Codependency is a psychological tendency of fulfilling the needs of a loved one(s) by ignoring personal needs in unhealthy relationships. However, with therapy and coping strategies, one can change a codependent relationship into a healthy one.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is a condition concerning an unhealthy or defective relationship that individuals tend to share with those closest to them. It is a psychological pattern that is prevalent in marriages, friendships, cohabitation relationships, and families. The codependent person tends to outline their entire surroundings satisfying the other person, or the enabler, thus deriving his/her self-esteem and self-worth by sacrificing for his/her partner. “Codependency often refers to an excessive preoccupation with the lives of other people and that, in the field of substance abuse, codependent family members often enable substance abuse through unhealthy, overly involved behaviors,” explains a 2012 study 1 .
It must be noted that codependency does not qualify as a mental health diagnosis since the symptoms are so widely applicable. However, it can still cause enough distress to an individual. It is a ‘learned behavior’ that usually arises from past behavioral patterns and emotional difficulties. However, this mental construct can be altered and healthier behavior patterns in relationships can be developed through treatment and self-help techniques.
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Treatment Of Codependency
For a successful treatment, it is vital for both parties or partners to consult a therapist. The therapy sessions will enable one spouse to get over the codependent attitude while enabling the other to overcome addiction. According to a 2015 study 2 , there are three popular therapy treatments that help in treating the condition. These are group therapy, family therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
A. Group Therapy
Group therapy is a type of treatment session that may show positive results in treating codependency. According to the study, the treatment focuses on group programs that are specifically curated to treat codependent behavior. ”The programs include group therapy with approaches of breakdown, cognitive, group counseling and 12 steps program” says the study. It is extremely effective in managing codependency disorder, thus developing social security for codependent persons. It also helps the affected person to obtain new information in a predictable and appropriate space. Attending therapy sessions on a regular basis helps to control various complex relationships and is effective to recall symbolic behaviors while building a space like a family. Thus, in other words, the support and encouragement of relatives along with the therapist is valuable for a successful treatment process. Support and encouragement act as an ”emotional experience for a codependent person”, thus fostering positive feedback and results leading to a breakdown denial of himself/herself while expressing his/her true emotions.
Studies 3 also show that “older adults benefit from a psychoeducational support group format and that codependency issues can be reduced.” It must be noted that group therapy sessions may differentiate in the terms of activity per session. While some may include cognitive behavioral therapy enabling members to grasp specific skill-building strategies, others may follow the 12-step model. Through this model, individuals learn to perceive self-awareness, self-esteem, and the expression of feelings. Individuals also learn about their relationship addiction and work on the same.
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B. Family Therapy
Family therapy approaches the problems that prevail in dysfunctional family dynamics. Through such therapy sessions, family members learn the weak patterns which they slowly try to enhance. Healthy communication is often the key goal of the therapy while problems that were left unsolved may also be raised during the therapy sessions. The 2015 study states that in regards to family therapy, the Bowen family systems therapy 4 can be helpful. It is believed that the social and psychological effects on the family, especially interpersonal patterns determine the condition of codependency. When a dysfunctional family fails to provide security and a good atmosphere to rear children, a set of preventive factors govern such families which results in the poor social and emotional development of children. Thus, it is essential to teach the family members the strategies to adjust to the inner realities of a family. It is also important to practice communication with others and expression of feelings. One study 5 states that “brief therapy for the codependent family can be visibly effective when combined with follow-up and referral to resources such as Al-Anon family groups.”
C. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Just like cognitive therapy targets to change the thought pattern for other mental disorders, it also strives to change the thought pattern of the codependent person that fosters unhealthy relationship patterns. The purpose of the therapy is to build positive behavior changes while enabling the other person to become more responsible. Therapy is determined by the patient’s childhood experiences as they may mirror the patterns they witnessed while growing up. Therapy may help the person to connect with their feelings while exploring different emotions.
The study states that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT 6 ) interventions consist of a mental dynamic approach, a multi-dimensional approach to spiritual-psychological, and the use of the image. The mental-dynamic approach treats codependency to repair personal and environmental problems. Using mental images, the sufferer can be treated in 3 distinct stages, such as –
- Building a positive image
- Development of self-discovery, and
- Establishment of interpersonal communications.
It must be noted that some individuals can overcome this condition all by themselves while some require professional help. Some may also recognize their codependent tendencies by reading books or articles while others may stop being codependent when they undergo environmental changes. However, in most cases, codependency needs professional treatment.
