What Is Codependency? Recognising codependent relationships

couples counselling

Codependency can prevent people from living fulfilled and independent lives. Codependent relationships display an unhealthy dynamic that is caused by a person’s sense of worthlessness and low self-esteem. However, with counselling and therapy, many people can overcome their codependent behaviours and pursue healthy and rewarding relationships.

Defining Codependency

Codependency refers to a reliance on another person, most typically a romantic partner. This reliance may be mental, emotional or physical. It is not a formal or clinical diagnosis, but psychologists and psychiatrists do use it to explain an attachment that can often overlap with other personality disorders.

Codependency most commonly begins through our childhood experiences. Emotional neglect, such as growing up in an environment where emotions are ignored or punished, can result in a child feeling shame and low self-esteem. This often leads to a dysfunctional relationship dynamic between children and their parents, and later in life, this can prevent a person from developing stable relationships.

Codependent people will often depend on other people to validate their self worth and will deny their own desires or emotions to get their approval. They frequently build their identity around helping others and being needed or relied upon.

Common Behaviours of Codependent People

People who are codependent will often exhibit a range of behaviours relating to low self-esteem and a desire to help others. Some common signs of codependency include:

  • A sense of worthlessness. Codependent people do not value themselves and often suffer from feelings of shame. They often do not believe themselves worthy of happiness but will try to get other people to value them.
  • Poor personal boundaries. Because they feel responsible for the wellbeing of other people, codependent people find it hard to say no or to put their own needs first.
  • A ‘saviour’ complex. Codependent people believe it is their duty to protect other people from harm and will often try to fix situations of behalf of a loved one. This can become problematic when the other person in the relationship never has to be held accountable or learn from mistakes.
  • Guilt and self-denial. Codependent people deny their own needs for emotional support, self care, and rest. When they do want these things, they may feel guilty and anxious. They can also find it difficult to accept help when it is offered.

A codependent person will not necessarily exhibit all of these signs. They may show only some of these traits.

Different Forms of Codependency

Many people think of codependency as occurring predominantly within romantic relationships. However, codependency refers to any imbalanced relationship pattern, where one person assumes responsibility for meeting another person’s needs to the exclusion of acknowledging their own needs or feelings.

Codependent or interdependent relationships can occur between a parent and child, between friends, and even between employers and employees.

Signs That Your Relationship May Be Codependent

All relationships will have a degree of supporting and valuing the opinion of the other person. But if this dynamic is not two-way, it may be a sign that the relationship is codependent.

Codependent people may feel like they are simply offering love and care to their loved one, but when this extends to an unhealthy dependence it can lead to problems.

If you are experiencing any of the following, you may be in a codependent relationship:

  • You feel the need to check in with the other person and ask permission to complete tasks
  • You apologise even when you haven’t done anything wrong
  • You idolise the other person
  • You spend most of your time thinking about doing things for the other person and never for yourself
  • You don’t bring up problems to avoid conflict
  • You forgive or make excuses when the other person does the wrong thing
  • You do things for the other person even if they make you feel uncomfortable
  • You only feel good about yourself when the other person praises you.

Why Codependency is Unhealthy Within a Relationship

Codependency is unhealthy for both the codependent person and the ‘receiver’ of their affections.

Codependent people are prevented from living their best, most fulfilled lives because they are always concerned about other people’s opinions of them and about ensuring the other person is happy. They will also sometimes enable negative behaviour in the other person because they cannot recognise faults in anyone but themselves.

Receivers of this are also unable to properly flourish and develop. They are not given the opportunity for independence, because the codependent person does so much for them. They may end up unintentionally taking advantage of the codependent person
if they do not recognise that this level of devotion is unhealthy.

These relationships can also be very difficult to end, because a codependent person believes the other person relies on them, and the receiver may have become too accustomed to that level of support.

How to Deal with Codependency

If you are a codependent person, there are some things you can do to identify the issue and work to overcome it.

  • Seek out counselling. An experienced counsellor can work through the underlying issues causing your low self-esteem and rebuild your sense of self.
  • Consider couples therapy. You can heal your relationship through couples counselling and therapy.
  • Make time for yourself. Prioritise self care and things that are just for you. Make time for hobbies and anything that doesn’t involve or interest the other person.
  • Reconnect with family and friends. Often when you become enmeshed in a relationship, you end up isolated from other people in your life. Rebuild those relationships to remind yourself of your own worth.

Communication Issues? Could Your Relationship Do with Some Fine-Tuning?

Joyful couple looking at each other

Communication issues are one of the most frequently cited reasons for relationship trouble. You and your partner don’t need to be anywhere near considering separation or dealing with infidelity for communication to be a concern.

A breakdown in communication can be where everything starts and the point at which all other problems can begin to develop.

If you and your partner are experiencing some communication issues, don’t brush it off—don’t ignore it until something more serious develops. There are some easy things you can do now to give your relationship some fine-tuning and improve your communication as a couple and a family.

