Codependency is a term that is often thrown around these days very liberally. Codependency can mean a lot of different things to people and even to therapists.
Anxious Attachment Style
I will talk about the characteristics and behaviors of codependency, but what I feel is really going on is a problem with your attachment style. An anxious attachment style is one that is commonly coined as codependent. People who have an anxious attachment style may feel as though they'd really love to get close to someone, but they worry that that person may not want to get close to them. An anxious attachment style also makes you feel like you are not good enough and that you'll never measure up. A critical voice is created that tends to be the loudest in your mind. Since the critical voice is so dominant and overpowering, a high level of closeness and intimacy is often desired. This high level of intimacy never seems to be reached, leaving you unsatisfied, and this only makes you feel more critical of yourself. Valuing intimacy so highly causes one to be dependent on their partner. If you'd like to learn more about attachment styles read this blog post I wrote.
Symptoms of codependency
If you are feeling codependent or think that you may have an anxious attachment style, then you may have some trouble getting in touch with what you are feeling, because you may be overly wrapped up and concerned with how your partner is feeling. You may not realize that your partner is unavailable, or that he or she is to blame instead of yourself. Low self-esteem and self-worth are common symptoms of codependency. It can often be very difficult to make decisions on your own without worrying about how your partner will react to the choice. Many times codependency can get in the way of your needs getting met. It becomes increasingly difficult to get in contact with your inner map and what you truly want to do instead of focusing on your partner's map that is outside of yourself. Finding a sense of safety inside of yourself can be difficult to do on your own. One of the most common symptoms of codependency is feeling unsafe when you are not with your partner. Safety typically comes from being with your partner and knowing that he or she is happy and experiencing positive feelings about you.
Will I always be in a Codependent relationship?
Therapy can be very helpful if you find yourself acting codependent in your relationships. Therapy for codependency tends to focus on how to get in touch with what you really want and how to practice staying in line with your internal map. Counseling is meant to empower the client to debate all the critical narratives that come up. A counter voice that is healthy and independent is formed and provided to you by the therapist, and then molded into your own personal voice. Therapy for people with an anxious attachment style can take up to a year or two to fully work. You must be reprogrammed, and new healthy neural pathways must form in order to change your attachment style. You should be prepared to spend a good amount of time treating codependency. So the answer is no. You will not always be in a codependent relationship as long as you take action and get the help you need.
Common feelings and experiences associated with codependency
A common feeling that many people have when suffering from codependency or an anxious romantic attachment is the experience of repeating the associated relationship issues over and over again in multiple relationships. It can be maddening at times. Even when a codependent person deliberately seeks out a partner who should be a good emotional match for them, they often fall into the same pattern that has haunted them throughout all their relationships. When this happens it's usually the codependent person that is creating these situations for themselves, and not their dating partners.
On the flip side sometimes the codependent person can be more attracted to people who are avoidant and emotionally closed off. This sets up the codependent to experience all the same issues they have gone through in past relationships.
When a romantic relationship ends, there may be a good deal of sadness and grief. However, people who are anxious, insecure and codependent in relationships may experience a big feeling of relief at the end of a relationship. Finally, they feel liberated and are glad to be free from trying to connect or unsuccessfully get their needs met.
People who suffer from codependency typically have a very strong sense of empathy. It's so strong, in fact, that it's hard to understand how others don't constantly feel the emotional energy of people around them. Especially people they are romantically involved with. It's very common for empathetic people to be shocked and surprised that their partner doesn't have the same skill set. Keeping this in mind is important for both partners. The overly empathetic partner needs to realize their partner doesn't have the same sense of emotional understanding. And the partner that doesn't empathize as strongly needs to keep in mind that their empathetic partner is feeling emotion at a totally different level.
How to treat your codependency without seeing a therapist
Do you need to see a therapist if you're suffering from codependency or intense neediness in a relationship? No, you don't. You can try treating it on your own. One book I highly recommend is Attached. You should read it. And if you're currently in a relationship, you should ask your partner to read it as well. It gives you an overview of codependency and anxious attachment. It provides you with tools and techniques to manage your emotions and assist your partner in managing them as well.
