Symptoms of Codependency Explained
Are you codependent?
This is an important question to ask yourself, especially if you have been through several relationships which brought you pain instead of joy.
You may be wondering how come these problems seem to be pursuing you into every relationship.
And this is not exclusive to romantic relationships only. If you’re codependent, all your relationships are affected. Be they romantic, general friendships or even family relations.
The bulk of the effects are however most felt in romantic relationships.
The reason is because you relate with people based on who you are. So, your personality and even character traits determine a lot when it comes to the quality of relationships you have.
Since codependency is a common reason for relationship problems, it’s important to find out whether it’s the cause of your problems. But before we look at the telling signs of codependency, what is codependency in the first place?
Codependency: A Simple Definition
There are many relationship experts and psychologists who can give you a technical definition of codependency. In this article though, we will keep things simple though still accurate.
Codependency is a condition which makes you rely on others to have your self-worth, self-esteem and emotional needs met.
Normally, you should be able to define life for yourself, have a sense of purpose and decide on the direction your life should take.
When you are a codependent, you can’t do any of these things. You need someone else to either do them for you, or you rely on their thoughts and opinions to decide what to do. Either way, you cannot move without them.
Your self-identity and self-worth become dependent on the other person. You depend on their approval to say or do something. And in the event that they make a negative comment, you are bound to make an about-turn.
Also, in many cases, codependency involves a lot of emotional and even physical abuse.
Emotional abuse is often a part of codependency since depending on others for your emotional stability will usually make you vulnerable to manipulation. And when things get worse and a manipulative person thinks he’s losing his grip on you, it’s common for him to get physical.
It’s important to understand that codependency is usually two-way. There will usually be two people facilitating the codependent relationship.
There is the victim, also known as the enabler because he/she enables the situation to continue as it is. Then there is the person who seems to be reaping from the relationship.
This is the person taking advantage of the enabler. In the many cases of codependency, this person is usually abusive. The enabler often gets most of the attention because they are the victims of abuse.
SYMPTOMS OF CODEPENDENCY
It’s sad being codependent. There is a lot of pain that comes with it.
The good news however is that the condition is treatable. You can go through therapy and the therapist will help you deal with the issue.
As long as you’re willing to get help, freedom is available.
But for starters, you have to know whether this is the problem you’re facing. Here is a list of symptoms you can use to do a self-diagnosis and determine whether you’re codependent.
As you read through, be honest with yourself and avoid denying the facts.
Note that you don’t need to have all the symptoms to qualify being labeled a codependent. The degree of codependency varies. But if you’re highly codependent, you’ll likely have all these traits.
You may have a little of some symptoms and greater degrees of other symptoms.
1. You Have Low Self-Esteem
At the root of codependency is low self-esteem and at the root of low self-esteem is fear. As a codependent, you have many fears but the greatest appears to be the fear of rejection.
More about that later.
Low self-esteem is when you feel inadequate about yourself. With low self-esteem, you’ll definitely have low self-confidence.
This will result in you being unable to do many things. And because of that, you’ll start making negative comparisons between yourself and them.
Making comparisons between yourself and others is a significant problem for those with self-esteem issues. Despite knowing that you can do something, you won’t do it because you’re afraid of putting up a weak performance.
Even when you see others failing and know you can do it better, you still won’t do it.
Things get worse if you once tried doing that thing and failed, especially if you failed in front of others.
Whether they laughed at you or not, you will keep remembering the shame and embarrassment you felt.
This fuels your low self-esteem.
Low self-esteem causes you to doubt your own abilities and instincts as you’re haunted by the fear of making mistakes.
To avoid making mistakes, you strive for perfection and get trapped since you can never attain perfection.
In pursuing perfection, you’re indirectly trying to gain attention and acknowledgment. This will hopefully bring with it acceptance and praise, which will then make you confident like others.
You may not be able to recognize this flow of thinking. If you however take time to check why you do certain things, you’ll see that what you actually look for is acceptance and love.
This is what makes you vulnerable in relationships.
2. You Put Others Ahead of Yourself
In your vulnerability, you desperately seek other people’s approval and this opens you up for exploitation.
It can be surprising, maybe even shocking for someone who doesn’t understand codependency to see the kind of sacrifices you make.
In putting others ahead of you, you feel obligated to give help. Although offering help is a great thing, as a codependent, you’re willing to go beyond reasonable limits.
In many cases, you do this because you seek to be helpful to the other person. In being helpful, you’re actually looking for worth and an identity which you hope will come from the approval of the other person.
Maybe they’ll say that you’re very caring or maybe praise you for your generosity. As much as being acknowledged and appreciated is important for everyone, for you the need is deeper.
At the same time, making sacrifices could be an attempt to ward off rejection.
For example, people may be forming groups and they choose who to be grouped with.
