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  • Codependency: When caregiving becomes toxic and unhealthy.

    Caring for one another, our elderly parents and siblings needing care when they are going through a physical or mental health condition, a neighbor who may need care during their most difficult time, or caring for our children while we are raising them to be independent, successful adults—all this caring is a very natural part of being human.

    Caring for those in need is a good gesture, an indication of a kind, empathic, compassionate individual. But when caring goes from healthy to unhealthy, in which a person cares for others to get their own emotional, mental, physical, or spiritual needs met, it then gets under the realm of an unhealthy cycle, an unhealthy pattern, and is referred by psychologists as “Codependency.” Those others could be a parent, a sibling, friends, coworkers, children, spouses, or romantic partners.

    In healthy caring, we attend to a person’s needs with a genuine intention to help and be sensitive to their feelings. In codependency, we engage in caring behavior in an attempt to control others or direct them into doing what we think they should do, not respecting their boundaries and ignoring how they feel.

    Codependent relationships are one-sided. A codependent basically does not know who he or she is, what they want, or what their own needs are. They feel very empty inside, and to fill this emptiness, they look around and see whose problems they can solve. They start directing others toward what they think they should do. They start taking care of them, not seeing what the other person needs right now, but basically, they control them by trying to help without respecting their boundaries.

    Codependent relationships are unhealthy, emotionally destructive, and/or can get abusive. The person with codependent traits becomes the giver, who sacrifices all their own needs and well-being for the sake of the other person, who is the taker. 

    The term “Codependent” first appeared in the field of substance abuse or addiction in the 1950s. It was meant to support partners of individuals who abused substances, as many individuals who were in close relationships with people who struggled with addiction exhibited codependent traits.

    Codependent relationships can occur between Romantic partners, Parents and children, Friends, and Family members. Below are the characteristics of a person with codependent traits:

    • They struggle with low self-esteem. A codependent person tends to have people-pleasing qualities. Due to their own unmet needs as children, where they were not validated, heard, and or seen for who they truly were, they develop an urge to feel important by caring for others. Many struggle from a fear of abandonment. A codependent person may do anything to hold on to a relationship, including bearing abuse and neglect.

    • Substantial difficulty setting boundaries. A codependent person may allow others to violate their boundaries or make their boundaries more flexible to tolerate violations.

    • Good at caretaking. They try to control others to feel secure in a relationship.

    • Fear of abandonment. A codependent person has an extreme need for reassurance, validation, and emotional support.

    • Difficulty communicating their feelings freely due to fear of being ashamed, ridiculed, or made fun of.

    • They can be indecisive. 

    • They constantly need approval and recognition. Any attempts to assert themselves will make them feel guilty. They have a hard time trusting themselves and/or others. 

    • Struggle with intimacy, expressing vulnerability, and even adjusting to change.

    • They can struggle with chronic anger and resentment due to the inability to stand up for themselves. 

    Many individuals with codependency traits will end up in relationships with someone who is on the other extreme end. This means someone who is entitled, selfish, arrogant, and gets their inner needs met by taking advantage of others, those who are either high on narcissistic traits or may even struggle from a narcissistic personality disorder, Borderline personality disorder, or may be addicted to drugs, are abusive, or just emotionally unavailable.

    Many people confuse codependency with Dependent personality disorder( DPD)

    Codependency is not an official mental health diagnosis; it’s rather a personality pattern.  Dependent personality disorder, on the other hand, is a mental health condition that is characterized by a pervasive and excessive need for others’ support, approval, and guidance. 

    Individuals with DPD also fear rejection and abandonment. But the major difference between the two is in Dependent personality; the person does not get their inner needs met by controlling others. They are just purely dependent and want to be with others due to fear of being alone.

    The Key to outgrowing codependency is to gain more self-awareness, build self-esteem, focus on your growth, develop healthy hobbies and coping skills to manage difficult emotions, learn about your family dynamics as you were growing up, identify the dysfunction in your family of origin, learn about one’s childhood relationships and family of origin, and learn to love and cherish yourself, for who you are with all your shortcoming and your strengths.  All this can be learned and developed through individual psychotherapy, group therapy,  support groups, and other self-help techniques.


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