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Co-dependency: Are you hooked on your relationship?

Co-dependency was first recognized as arising in relationships where one person is engaged in an addiction, while the other is psychologically dependent on caring for the addict. Since then co-dependency has come to have a much broader meaning, existing in any relationship where one person is totally preoccupied with the behaviour and needs of the other-sometimes someone with an obvious problem. One person turns themselves inside out trying to fix or accommodate the other, in the hope that the person will change or become more emotionally available.

If any of this sounds familiar then perhaps you might also recognise in yourself a need to be needed, while finding it difficult to ask others to meet your own needs. You might not even feel very clear on what your own needs are. While very aware of what others are feeling, it can be hard to fathom what you yourself are feeling.It can be especially difficult to acknowledge weakness or anger within yourself, although you can see these traits quite clearly in the other. Good feelings about yourself depend on their approval and making them feel good. If you can solve their problems and lessen their pain your own self worth increases. However these positive feelings are often short lived. Your sense of well-being disappears as soon as the other withdraws, which may be frequent; that, or you find yourself pushing them away. To fend off pain, guilt or emptiness you must find a way back to them, and you will compromise almost anything about yourself to do this.

Co-dependent relationships often have a roller-coaster quality which in time can become increasingly painful and destructive, yet these relationships are hard to let go of, the fear of being alone is so overwhelming.

This way of relating is not confined to couples, it can exist between colleagues, friends or siblings and-very commonly-between parents and their children. Co-dependency can often be traced back to relationships between children and their care-givers, where the task of identifying the perceived moods of one or another parent may have been taken on by the child. By the time these children become adults their relationships with others often feel so muddled that it is hard to be clear about who is who.

A vital first step, but often a difficult one, is to begin to recognise co-dependency. Organizations such as CoDa UK can support recovery within a group setting. Counselling will support you in a one to one setting, looking with you at how earlier experiences effect your relationships now. Counselling will also focus on issues of self care and on finding a more stable sense of who you are. In this way it becomes possible to reach a new self acceptance and finally let go of the need to exist through-and for- others.  

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