What is Co-Dependency?

Sometimes just becoming aware that an unresourceful pattern is working in your life can be useful with regard to changing behaviors.  However, asking the question, “Am I codependent in my relationship(s)?,” is not always an easy question to answer.  When you can identify codependent behaviors it is much easier to take action in changing those behaviors.

Codependency is when one individual is ‘NOT OK’ unless another person does, says, and/or behaves in some expected manner.  It is possible to begin to identify the way it feels in your body when a codependent feeling is triggered.  As people become closer in relationship, some individuals naturally begin to expect more and more from the other.  The person believes that the other person now represents them or ‘is’ them in some way, and the standard of acceptable behavior becomes more and more rigid.  A rule of thumb in recognizing codependency, look for anytime an individual’s life and well-being revolves around someone else.  Poor self-esteem and ineffective boundary-setting are critical factors.  Shame is often an underlying factor.

What is ME and what is NOT ME?

Codependent people tend to mixing-up or blur the lines between ‘what is ‘me’ and what is ‘not me’.’  Codependency can manifest in trying to control or modify the behavior of another person or in trying to please someone.  Sacrificing one’s self in order to take care of or protect another person is a common behavior.  Some codependent people are ‘giving their power away,’ or trying to ‘take power’ they don’t reasonably have.  Again poor self-esteem, guilt, shame, are underlying causes.

According to members of a conference on the subject in 1989, a tentative definition was agreed upon, “Codependency is a pattern of painful dependence upon compulsive behaviors and approval of others to find safety, self-worth, and identity.”  Experts in the area agreed that codependency can be passed down generationally and that ‘recovery’ is possible.

Boost Self Esteem and Set Boundaries Effectively

When an individual is not setting effective boundaries or enforcing them properly, as in ‘gently but firmly,’ that individual is said to be ‘giving his or her power away.’  It all boils down to clarity about ‘what is me and what is not me’ and at the deeper level is driven by lack of confidence, self esteem, or in shame.   When those ego boundaries are clear, strong and well-reinforced, relationships are stronger and healthier.

It should be mentioned that for an individual to set boundaries and enforce early and gently but firmly, it will be necessary to be to allow oneself to know where the boundaries are in order to communicate them clearly.  This will take some practice.  In relationships, interdependency is a considered healthy and should be reinforced.  Interdependency allows for autonomy.  “I’m OK regardless of what you do, say, think, or feel.”  “I am standing up for myself.”  and it is most often possible to preserve the relationship.  “I don’t have to separate from the relationship to be whole, healed, and safe in the relationship.”  Connection with others is a powerful motivator in relationships, families, and larger communities.  It’s just a matter of whether that is being done healthfully or not.  Inter-dependency indicates a more balanced level of dependence upon others and comes from a more solid place inside you.

People Are Not Broken

From the NLP point of view, people are not broken.  They are whole, healed, and complete and they have all the resources necessary to achieve any congruently desired outcome.  Sometimes the individual may simply have their resources organized in a way that has prevented success.  In addition, the NLP Coach or NLP Practitioner does not prescribe, treat, or diagnose.  Why?  First, because those terms are reserved by the medical establishment and are based on the ‘people are broken’ paradigm.  Secondly, we (NLP Practitioners) tend not to use labels for ‘dis-ease’ because the view is that it is often counterproductive to do so.  The language “dis-ease” is a state of being out of balance.  As in the holistic view, health is restored when balance is restored.

While labeling a child with as ADD or ADHD might help some children get help that would not otherwise be funded by the medical establishment, some children, who might otherwise grow out of the symptomology anyway, interpret the message as “something is wrong with me,” so that the child is now having to deal with the stigma of being labelled.  The problem is one of logical levels.  The label creates an identity of ‘being broken,’  is much harder to deal with, instead of having a set of behaviors that can be changed to create new capabilities.

Seeing the Territory!

A presupposition of NLP is that ‘The Map Is NOT the TERRITORY!’  In other words, it’s better to learn how the client is constructing reality.  When you get better clues, you will know how to interrupt the old pattern. .  The perspective of the NLP Practitioner is that when you can see an issue from the viewpoint of the client, no matter how ‘crazy’ the behavior may appear from the outside, the behavior will make sense.  In addition, you will more likely know specifically how and where to interrupt the problem behavior.  And, besides, labels don’t necessarily make the coach or therapist more empathetic to the reality the individual is facing.

Nevertheless, some diagnostic terms have become well known in the public usage.  As an NLP Coach, when a client says he or she is “depressed,” I know that they are experiencing sadness.  And I might make any of a number of tools available to the client in order to help the individual gain access to the programming that will allow them to experience a happier way of being in life.

It’s the same with the label, ‘co-dependency.’   The term came into being in only the last 20-30 years and was originally used to describe interaction between members of alcoholic families.  It was quickly recognized that the label described a much larger population as use of the term grew into public awareness.  It describes behaviors that I see with my clients and I haven’t found a better description.  Many people are, however, still confused about what is and what is not ‘co-dependent’ behavior.  Accessing states of high self esteem and ego strengthening exercises are useful in changing this unresourceful behavior.

Codependency Check List

According to Darlene Lancer JD LMFT, author of the book, Codependency for Dummies, the following are characteristics of codependency.

  • Low self-esteem.  Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem.  The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable or inadequate.  Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.  Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem.  If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
  • People-pleasing.  It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice.  Saying “No” causes them anxiety.  Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone.  They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
  • Poor boundaries.  Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others.  It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs.  That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries.  They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.  Some codependents have rigid boundaries.  They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them.  Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.
  • Reactivity.  A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings.  If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive.  You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary.  With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
  • Caretaking.  Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself.  It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves.  In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.
  • Control.  Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life.  You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings.  Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control.  Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay.  In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do.  This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.
  • Dysfunctional communication.  Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs.  Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem.  Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth.  You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else.  Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do.  Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.
  • Obsessions.  Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships.  This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears.  They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”  Sometimes you can lapse into fantasy about how you’d like things to be or about someone you love as a way to avoid the pain of the present.  This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps you from living your life.
  • Dependency.  Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves.  They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own.  Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive.  They end up feeling trapped.
  • Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem.  Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation.  They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem.  Codependents also deny their feelings and needs.  Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs.  They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own.  They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy.  Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help.  They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving.  They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.
  • Problems with intimacy.  By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem.  I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship.  Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left.  On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy.  You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
  • Painful emotions.  Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions.  Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone.  The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair.  When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

Article by Bill Thomason, Executive Coach, Certified NLP Master Trainer

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