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Coping Techniques Of Codependency
Apart from seeking professional help and attending therapy sessions, if you or someone close to you is suffering from this condition, several self-help activities at home can help work through the condition. The following are mentioned below.
1. Showing Support Vs Being Codependent
First, it is essential for individuals to understand the difference between showing healthy, supportive behaviors and acting codependent. While it is normal to help the close ones during their tough time, it is not recommended to direct or control someone else’s behavior or mood. It is also not healthy to support the enabler for his/her wrong habits, thus taking a stand against the same is essential as well.
Other key signs of codependency might include:
- Staying excessively busy managing your partner’s behavior or well-being
- Worrying too much about your partner’s behavior
- Developing a mood that depends on how your partner feels or acts
2. Identify Your Life Patterns
Upon understanding what codependency looks like, one must take a step back and try to recognize any repeating patterns in his/her current and past relationships. Since codependency mostly develops from our childhood experiences, we learn to repeat the same relationship pattern that we see between our parents. However, it is hard to break this pattern before one notices it. Thus, acknowledging the self-sacrificing attitude is the key to overcoming codependency.
3. Understand Healthy Relationships and Love
While not all unhealthy relationships are codependent, all codependent relationships are generally unhealthy. This does not mean that people can’t work out a codependent relationship. However, it generally takes longer to get things back on track for such relationships. To do the same, it is essential to understand what a healthy, non-codependent relationship looks like. In such relationships,
- Partners trust themselves and each other
- Both partners feel secure in their self-worth
- Partners can compromise
In a healthy relationship, both partners should care about each other and should feel safe to communicate their emotions and needs. Both should be able to present their different opinions or say no to something that clashes with their own needs.
4. Set Boundaries
It is essential to set boundaries for yourself, especially with the things that you are not comfortable dealing with. However, it is not easy to do so in a codependent relationship, especially when you are so used to helping your partner. Thus, it might take some time and determination before you learn to firmly honor your boundaries. Here are the tips that might help you with setting boundaries.
- Listen to problems with empathy but do not offer help until and unless you are involved in the same
- Practice refusing politely
5. Offer Help the Healthy Way
While there is nothing wrong in helping your close ones, self-sacrificing your own well-being for the same is unnecessary. Here’s what you can do.
- Discuss problems to get new perspectives
- Listen to your partner’s troubles or worries
- Discussing possible solutions
- Offer suggestions or advice when asked to do so
- Offer compassion and acceptance
6. Value Yourself
Codependency and low self-esteem are associated with each other. Thus, an increase in self-worth increases one’s confidence, happiness, and self-esteem. One must spend time with people who know how to treat others well, engage in things that make them feel happy, identify his/her own needs, take care of their health and should leave behind all the negative talk, thoughts and emotions.
It is a complex condition that leads to toxic, unhealthy relationships, devoid of trust and mutual care. However, one can overcome such psychological constructs with the help of therapy and coping strategies. Identifying and learning about this unhealthy relationship pattern can help you gain self-awareness and build healthier relationships.
- Shorey, R. C., Anderson, S., & Stuart, G. L. (2012). An Examination of Early Maladaptive Schemas among Substance Use Treatment Seekers and their Parents. Contemporary family therapy, 34(3), 429–441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-012-9203-9
- Abadi, F. K., Vand, M. M., & Aghaee, H. (2015). Models and interventions of Codependency treatment, systematic review. Enjoy free comfortable tools to publish, exchange, and share any kind of documents online!. https://docplayer.net/17131438-Models-and-interventions-of-codependency-treatment-systematic-review.html
- McIinnis-Perry GJ, Good JM. A psychoeducational codependency support group for older adults who reside in the community: friends supporting friends. J Gerontol Nurs. 2006 Aug;32(8):32-42. doi: 10.3928/00989134-20060801-06. PMID: 16915744.
- Zerbe KJ, Fabacher JE. Benefits and limitations of Bowen therapy with psychiatric inpatients. Bull Menninger Clin. 1989 Nov;53(6):522-6. PMID: 2819294.
- Mulry JT. Codependency: a family addiction. Am Fam Physician. 1987 Apr;35(4):215-9. PMID: 3565221.
- McHugh, R. K., Hearon, B. A., & Otto, M. W. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy for substance use disorders. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 33(3), 511–525. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2010.04.012