Recently I worked with a mother of older adult children, she was in pain in all areas of her life; these being emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. I am not going to share her story but needless to say it left me thinking a lot about ‘codependent relationships’.
Codependency is a term used a lot these days and often out of context.
The term ‘codependency’ was popularised in the 1980’s by Melody Beattie in her best seller book ‘Codependent No More’. The term was originally coined in the 1950s to support partners of individuals who abused substances.
Codependency is a psychological concept that refers to people who feel extreme amounts of dependence on certain loved ones in their lives, and who feel responsible for the feelings and actions of those loved ones. It is now a term used for discussing aspects of family dysfunction and in my work I have seen this behaviour go from one generation to the next if not dealt with.
Codependency is thought to be developed from a person’s childhood as they attempt to adapt to dysfunctional family life such as life in which parenting is ineffective, inconsistent, abusive, or neglectful. The person develops strategies that are a response to such situations as those mentioned above and dependency becomes the child’s way of meeting needs for affection and approval from their caregivers. My client explained that as a child, she felt it was her job to take care of her younger sister and helped her parents as much as she could to alleviate their stress. She went on to explain that she felt the whole family depended on her and she spent the biggest share of her childhood cooking, cleaning and washing clothes to help her mother who always appeared overwhelmed.
My client, in her opinion had no life of her own. She depended on others to validate her self-worth. She has the personality traits of a ‘giver’, her children ‘takers’. The more she gives, the more they take and this in turn makes her feel good that she is supporting them, loving them and being of service; this is her programming from her younger, formative years. However, I worked with her regarding some of the situations she had put herself in. She quickly realised that she was part of the problem, not part of the solution! Codependency is an addiction of taking care of, controlling, fixing or putting others needs before your own.
My client was angry that she was not considered within the family unit, not cared for, not respected by her children and is now learning to put boundaries in place. She also realised that she didn’t consider herself, didn’t care for herself and didn’t respect herself. She finds it very painful not to rescue her adult children, even when, in her heart she knows they don’t need rescuing! She is now recognising when she is trying to control and recognises the potential consequences.
For her, she is working on and practising daily rituals of ‘self love’ and ‘self care’ and is slowly learning that she is responsible for her own well-being. She is becoming stronger and more consistent in allowing her adult children to make their own mistakes and to also take self-responsibility. She has learned that “No” is a complete sentence.
This has not been an easy journey for this lady, she loves her children and wants to protect them and that is what a good mother does however she isn’t protecting herself and that is not healthy and not a good role model.
Codependency includes but is not limited to the following…
Having poor boundaries
Having trouble communicating honestly
Confusing ‘love’ with ‘pity’
Feeling the need to be liked by everyone
Denying ones own needs and wants
Struggling to say ‘No’
Controlling conversations and situations
Showing emotional reactivity
Here is a journal prompt for you if you recognise codependency in your relationships. You might of course deny there are such issues however using the journal prompt will help clarify your relationships. Enjoy and I hope you find insight and clarity just as my client did…
“The moment that I perceive a need within you, I have to jump into action to fix it or take care of it otherwise I can’t settle and cannot relax unless I know you are okay. I’ll put your needs before my own needs.
Is there someone or others in your life that are codependent or could it be you that is the codependent one? Journal about this.
If you recognise that it’s you that is codependent on others, also write about the emotions that come up at the idea of not being able to fix or help someone that you feel needs it. This is an important part of the healing process and it takes a brave and responsible person to recognise and admit this so don’t underestimate how proud I am of you for taking this challenge.”