What is codependency and how do I know if I'm codependent?
What is codependency?
I’ve recently started reading a great book by Dana Morningstar titled “Out of the Fog” about narcissistic abuse. While the book itself isn’t specifically and only about codependency, she addresses the topic well. The following is a rather long quote but it captures the heart of codependency so well!
She explains, “Codependency is beyond a healthy commitment. It is a state of being dependent on another person for more than just a mutual bond - but for your very sense of self. It feels like you need that person to exist…
At the most basic level, the need to please them, or earn their attention or approval comes from a place of “I don’t know what I’d do without them” or from the fear that if we don’t become what they want us to be, that they will abandon us. To live like this is a life full of walking on eggshells and never fully being ourselves - or never getting to the point where we even know who we are, because we spend our lives sacrificing our wants and need, our identity, to please someone else…
Unlike a commitment, codependence is a one-sided dynamic in which one partner tends to have a lot of destructive behavior, and the other clings to them and to the relationship for dear life, while they are being dragged through hell and hoping that one day things will get better.
Many people who are codependent don’t realize it - and they often don’t realize that their partner has been manipulating them.” Or, I’d like to add, they manage or manipulate their partner to try and meet their own needs.
They often think of their behavior as being caring, compassionate, and concerned, and they often value commitment at all costs.
They also tend to struggle with being able to tell the difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive relationship. They tend not to have deal-breaker behavior and instead believe that given enough love, understanding, patience, therapy, religion, or rehab that this problematic person can change.” (Out of the Fog, p. 79 & 80).
In comparison, “Commitment is a conscious dedication, a voluntary obligation to a relationship - to be inclusive of the other person’s needs, desires and viewpoint because the mutual bond is your priority and it is mutually rewarding.
You expect the other person to feel the same way, and most of life’s challenges are met together, agreeing to stand by each other’s wide through the highs and lows of life together… overall learning to work together as a team.” (Out of the Fog, p. 78).
We are all born with a God-given need to experience belonging, worth, fulfillment, and love. Codependency is an attempt to fulfill these needs. At the core of codependency is a lack of identity. In other words, it’s an attempt to get your needs met and/or to figure out who you are based on the value or lack thereof, others give you.
So how do I know if I’m codependent?
Here are some potential warning signs:
1. You know you should break up with someone but you won’t (or you quickly get back together if you have broken up). For example, you believe they’ve changed after a very short period of time. The truth is, no real and consistent change happens overnight.
2. You would rather stay with someone out of fear of being alone, even when the relationship is toxic or damaging to you.
3. You are with an addict of any sorts - pornography, drugs, alcohol, or even a work-a-holic.
4. You’re in an abusive relationship - physical, emotional, verbal, spiritual or psychological.
5. You grew up in an alcoholic family system (or any other type of addicted family system).
6. You are never single, or you have “back-up” in case your current relationship doesn’t work out.
7. You talk to multiple people at the same time.
8. You are always there for your partner, but they aren’t there for you, at least not to the same level of sacrifice as you.
9. Your partner keeps cheating on you, and you make excuses for their behavior, act like it isn’t so bad, or ignore it all together.
10. You have a hard time walking away from problematic people or situations.
11. You put everyone else’s needs/wants above your own.
12. You have wild “mood swings” in the relationship. Like it’s fairytale, la la land kind of love or you’re fighting like cats and dogs.
13. You don’t know, or wouldn’t know, who you are without the other person.
This isn’t an all-inclusive list by any means, but if you answered yes to any or multiple of these questions, you might consider that you’re codependent. If this describes you, take some time to consider what may be influencing this behavior and how this came to be.
There’s no shame in this, either. There’s a reason you look to others to fulfill you, and the important thing is to recognize it and move towards healing. We weren’t created to reflect the image of another person, we were created in the image of God. You can’t act out of who you were created to be if you are trying to fulfill your identity through another person.