent personality disorder:
It is common for codependency to occur in relationships where there is drug or alcohol abuse. Codependent relationships between the addiction sufferer and enabler allow for addiction to grow. This happens because the addict goes consequence free whilst the enabler constantly reassures them and comes to their aid.
By providing comfort and love at their lowest points, addicts then cannot understand the gravity of the situation at hand. A lack of accountability means that the addict does not know when they are doing something wrong, allowing for no real improvement in the situation.
Many people enable addiction sufferers because they don’t want to lose them to alcohol or drugs, and they want to try and remain in control of the situation. Addiction and codependency have a two-way relationship. Addiction can lead to codependency, and codependency can lead to addiction.
Relationships can trigger addiction and other addictive behaviours. People with codependency can also seek out other people with alcohol or drug issues.
It may seem positive to support someone with addiction, but it is the opposite. Enabling through codependency leads to engaging in unhealthy behaviours that allow alcoholism and drug addiction to progress.
Fuelled by fear, enablers want to make the addiction sufferer happy and content. In doing so, this worsens all existing issues.
Codependent addictive relationships are often marked by:
Codependency is a form of relationship addiction. This inhibits people’s ability to develop themselves naturally in a healthy manner. Some people find it easy to overcome codependency on their own once they are made aware of it, but overcoming denial is the first hurdle.
Similar to addiction, it is difficult for people to see or believe what is happening.
However, sometimes the harm caused during codependency is so hurtful that it will open your eyes to your situation. Learning about why and how codependency occurs can help you change your behaviour that has now become a habitual routine.
Here are some simple steps you can take to overcome a codependent relationship:
There are different types of therapy that may be useful to you:
 American Psychological Association. Codependency.
 Salonia G, Mahajan R, Mahajan NS. Codependency and coping strategies in the spouses of substance abusers. Scholars J App Med Sci. 2021;9(7):1130-1138. doi:10.36347/sjams.2021.v09i07.002
 National Library of Medicine. Personality disorders. Medline Plus.
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