In order to avoid being left out—thus being rejected, according to you—you might offer to join a group while citing your ability to do something difficult.
In other cases, you might offer help to an individual and the person says “No.” This can make you feel rejected. You won’t be able to distinguish between the person saying “No” to the offer and “No” to you.
Probably the person could handle the task or had someone in mind to work with.
In some extreme cases, you may feel the urge to keep offering help even when it’s clear the person doesn’t want it.
You might also be striving to advise someone and continue doing it despite the person clearly showing that they’re not implementing your advice.
3. You Have a Hard Time Saying “No”
Along the lines of putting others first and fearing rejection, you eagerly agree to do things you know very well you’ll struggle with.
This can also be brought about by poor communication skills. All in all, it’s connected to your low self-esteem.
To keep the feelings of inadequacy at bay, you might agree to do extra duties at work or at home. You might agree to take on more responsibilities in an attempt to come across as a committed employee.
In a romantic relationship, you may seek to show your partner how compatible the two of you are by always agreeing with them. Whereas your partner is busy living his life, you’re busy trying to live his too.
This shows you have no identity. You’re looking for an identity by doing what others want you to do.
It’s exactly how peer pressure works. The person without an identity and sense of direction gets to follow others without much thought.
In an attempt to be relevant, you’re always willing to go out of your way. At work, you might be the last one to leave the office. At home, you might be the one going to bed late.
Underneath the efforts and sacrifices, you’re also avoiding the discomfort of just saying “No.” That will make you feel very guilty because you’re refusing to help.
In some cases, it’s also a case of losing an opportunity to be acknowledged, accepted and loved.
4. You Fear Being Rejected
The fear of being rejected is a big fear. This is essentially what controls you in the form of codependency and it works through low self-esteem.
Many times, low self-esteem is powered by feelings of shame and guilt.
You’ll find that there is something you did at one point in your life which didn’t work out as expected. This, despite happening many years ago, still haunts you.
You may also have imaginations about people knowing what you did or how wrong the results were. You therefore try your best to avoid similar situations because you’re afraid the results could turn out the same.
This can also make you afraid of being in a relationship.
In this, you’ll be avoiding the possibility of someone else discovering an apparent inability or mistake on your side.
This could be what you were told, or you imagined, was the reason for the other relationship ending.
These same inadequacies could fuel the fear of being rejected in the sense that the other person might leave you because of your perceived inadequacies.
This fear is also responsible for challenges with intimacy. You are afraid of being open to those close to you. If this is not dealt with, it can cause serious relationship problems, including sexual dysfunction.
5. You Have an Addiction
One symptom that may not seem like one, is addiction. Addictions are a means for codependents to escape from their pain and struggles with life. These addictions come in different forms and degrees.
You may think that the only addictions that can happen are drugs or sex but that is far from the truth. There are some addictions so common that they aren’t even viewed as such, yet they are.
One example of such an addiction is work. Workaholism is a type of addiction.
If you’re addicted to your work, you’ll most likely be trying to keep the pressure down and maintain control of your emotions using your work. The busier you are working, the less time you have to think of your relationship challenges.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t make them go away.
Another common addiction which falls into the category of drug addiction is alcoholism. Though you may take this route to clear stress from your mind, albeit temporarily, you might also do it to loosen up.
Most codependents feel caged by their circumstances. They see others having fun and enjoying themselves but aren’t able to do the same. Not necessarily because they don’t have the ability to, but due to fear. This also keeps them from opening up to anyone about their problems.
So, in an attempt to loosen up and hopefully de-stress through talking, dancing etc, they might seek the help of alcohol. This can start small then grow to become a big problem in itself.
6. You Have Poor Communication Skills
As a codependent, you have trouble expressing yourself mainly due to the fear of upsetting others. You are afraid of saying the wrong thing even though you may not know for sure what kind of things upset the other person.
The constant fear you have pushes you to second-guess yourself. This makes you unable to confidently communicate your thoughts, feelings or needs.
This can lead to dysfunctional relationships of every kind.
In your fear, you become dishonest. If someone does something you don’t approve of, since you don’t want to upset them—and lose their love—you end up saying it’s okay. Alternatively, you may just be quiet and hurt within instead of pointing out the issue.
Since you’re hurting and not speaking about it, things get worse the day you decide to talk about it.
The other person becomes confused when you tell them they have been doing something wrong yet all along you never mentioned it. You probably even approved and celebrated it.
It simply won’t be making sense that for some time, you have loved them the way they are. Then out of nowhere, you suddenly become uncomfortable with their behaviors and character.
7. You Have Poor Boundaries
Much of the communication problems will also be facilitated by poor boundaries. You’re simply too open for others to come into your life and make changes as they wish.