I would also highly recommend a meditation practice that revolves around mindfulness. If you can learn how to simply observe your thoughts and feelings when they rise up instead of attaching to them immediately and believing that they are true, then you can learn to stop the process of being hijacked by overwhelming feelings of pain and anxiety. For this, I recommend the Headspace app. It works wonders.
How to date someone who acts codependent
First, watch the animation on this page about how to date a codependent partner. I created it and it has a ton of great tips for you.
Second, try to be as understanding as you possibly can. Your codependent partner likes you a lot. So much so that they are really worried about messing things up or asking for too much or being a burden on you. As their partner, you should give them a lot of reassurance at the start of the relationship. You don't have to go overboard if you don't want to. But the more, the better. As the relationship grows, they'll start to feel more comfortable and not ask for as much reassurance. However, the scale will probably always be tipped towards them when it comes to emotional needs being met. What you can try to appreciate is that they'll be the glue for the relationship and be sure to keep things connected. Which is a good thing in the end.
You don't have Dependent Personality Disorder
Being diagnosed with dependent personality disorder (DPD) is pretty severe and is not the same as feeling codependent or anxiously attached in romantic relationships. The vast majority of people do not have DPD (only 0.6% of the population is currently diagnosed with the disorder). I just wanted to get that out there so that you can breath a little easier knowing that you, or someone you know, probably doesn't have a personality disorder.
One could potentially be diagnosed with DMD if they have a pervasive and consistent psychological dependence on other people. The disorder is experienced long-term and most folks who have it struggle with it their entire lives. It's extremely difficult to manage. Again, I want to underscore how severe DPD is. It's not something that you experience randomly depending on what partner you're dating or what developmental stage of life you're in. This is something that takes a hold of every area of your life.
DPD makes it extremely difficult to make everyday decisions without getting constant feedback and reassurance from other people. It would be excruciatingly difficult to disagree with others, especially those that are close to you, in fear of losing support and approval. DPD causes a severe lack of confidence and self-esteem. DPD causes someone to go to great lengths in order to appease the people that they care about. Being alone feels impossible due to the lack of reassurance. The fear of being alone and having to take care of themselves is all-consuming.
My journey with codependency
One of the reasons why I specialize in treating codependency in clients is because I have suffered from it for most of my life. And even now, as a married person, I can still have bouts of it here and there. I learned how to deal with it by seeing my own therapist over the years and it has helped me immensely in finding a partner that's a good match for me.
I felt the most needy, anxious and codependent when I first started dating in my teenage years. I had no idea that anyone could feel anything different in romantic relationships. I felt nervous, awkward and sometimes obsessed with what my girlfriend was thinking about me. I would lay awake at night and my heart would ache for the girl I was dating. I wanted as much reassurance as possible, but I started to find out that I was coming on too strong and it was pretty unattractive to most people. It felt like I had two choices. I could continue dating and try to handle my emotions. Or I could just be single and not get wrapped up in a relationship.
There was no way I could stand being single for very long so I ended up just trying to deal with it on my own. I wasn't very successful and it made for dramatic relationships. Which can be expected in high school, but the drama followed me into college and then young adulthood.
When I was 25 years old I couldn't take it anymore. My partners also had a hard time dealing with my swinging emotions. I was just starting to become a therapist but I didn't have the skills to counsel myself. I found a therapist that specialized in codependent issues and I stayed in therapy until I learned how to deal with it.
In counseling it was really difficult to figure out when I should speak up to get needs met and when I should try to cope with my feelings on my own. Every feeling that came up in a relationship felt like an emergency or crisis. But I was sick of cycling through relationships and I knew that my anxiety and fear was the common denominator in all of them.
Through counseling I learned how to breath and take a beat before getting overwhelmed with my feelings. I learned exactly what was happening in my brain when my emotions would hijack all logical and practical thinking. With that brain knowledge I learned a ton of tools to deal with the big emotions. I figured out what type of partner would be the best match for me. I was able to encourage my new dating partners to give me a little more reassurance when I needed it without overwhelming them or being mad if they didn't do it the "right" way.
I have been happily married since 2013 and my codependency issues have been at an all time low. I owe it all therapy and my own hard work.