What Happens When You Have Communication Issues?

When we interact with other people, we need to communicate with them, to let them know what we think and how we feel. The more people in a household, the more thoughts and feelings need to be communicated and understood.

If everyone in the relationship is effective at getting their point across, as well as hearing and responding to the other person – awesome! But people don’t really work that way…

Important Communication Factors

There are a few factors to communication:

  • You need to understand your own thoughts and emotions
  • You need to be able to express your own thoughts and emotions
  • The other person needs to hear and understand them, then respond appropriately
  • Then these three things need to happen in reverse
  • And both happen at the same time and on an ongoing basis.

It’s no wonder that sometimes we struggle!

The worse we are at understanding ourselves, or the more stressful our lives become, the harder communication is. The more entrenched our thoughts are, or the more seriously we feel about a topic, the harder communicating about it may be as well.

Easy Fine-tuning Steps to Improve Your Communication as a Couple

Learn how to use active listening. This means focussing on what the other person is saying, rather than working out what your own reaction to it is going to be.

Practise maintaining eye contact and trying to pick up on your partner’s body language. Check in with your partner on what you are thinking about, and how they are thinking and feeling……you may be right, but many times you can be wrong too. In other words: DON’T ASSUME.

Ask questions, especially open-ended ones. Then listen to the answers.

If a discussion is getting heated, don’t try to resolve the issue in the moment. Stop fighting and give each other some space to calm down – then come back to the discussion when you both feel better.

Spend time together in different situations. Don’t always talk – sometimes be physically intimate, or silent. Also, don’t always just have sex – sometimes just talk.

Practice mindfulness on your own, and together as a couple. This means focusing purely on what you are doing in the moment, rather than ruminating over the past or worrying about what else you’ve got coming up.

For help with learning new communication skills, resolving long-standing issues between you and your partner and re-connecting with your partner in a more meaningful way, contact Deborah.

Perth Counselling & Psychotherapy Covid-19 Response

Cleaning Office

Your health and wellbeing is central to everything we do at Perth Counselling & Psychotherapy.

So, as the situation around coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to evolve, we wanted to reassure you that we’re working to support you during this difficult, challenging time.

We will continue to meet with clients face to face whenever possible, and for as long as possible. Rest assured that we are well-equipped to offer online video sessions to all clients and, dependent upon how the COVID-19 virus curve develops, it may be that eventually all our sessions are conducted online to help protect your health and safety, as well as that of our team.

Additional Hygiene Strategies

While we already have sound hygiene practices in place, we have implemented the following additional strategies to help reduce the risk of transmission:

  1. Specific to our West Perth rooms, all clients will have their temperature checked at the door. Any clients with a fever will be asked not to enter the building.
  2. We request that all clients use hand sanitiser once they enter the building.
  3. We will not shake hands or have any physical contact with clients.
  4. Social distancing of 1.5metres will be maintained within the consulting room.
  5. All work surfaces are cleaned a minimum of twice daily.
  6. Soft furnishings are disinfected twice daily.

How You Can Help

We expect all clients to comply with Government directives on self-isolation and quarantine periods. If you have a fever, sore throat, cold and flu symptoms, recently travelled overseas, been in contact with someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19), or believe you may be at risk, do not come into our offices. Please call us to reschedule.

Remember that all sessions can be provided online during self-isolation and quarantine.

We acknowledge the many and significant challenges that you may be coping with, and appreciate your willingness to comply with the strategies we have implemented.

Why we can feel so easily hurt by our partner

two men talking

Being in an intimate relationship is very rewarding and also very challenging. How can it be that the one we love most, is the one that can hurt us the easiest? Seems a bit unfair…….

Relationship is actually where we can work out many of our issues from the past. Not being in an intimate relationship often means there is no one to ‘press our buttons’. While we  have longing for intimacy, we do not long for the other side of it, which is how quickly we can feel hurt by our partner. In relationship we can feel totally blissful and loved and we can also feel infuriated, unheard, criticised or unimportant. These last feelings are very deep and painful and when we feel them, we blame our partner for making us feel this way. This response of blame on the other, actually can leave us feeling like we are at their mercy NOT to feel like this again, a sense of not being in control of our emotional responses.

Gestalt therapy is a gentle yet incredibly effective way of finding out where these feelings come from and what they are about. Exploring these feelings can provide you with knowledge and awareness which can take the blame off your partner and allows you to be choicefull about your emotional responses.

Contact us to make an appointment.

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As restrictions surrounding COVID-19 begin to ease in Western Australia, Perth Counselling and Psychotherapy is once again offering face-to-face sessions, in addition to online sessions. For those of you visiting us in-person, rest assured that we are strictly following social distancing regulations and will not have any physical contact with clients. If you have any questions, please contact your therapist for more information.