Am I Codependent?

By: David Lechnyr, LCSW

Counselors, therapists and psychologists frequently talk about co-dependent relationships as something that is not healthy. Understanding dysfunctional relationships requires that we examine how we approach relating to other people who are important to us.

Co-Dependence Defined

Codependency is best understood as a relationship where you do all the work, suffer all the consequences, the other person does not grow or change, others don’t even notice all you do, or appreciate it, and you end up WORN-OUT, EXHAUSTED, AND POOPED!! – Blamed! Co-dependent relating is one where there is TOO MUCH CARING AND HELPING.

Helping others is fine. However, if we try to do too much, and overprotect and save them, we end up taking away growth, risking, and independence from others. They then start to act and react like little children. This doesn’t help them recover and grow on their own–figuring out for themselves. It ENABLES them to remain helpless and “the same” no matter how much you complain and point out the reality of things.

The Too Good helper defines their identity by feeling the NEED to DO for others, even when it is not in the helper’s best interests, OR when the other person has said NO to helpful requests. The co-dependent will repeat the request, do it any ways, or say “are you sure?”

Codependency as an Addiction

The Too Good helper is ADDICTED to the ACTIVITIES OF DOING for others. They are hooked on worrying, helping, answering, knowing, handling problems, solving feelings, and always knowing what is right for others because they are looking for acceptance and reassurance. It Is a drug that tells the person that they are “okay.” However, they are always needing to be reassured and become addicted to the “drug of needing to do for others” in order to feel whole.

The Too Good helper can be a nice, submissive, overly helpful one, or the dominant, controlling, directing, talking too much, directing, managing, strong mothering one who KNOWS BEST about what is needed for the other person. They violate other people’s psychological and personal boundaries, feeling their emotions, knowing what is best, taking on the other person’s problems, etc.

Their whole identity and self-esteem is based on helping to the point that they become burned out, exhausted, give away too much of themselves, saying and doing nice things all the time and worry that other’s feelings may be hurt if they don’t get involved. It is a feeling that the only way I can be worthwhile, or liked, is to be in charge and handling everything.

The Too Good Helper believes that there is some kind of Power in hope. There is a belief of I can make it happen and this magical belief has the power to convert the lost ones. The opposite actually happens. You make them weak, resistive, and helpless. He/She who has the “problem” (the one who needs your help) actually controls the relationship. They may look helpless but they are actually very powerful!

Codependency is an Enabling Behavior

  • When a crisis happens everyone in the system tries to help.
  • Sometimes for all the right reasons we do all the wrong things by being “too helpful and trying to hard to solve it all for the other person.”
  • We may find that we cannot stop giving the sufferer reassurance and comfort beyond what would be expected under normal circumstances.
  • We may over-check, keep checking, asking, talking, which only increases the sufferers anxiety and sense of dependency and loss of independence as an adult.
  • Family members may lie and fabricate stories to protect the person and themselves.

High Tolerance for Inappropriate Behaviors

Because there is a chronic exposure to an atmosphere that can be illogical, rigid, and highly stressful, those around the sufferer may begin to assume that the illogical is logical and that the inappropriate is appropriate. Family members can develop a tolerance for inappropriate behaviors rather than comment on, and point them out. Perceptions of family members can become distorted and confused and the non-functioning person comes to “expect others to do things for them” as they assume an increasingly passive stance.

Preoccupation with the Sufferer

Many of the family member’s thoughts can start to exclusively center around the person with the problem. Family members become obsessed with trying to think of new ways to help, find solutions, cures, or handling even everyday problems for the sufferer’s problems. There is a progressive focusing of attention on the sufferer along with an equal neglect of the feelings, wants, and needs of oneself and family members. The Co-dependent becomes “addictively obsessed” with the other person who needs the co-dependent enabler to help them function in life. The Problem is that the other person comes to rely on you to “make them” function–and yet they never understand how much you do for them.

Learning to Say NO

Remember that good love means saying no. Others will protest your pulling back, but over time they will respect you more. However, this takes time and is a process of growth that helps you focus on YOU. If you don’t take care of you first, you are no good to others. This is not selfish, only realistic and practical.

Co-dependent relating causes dysfunctional relating patterns that are NOT HELPFUL to others being able to grow and find themselves. Everyone has to hit the wall of learning many times for themselves before they figure it out for themselves. Let others decide, make mistakes, forget things, and learn on their own!