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October 1, 2018

Breaking Free From Codependent Relationships

Young woman smilingA strong, positive network of support from family, friends, and the community at large is critical to recovery. Without a sufficient support network, someone struggling with isolation—a defining characteristic of addiction—will resort to the same self-destructive behaviors that created their addiction in the first place.

Although many relationships are balanced, healthy and positive influences, some have a mutually negative effect.

As generally defined, codependent relationships are those in which one partner has unhealthy, usually extreme physical and emotional needs, and the other partner is committed to fulfilling them— even to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing. For many couples and other intimate relationships, this toxic dynamic spells disaster and inevitably leads to a downward spiral.

Although there is a wide range of codependent behaviors, the following six indicators are usually present in codependent relationships:

  • People pleasingA codependent person places excessive importance on the opinions of others. Due to their underlying insecurity, they go to great lengths to make sure other people have a favorable impression of them. As a result, they find it difficult, or in some cases, impossible to say “no.” Guilt is often a core emotion associated with codependence.
  • Boundary Issues – One of the defining features of codependent relationships is lack of boundaries, including unhealthy or inappropriate boundaries. Codependent people may habitually offer unsolicited advice, excessive emotional or physical affection, and even resort to manipulation of other people’s emotions in order to achieve a sense of self-worth.
  • Low self-esteem – Many codependent people feel totally worthless and unlovable. Outside of the context of relationships or social situations in which they receive approval, they do not feel good about themselves. Some even take it to the extreme of self-hatred. Low self-esteem not only leads to codependent relationships, but reinforces the underlying lack of self-worth in the process.
  • Assuming the role of caretaker – A codependent person exhibits the compulsive need to take care of others, usually at their own expense. Their self-esteem depends upon external approval, and they feel totally insecure unless they are needed by others. Consequently, their own mental, physical, and emotional needs go neglected as they assume the role of brother, mother, father, sister, guide or any other self-appointed role.
  • Obsession – A codependent person may fixate on the source of their affection to an unhealthy degree. They may find themselves totally consumed by a person to the point of obsession, neglecting their own needs and forming a toxic habit. Many codependent people unconsciously construct heroic or unrealistically flawless images of the objects of their affection.
  • Idealism – Sometimes codependence is a fairly benign expression of imagination or fantasy. Not every codependent expression is the result of damaged self-esteem or an overwhelming need for the approval of others. Some people are simply misguided or highly emotionally sensitive despite having good self-esteem. As a result, they may unconsciously fall into the codependence trap despite pure intentions and a genuine desire to help others.  

FINDING STRENGTH IN INDEPENDENCE

Especially in the context of early recovery, where internal and external triggers can easily lead to relapse, people must be extremely mindful of codependent tendencies. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other recovery-oriented programs place high importance on the value of healthy support networks and finding freedom through self-inquiry and spiritual humility. They recognize that recovery cannot happen within the context of toxic compulsions to please others, deny self-love and avoid facing inner demons.

The 12 Steps are a tradition of rigorous self-honesty, and to every person walking the road to recovery, self-honesty is a necessary prerequisite to making progress. Ultimately, healthy self-esteem and a new life are possible— but depend upon freedom from the bondage of codependent relationships.  

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