All of us at least once in our life experienced being in a toxic relationship. You probably know what it’s like to move in and out of a state of total denial about how unhealthy and codependent it truly is. Perhaps, at one moment, you feel at the top of the world, yet at another, you are making tiny excuses trying to justify a partner’s absolutely inexcusable behavior. So is there a way to reverse a toxic relationship?
Codependency is a psychological term for a set of behavioral characteristics found in unhealthy toxic relationships. While the term was originally created to define relationships aspects wherein one person is an alcoholic, the term can be broadly applied in many relationships defined by one-sidedness, abusive behavior, and dishonesty. The codependent individual in a relationship tolerates these behaviors because they have an innate desire to be needed, usually stemming from childhood issues such as abandonment, neglect, emotional or physical abuse, and oftentimes having alcoholic/substance-dependent parents.
How Does Codependency Happen?
Codependency usually arises from a dysfunctional family in which one child suffers from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is continually denied or ignored. This can be overt or very subtle. Often times, a codependent person grew up in a household where one or both parents were alcoholics, physically or emotionally abusive, distant, suffering from a chronic mental illness, or codependent themselves. Codependency arises from very subtle relationship behaviors that become ingrained in a person’s psyche.
In dysfunctional families, individuals grow codependent traits when they learn to repress their emotional well being for the sake of pleasing, maintaining peace, avoiding conflict, and avoiding hurting others feelings. Instead of being family members, codependent individuals are on the defense, becoming survivors in their own household. Eventually, codependent persons spend so much time denying their own emotions and needs that they start to continually seek external validation throughout their lives, such as in the approval of others, money, success, or relationships in order to feel good about themselves.
“Their emotional wellbeing becomes dictated by the wellbeing of others.”
Codependent thinking can be defined as a “need to be needed” mentality. Codependent persons may often find themselves in relationships with others where they take on a martyr role, subconsciously seeking to please others as a means of validation. Here is a codependency questionnaire to determine if you have codependent traits.
- Do you ever keep quiet just to avoid an argument?
- Are you constantly worried about other people’s opinions of you?
- Did you grow up in a household where one or both parents was an alcoholic/emotionally abusive?
- Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
- Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings with others?
- Do you feel like a bad person when you make a mistake?
- Do you have trouble asking others for help?
- Do you have low self-esteem?
- Do you have problems setting personal boundaries?
- Do you find yourself taking care of other people’s problems to distract from your own?
- Do you have an intense need to control things/are you a chronic perfectionist?
- Do you have trouble defining your thoughts, needs, and emotions?
- Do you have difficulty getting close to people?
If you answered yes to 3 or more of these questions, you may be exhibiting some codependent behavior. The level of codependency can range from minor to severe, so there is no reason to panic. If you answer yes to the majority of these questions, it may be worth searching for local therapists and psychiatrists in your area who have experience in codependency. There are also support groups available everywhere to help those in abusive relationships and in relationships with addicts.
Ways to Overcome Codependency on Your Own
There is no “cure” to codependency, but there are behaviors and modes of thinking that can help defeat codependent thinking and help you to have healthy and honest relationships.
From Caretaking to Self-Care
Instead of being dependent on the whims and desires of your significant other, i.e. caretaking for them, try to balance out some time to spend on yourself. Dedicate enough time to yourself every day, whether it be exercise, meditation, or any of your favorite activities. Never be ashamed of taking the time to cater to your needs over the needs of your significant other.
From People Pleasing to Becoming a Person
People pleasing may seem like harmless behavior, but over the long run it’s going to be harmful to yours and other’s well being. It is harmful to the self because it depresses and puts aside your own needs in order to cater to the needs of others. It’s harmful to other people because it could enable the selfish or abusive behavior. Find ways to express what you want, when you need it. Honesty and directness are beneficial to all parties in a relationship in the long run.
From Negative Thinking to Positive Empowerment
You’ll need to catch yourself when you begin to think negatively. Identify the logical fallacies of your thinking and make a conscious decision to expel negative thoughts about yourself. Read positive quotes regularly and engage in activities that make you feel good about yourself.
If you find yourself identifying with multiple signs of codependency it may be time to seek the help of a clinical psychiatrist or therapist experienced with codependency. Consult with friends and family or conduct an online search for professionals nearby who can help you.