Relationship Problems and Co-dependency
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Nicola Croote, MBACP (accred.)
3rd August, 2010
Most of us struggle with relationships at some time in our life, but do you feel frustrated as your relationships always feel like hard work? Do you feel like being single but can’t get out of your relationship? Do you feel responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts and actions and feel compelled to help them by solving their problems or taking care of their feelings? Do you stay in relationships that don’t work for years hoping that things will improve? Or does your partner have an addiction which you find yourself taking second place and making excuses for?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may be experiencing co-dependency.
What is co-dependency?
Co-dependency is when you feel that you cannot deal with life without your partner; boundaries are blurred and your focus is primarily on them. They come first and you lose sight of your own needs and aspirations. It affects your ability to have a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as the relationship addiction as relationships are usually one sided and compulsive with the co-dependent losing themselves in the relationship and finding that they cannot get out of it.
How is co-dependency developed?
Co-dependency is usually developed whilst growing up in a dysfunctional family where members suffer from feelings of shame, anger, fear or pain and may include families where someone in the family has an addiction ie. alcohol, drugs, work, food, sex or gambling or any kind of abuse is happening within the family ie. physical (domestic violence), emotional or sexual or a family member is suffering from a physical or mental illness. The focus is put on the family member who is addicted, carrying out the abuse or has the illness and the co-dependent members of the family put their own needs aside in order to care for or deal with the person who is sick. Children within the family learn that their needs are secondary and grow up with this belief about themselves thus becoming involved in dysfunctional relationships as adults. Living with co-dependency can create very difficult and painful feelings such as depression, anxiety, fear, anger and shame. These feelings are often denied as rules of the family are ‘don’t feel’, ‘don’t trust’, ‘don’t talk’ and ‘don’t express’. Children in these families therefore grow up with no understanding of their feelings and how to express or communicate them with others.
What are the symptoms of co-dependency?
Co-dependents usually have low self esteem and manage this by turning to behaviours such as drug or alcohol use, over working, sex, shopping or other unhealthy addictions. You do not know how to get your needs met and more than likely do not even know what your needs are as you are so used to taking care of others. Your need to take care of others means that you become so involved in other’s lives to the point that you end up feeling resentful of the person you are rescuing or taking care of. Examples include covering for a partner who has messed up as a result of their drinking problem, making excuses for a misbehaving child or paying for your partner’s latest shopping spree that you can’t afford. You may see yourself as a victim who is powerless and has no choices.
Other symptoms include:
- The need to control others
- Helping others in order to feel needed and/or wanted
- Inability to be playful or to have fun
- Fear of being alone
- Difficulty in identifying how you feel
- Relationship problems; staying in unhealthy relationships for fear of being alone or feeling abandoned.
- Lack of trust in yourself and/or others
How do I stop being co-dependent?
The first step is being aware of being co-dependent and taking steps to finding out more about co-dependency which is a form of addiction. Books can be helpful in educating yourself. Individual or group therapy can also be very useful where the focus is usually on childhood issues as this is where co-dependency is rooted. Counselling can help you to identify feelings that have been buried and you will be encouraged to express these feelings within a safe and trusting environment. Learning ways to say ‘no’ to others demands in a loving way and developing your own sense of identity will help you to gain confidence in yourself and build your self esteem. Learning how to have fun and develop your own interests and hobbies means that you will be able to let go, relax and live the life that you want to lead.
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