Codependency

What Is Codependency?

Codependency refers to a complex emotional and behavioral condition that affects a person’s ability to have a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. Codependency can affect a wide range of relationships including parents and children, siblings, friends, significant others or co-workers. It is not uncommon for the dependent party to additionally suffer from either a chronic mental illness or an addiction

Relationships formed through codependency are often characterized as abusive, one-sided or emotionally destructive. If you suspect you or someone you love is in a codependent relationship, the experts at Banner Health have the resources you need to get help. 

What Causes Codependency?

Codependency was first identified after years of studying the interpersonal relationships of people with alcohol addictions. Codependency is learned behavior, usually during childhood, that can develop while growing up in a dysfunctional family or by watching and imitating family members who also display codependent behaviors.

Originally, codependency was only used to describe the partners, family members or friends of an addict. Today, the term is used to describe a codependent person from any dysfunctional family. A dysfunctional family is described as a family whose members suffer from pain, anger, fear or shame that is denied or ignored due to underlying issues. These problems can stem from a mentally or physically ill family member, an abusive family member or a damaging parental relationship.

In dysfunctional families, these issues are not addressed or confronted. As a result, emotions are repressed and needs are disregarded. Patients often believe their needs don’t matter or that they are the root of the family issues. In turn, the codependent person’s attention shifts to caring for the person who is addicted or ill. These relationship dynamics are usually carried into adulthood, which can result in relationships that elicit repeated scary, unsatisfying and confusing feelings.

Signs of Codependency

Signs and indicators of codependent behavior can include:

  • Poor boundaries with others
  • Low-self esteem
  • Caretaking
  • Obsessions
  • A need for control
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Trouble identifying or communicating thoughts, feelings or needs
  • Chronic anger or strong, emotional reactions
  • An extreme need for approval or recognition
  • Denial of problems
  • Anxiety or fear about being rejected, judged or abandoned
  • Intimacy or relationship issues
  • Lying

Screenings and Diagnosis for Codependency

Currently, there’s no official screening or diagnosis for codependency as a lot of the traits for codependency overlap with other mental illnesses. If you think you or a loved one show signs of codependency, talk to your doctor.

After an initial assessment, your doctor may diagnose you or refer you to a mental health specialist who can further test and treat codependency using a series of questions to rule out other mental illnesses.

Treatments for Codependency

The best treatment for codependency is psychotherapy. Therapies focused on noticing behaviors and changing reactions, like cognitive behavioral therapy, can help all parties involved in a codependent relationship.

Sobriety is necessary if substance abuse is involved in the codependent relationship. This can be difficult for people who suffer from codependency and exhibit enabling behaviors, as they can feel a sense of reward for helping the addicted person acquire drugs or alcohol.

The first step to recovering from codependency is acknowledging that codependency exists. You can trust the caring and compassionate staff at Banner Health to be with you every step of the way through recovery.