Understanding Codependence

April 14, 2023


This post was inspired by podcast chat last year with Autumn Collier of The lady & The Couch podcast and The Well Woman practice. Check it out here

I noticed the same traits continuing to come up for so many of my clients. A lot of times it looks something like anxiety, often at work and in relationships. They are stressed, overwhelmed, often to the point of anxiety & panic attacks. Usually at the point that they come to counseling is really more than what anyone should be doing.

What is Codependence ?
* Whenever a relationship with anyone or anything else is more important than the relationship with self & difficulty prioritizing our needs over others
* It’s not an official diagnosis, disorder, or mental illness. Rather, it is a unique psychological construct that shares significant overlap with other personality traits.

* Have difficulty identifying what they are feeling, opinions ; Minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
* Perceive themselves as unselfish and dedicated to the well- being of others; Put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
* Mask pain such as anger, humor, or isolation; Passive aggressive, resentful when needs aren’t met
* Have difficulty making decisions, setting healthy priorities and boundaries.
* Are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
* Are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
* Have to feel needed
* Need to control others due to the chaos & lack of control in their lives

How do we become codependent?
* Much of the information comes from research on families of alcoholism, but it really applies to when usually at a young age learn to focus on someone else like a parent: childhood trauma, dysfunction within families, conflicted relationships with parents.
* Anxious attachment style
* I work with predominantly black women and there is a cultural component. we often talk about the ‘Strong Black Woman’ or sometimes it’s just referred to in other spaces as being a strong woman or superwoman.
* We take on the characteristics of Strength, self-sufficiency, resilience, having to work twice as hard, being a caretaker for parents or siblings, not being weak.
* Addressing conflict, especially with parents and family members can be very difficult & were taught not to talk back or be disrespectful to our parents;

Is there a correlation between codependency and trauma?
* YES- many of us are familiar with PTSD, but we are now more aware of complex or developmental trauma which occurs within relationships in early childhood over the course of one’s childhood.
* ACES (adverse child experiences study) – one of the largest studies of childhood abuse and neglect and household challenges and later-life health and well-being: 1) abuse, 2) neglect & 3) household dysfunction
1. Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Verbal abuse
2. Physical neglect, Emotional neglect
3. A family member who is depressed or diagnosed with other mental illness
4. A family member who is addicted to alcohol or another substance
5. A family member who is in prison
6. Witnessing a mother being abused
7. Losing a parent to separation, divorce or death

* I often address trauma through attachment based therapy, seems to align with the anxious insecure attachment style; trauma is relational & there is usually some dysfunction that has occur with one or both parents.

Is it a “bad” thing to be codependent?
* Depends- I think that most of us would not be being honest with if we said that we have never done or said anything to please someone else or to be more acceptable to someone else however. But the difference is when it is a pervasive part of your relationships & identity & does it cause you stress.

How do you treat codependency?
* Codependence is usually one of many issues that are addressed in counseling & it’s part of overall trauma recovery
* Increase self-awareness of emotions, wants, needs & how you show up in relationships (focus on self v others)
* Effective communication: assertiveness training & boundaries; address & embrace healthy conflict, saying no
* Attachment based therapy- ‘trauma is healed in relationship’, develop a more secure attachment style, provide new corrective emotional experiences
* DBT-A structured behavioral intervention, which integrates skills centered around mindfulness, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance.

What steps can someone take to become less dependent?
* Interdependence – knowing that you can have your own separate identity from others, depend on someone without losing yourself, love others and self at the same time, and feel free enough to express who you really are and feel.
* Detachment – experiencing our feelings without allowing them to control
* Mindfulness to focus on self & the present moment (vs trying to control others & future outcomes)
* Developing Assertiveness & establishing boundaries
* Continued self awareness through self help &/or counseling – just like any other habits or patterns we are all prone to slip back into former habits.

Another featured article on Upjourney – Can a codependent relationship be saved? : https://upjourney.com/can-a-codependent-relationship-be-saved

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