Co-dependence and Independence

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE INDEPENDENT?

To be independent means to be free from outside control and not depending on another’s authority yet being capable of taking care of one’s self, while being willing to ask for assistance when or if needed.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CO-DEPENDENT?

To be co-dependent means to be physically or psychologically addicted to any person or thing in an unhealthy way. Codependency is also a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. When codependency and addiction occur together, the two behaviors can reinforce one another. 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE INTERDEPENDENT?

There is a difference between inter-dependency and codependency. In codependent relationships, the partners have difficulty being themselves while being in the relationship.

Often, codependent people feel that they “should” be independent. This leads to black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking: either you or totally independent, to the point of being unrelated, or you are codependent!

In fact, you cannot be both in a relationship and totally independent. The challenge is to be interdependent, recognizing that you need your partner and your partner needs you… but both of you also need to be individuals.

SYMPTOMS OF CODEPENDENCY:

People who have codependent behaviors often have the following symptoms:

  • Low self-esteem due to deeply held feelings of shame, guilt, inadequacy, and a need for perfection.
  • A need to make other people happy and a difficulty saying “no.”
  • Difficulty creating healthy boundaries and distinguishing responsibility for actions.
  • A need to control situations, people, and their own feelings.
  • Poor communication skills.
  • Obsessively thinking about other people and their own anxieties and fears.
  • Their own dependency on other people.
  • Fear of and issues with intimacy.
  • Negative and painful emotions such as depression, resentment, and despair.

Low Self-esteem
Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.

People-pleasing
It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.

Poor Boundaries
Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings but also to your feelings, thoughts, and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.

Reactive
A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.

Care-taking
Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.

Control
Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like over-working so that they don’t feel out of control.Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.

Dysfunctional Communication
Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings, and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.

Obsessions
Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”Sometimes you can lapse into a fantasy about how you’d like things to be or about someone you love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps you from living your life.

Dependency
Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.

Denial
One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually, they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem.Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy. Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.

Problems with Intimacy
By this, I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close to someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.

Painful Emotions
Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

CO-DEPENDENCY AND ADDICTION:
Codependency and addiction are often closely related, as codependency was first associated with partners of alcoholics. Today, addiction is still one of the most common associations of codependency. How does this work?

People with a drug or alcohol addiction often have a range of problems stemming from their addiction. These may include:

  • Issues with work and money
  • Problems with other relationships
  • High-risk behaviors
  • A constant need for emotional support.

The codependent partner does what they can to support the addict through all of these trials and tribulations. There may be token gestures to help the addict get clean, but the addictive behavior is not resolved, and the difficult life circumstances continue.

Indeed, the codependent often helps the addict to engage in harmful behaviors, helps to clean up and cover for them. They may also provide money and other support.

Codependency is not always associated with addiction, but for those who are addicts, there is often a codependent. And, in many cases, the codependent often engages in addictive behavior themselves. It may happen that people in this situation both engage in the codependent behavior. More frequently, however, one person will have the more severe addiction issues, and the other will support them.

Preparation: Have your journal ready to take notes.

One Minute Meditation: Take a moment to relax, take a few deep breaths and center yourself.

Begin the Session: Ask yourself the following questions…

Am I co-dependent on anyone?

Am I co-dependent on anything?

If so, what does that look like?

How do I behave?

What or whom am I giving my power away to?

How does it serve me to be co-dependent?

How can I take my power back from this situation?

Is someone else co-dependent on me?

How can I act differently toward them?

Am I dis-empowering them by contributing to their co-dependency or addiction?

Focus the session: Choose from one of the symptoms of codependency to work on and focus the rest of the session around that.

Create an action plan: What action are you willing to take? Write it down.

When using this exercise with your client: Have your client read the above information or you can read it to them. Go through questions one by one and focus on important aspects of your client’s answers. Ask your client to choose one of the symptoms that they want to work on and focus the rest of the session around that. Ask your client what actions they are willing to take to become more independent or interdependent.

Close the Session: Thank your client. Acknowledge them for being so open and willing to look at these areas of their life with you. Use the 1-10 scale. Schedule a follow-up session.