Codependency Definition: Six Key Signs and Symptoms
Here’s my codependency definition. It’s an addictive relationship where a person enables another’s immaturity, alcoholism or other self-destructive behavior. This could be with a child, sibling or partner/spouse.
Because the codependent feels overly responsible for the other’s welfare, she over-gives. So that leaves the other without real consequences for their destructive behavior.
Does this ring true about any of your relationships? Our client example focuses on a marriage but codependency applies to all intimate relationships.
Codependency Definition: A Client Example
Kelly, one of our coaching clients, struggled with codependency. She was a lovely 60-something woman, highly spiritual, whose laugh was delightful. However, she was in a 10 year marriage to Jeff. A very unsatisfying and stressful marriage. Kelly saw Jeff as self-absorbed and selfish. On top of that, he was a wannabe artist. But Kelly had believed in him and supported him from the beginning. She made good money as a nurse and carried the couple along emotionally and financially.
In turn, Jeff rarely took on any money-making jobs because he was living his fantasy that he was a great artist. So such things were beneath him. He spent his days watching the news, scrolling through social media and criticizing the government. But he aimed most of his resentments at Kelly. He regularly belittled and demeaned her.
Kelly wanted to leave Jeff, but, instead felt this powerful drive to stay and take care of him. She worried, “What would happen to Jeff if I left? He couldn’t survive!” But, as Kelly confessed in her first coaching session, “I don’t really like to be with him unless we are watching a TV show together.” They seldom had sex. And very little affection. But Kelly was addicted to caring for Jeff. We’ll get back to this case later.
Are You Caught in an Addictive Relationship?
Like Kelly, do you feel that you MUST give to the other person? Does this giving continue, even if you have decided not to do it? Even if your giving doesn’t help them? Are you addicted to being there for your partner? Is this a huge burden in your life?
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The good news is that this is a burden you can take off your shoulders. The first step is to fully understand the problem so it can be solved. Here are six key signs and symptoms that you may be facing:
Codependency Definition 1: Identity
The main issue is that your identity includes and emphasizes the other. In fact, your sense of self is fueled by an extreme dependence on the other person for approval. It is almost like they are the main part of you! At times you feel like you could not exist without them—there would be no “you” without them in your life.
Codependency Definition 2: Caretaking Addiction
You experience a caretaking addiction: an overwhelming, sometimes illogical need to be devoted to him or her. Your identity is bound up with theirs. So that you constantly help, contribute to and overly nurture the partner. This is true, no matter how self-destructive the partner is to themselves. And no matter how destructive the partner is to the relationship. And no matter how destructive the partner is to you.
Codependency Definition 3: Your Partner Hurts You Emotionally
The other partner regularly emotionally wounds, betrays or abandons you. When this wounding occurs, the you feel bad and may give lip service to pulling back or ending the relationship. But you remain addicted to caregiving and support. To the detriment of your own health, self-caretaking, welfare or happiness. Your personal boundaries are absent and you suffer because of that.
Codependency Definition 4: The Other’s Welfare is More Important Than Your Own
Your partner’s health or financial and emotional security, their success or happiness is more important than your own. This is true even if you are facing your own health challenges or other extreme hardships. The other’s welfare comes first, regardless of what is happening in your life.
Codependency Definition 5: You Worry About the Partner
The relationship causes you to have frequent or even ongoing bouts of worry, about your partner’s welfare, which creates suffering. The recurring thought pattern is: I must be completely focused on, devoted to, vigilant, worrying about, nurturing or helping my partner. If not, then he or she will fail, be unhappy, get sick, or die.
Codependency Definition 6: Research Findings
Research shows that enablers tend to have:
- Low self-esteem.
- Family dysfunction that negatively effects their well-being.
- High-levels of physical and psychological stress.
They also usually exhibit:
- A fear of abandonment.
- Difficulty saying no.
- A need for control over others.
- Difficulty understanding their own feelings and needs.
- Difficulty expressing their own thoughts, feeling and needs.
- Guilty feelings when taking care of themselves instead of their partners.
How Kelly is Breaking Free
So there you have a six key signs and symptoms of codependency. When Kelly, who we met earlier, went over all of these issues, she realized that she had almost all of them. As she worked in her coaching sessions, she realized that her relationship was harming her emotional health. Kelly began building her own independent life. She took a medical intuitive course online and began practicing readings for free. She found lots of joy in her new work. And as she did, Kelly began to set stronger boundaries with Jeff. As Kelly practiced saying no to him they began to have fights. But he slowly began to show her more respect. Kelly and Jeff are both in coaching and their relationship is still a work in progress. But Kelly is much happier with herself and her life.
Codependency Definition: Final Thoughts
What about you? Do these six signs and symptoms sound very familiar to you? Are you struggling in a relationship that seems to be filled with over giving? And with very little receiving in return? Do you have a hard time saying no, even if the demands are unfair to you? Do you feel guilty when you choose to satisfy your own needs? If so you may need to work on yourself. Definitely consider a gift session with one of my awesome coaches.
No matter what, please know that you can break these heavy chains. In fact, you can go forward and build your own glorious fulfilling life.
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As a relationship expert, I've helped thousands of women get the love they want-even when it seemed impossible. I'm Dr. Diana Kirschner. You might know me from my PBS Special, seen me on Oprah, or have read one of my bestselling books.
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