We’re all taught to help others. So what can be wrong about helping a loved one when he or she is struggling? It is natural to want to protect someone you care about and love, but some people fall into codependency, and it is possible to care too much.
When you believe you are responsible for someone else and feel compelled to help that person solve the problem or make them feel better, your actions may actually cause more harm.
Codependency is not healthy for relationships and, in fact, studies show that codependency is often considered an addiction in itself. This is why it’s important to recognize the signs of codependency and how it can affect people so it can be overcome.
What is codependency?
Anyone can become codependent. Dr. Scott Wetzler at Albert Einstein College of Medicine best explains, “codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn’t have self-sufficiency or autonomy.”
Melody Beattie, in her book Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself, notes that one of the reasons codependency is called a disease “is because codependent behaviors — like many self-destructive behaviors — become habitual. We repeat habits without thinking. Habits take on a life of their own.”
Researchers believe codependency stems from relationships during childhood. They found that people who were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent could lead to that child growing up to be codependent. Symptoms of codependency include:
Low self-esteem. Feeling that you’re not good enough and are inadequate or unlovable or inadequate.
Poor boundaries. This isn’t just about your body, but also about your money and belongings, feelings, and thoughts. You don’t have a clear standing about the imaginary line between yourself and others. Having poor boundaries leads to becoming reactionary. You react to other’s feelings instead of your own, often because you don’t want to have a disagreement.
People-pleasing. On some level, you want to say “no.” Actually doing so makes you anxious, so you cave and accommodate other people and their needs.
Control. Codependents need to feel safe and secure. In an attempt to achieve this, they act very bossily because they need other people to behave in a certain way for them to feel okay.
Dysfunctional communication. If you don’t know what you think, feel, or need, you have trouble communicating that to others. Codependents communicate in dishonest and unclear ways. For example, he or she might say something is okay even if it is not.
Dependency. Codependents need others to make them feel okay about themselves. Afraid of being unloved or rejected causes them to stay in unhealthy relationships.
Denial. When someone is codependent, he or she thinks the problem is someone else or the situation. They don’t look at themselves or face their own issues.
Why codependency does more harm than good
When your loved one has a substance abuse problem, being a codependent can have a negative impact. The people-pleasing part of codependents says “yes” to things such as providing financial help, making excuses for bad behavior and ignoring things such as violence, aggression, and recklessness.
Enabling behavior doesn’t allow the alcoholic or addict to face the music, learn important lessons, and get on the road toward recovery.