These changes have been approved of by you through poor communication and an inability to say “No.”
Boundaries are important in life. They are a line between you and others and provide private space for you to be who you are and do the things you like.
Boundaries are drawn when you decide to what extent you can allow people to say things to you, use your things, do things connected with you etc. As such, you should ideally have boundaries around your body, money, emotions, time, property etc.
These boundaries should not be blurry but clear. Everyone relating with you in any way should know how far they can go. They should know that you make your own decisions concerning your time. They should know that your property is private i.e. phone, home, computer etc.
Unfortunately, boundaries are communicated through words and action. And as a codependent person, this is where the challenge comes in.
Although you may have boundaries, not communicating them will imply that you don’t have them. This is because no-one knows them.
Since you’re fearful and do a lot of second-guessing, you may hope that others will somehow know your boundaries and respect them.
Yet, even if that happened, you would still welcome them further into your life with your willingness to make extreme sacrifices.
8. You Stay in Unhealthy Relationships
Do you remember what we said at the beginning of this article?
Codependency is usually two-way. But most conversations about codependency focus on the victim or enabler while ignoring the other person.
As a codependent, your chances of being in a warm and loving relationship are slim. Not because you’re not worthy of receiving love, but because your nature denies you the opportunity.
As things tend to be, codependents normally find themselves in relationships with other codependents. The other codependent however, is usually an abusive person. They are the type that take advantage of the enabler and live off their fear.
The abuser is also a codependent in the sense that he cannot survive in a normal relationship since they struggle showing love as expected. And since they usually thrive through some form of control, they will push the enabler into submission.
The enabler on the other hand, in an attempt to please the abuser, will make huge sacrifices and say “Yes” to all their demands.
For the enabler, this is an effort to gain acceptance and derive an identity and purpose from the situation.
A good example of an abusive relationship partner is a Narcissist. This is someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
9. You Find it Difficult not Being in a Relationship
With your excessive need for approval and acceptance, you will normally find it difficult not being in a relationship. Even simple relationships like those between friends, you may try to draw more from them than is normally expected.
This can make others uncomfortable especially since you may want to hang around them as much as possible. When they want some alone time, you may understand that to mean they’re rejecting you.
Although this is not the case, and your friend may even explain it, you’ll still have trouble believing it. This is because you don’t enjoy time alone so can’t understand the value of it.
Enjoying time alone is difficult if you don’t know who you are and don’t value your uniqueness.
10. You are in Denial About Being Codependent
If you’ve read through the above signs and have seen them in your life, then you are codependent. If you have seen the above signs in your life but don’t think you are codependent, you are codependent.
That denial is part of the signs.
On the outside, denial may seem like a sign of pride and an inability to accept your weaknesses. However, denial is really a sign of fear. You’re afraid of being discovered. You’re afraid people will know your weaknesses and see your inadequacies.
Still, the truth is in there and you know it. You know that you’re suffering from your lack of identity and confidence but are afraid of getting help.
DEALING WITH CODEPENDENCY
Codependency is a big challenge although it can be dealt with. We urge you that if the above list shows you that you could be codependent, reach out for help.
Codependency is dealt with through therapy and there are many therapists who can help you with this. You just need to start by acknowledging the problem.
Here is a short list of things you can do to start living free of codependency.
- Understand that sacrifices worsen the situation – making extreme sacrifices will never make you more accepted or loved. This makes you vulnerable to abusers and opens the door for exploitation.
- Create space between you and your partner – being in a codependent relationship is an unfortunate thing. However, with the willingness of both parties, your relationship can change for the better.
To start with, make room for yourself. It may sound too big a step but it’s manageable. Choose a place to go and spend time alone. Check your memories and find out what you liked doing. Go watch a movie or do any other activity you know you’ll enjoy.
- Undergo therapy – therapy is the ultimate route which you should take. This will help you at least have someone caring and encouraging you as you take the recovery journey. Having a support pillar is great for recovery from this.
At the same time, a therapist will help you uncover the root cause of codependency. She will guide you through your history and pick up the things likely to have caused you to lose your self-esteem. She will then help you fix the problem. You can find a therapist here.
- Spend time with supportive people – these can be friends or family. It’s important for you to understand that there are people who can show you genuine love just as you need it. From such people, you’ll learn that you don’t need to buy love through sacrificing your own life.
- Learn how to be assertive – since the people who can share genuine love are not the only ones you will encounter in this life, you need to learn a key life skill. It’s called assertiveness.
Being assertive will help you create and respect your boundaries, communicate them and among other things, learn how to say “No.”
As with many other problems in life, the first step towards a solution is identifying the problem.
Now you know that your problem is codependency. We’ve also shared some quick tips to get started in your recovery. We hope you build the courage to walk this path and become stronger and achieve your dreams.
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