CODEPENDENCY is a complex psychological issue that affects individuals’ mental well-being and interpersonal relationships.

It refers to a dysfunctional pattern of behaviour where individuals excessively rely on others for validation, approval and a sense of self-worth.

It often develops in response to growing up in dysfunctional families or experiencing trauma and neglect.

Codependent individuals often have low self-esteem, struggle with boundaries, and prioritise the needs of others over their own.

The development of codependency can be influenced by various factors.

It can have various underlying causes, often stemming from complex and challenging life experiences.

Understanding these causes can provide valuable insights into the development of codependent behaviours.

Family dynamics

Growing up in families with dysfunctional dynamics such as addiction, abuse or neglect can significantly contribute to the development of codependency.

In these environments, individuals may learn to adapt by excessively focusing on others’ needs and emotions while neglecting their own.

They may develop a deep-seated need for external validation and approval as a means to maintain stability and manage the chaos within the family system.

Childhood trauma

Childhood trauma, including physical, emotional or sexual abuse can profoundly impact an individual’s emotional and psychological well-being. Traumatic experiences can shatter a child’s sense of safety, trust and self-worth, leading to the development of codependent behaviours as a coping mechanism.

In an effort to gain a sense of control and security, individuals may become excessively dependent on others and seek validation and acceptance at any cost.

Enabling relationships

Being involved in relationships with individuals who have addictive or dependent behaviours can reinforce codependent tendencies.

When one partner in a relationship struggles with addiction, for example, the other partner may assume a caretaking role, sacrificing their own needs and well-being in the process.

This dynamic perpetuates the codependent pattern as the individual becomes enmeshed in the cycle of enabling and being overly responsible for the other person’s behaviour.

Cultural and societal factors

Cultural and societal norms can play a role in the development of codependency.

Some cultures place a strong emphasis on self-sacrifice, putting the needs of others above their own and maintaining harmonious relationships.

These expectations can fuel codependent tendencies, as individuals feel pressure to conform to societal ideals of being “selfless” and “caretakers” at the expense of their own well-being.

Identifying codependency can be challenging as it manifests in various ways. Here are some common signs and symptoms of codependency:

● Low self-esteem and excessive need for approval

● Difficulty setting boundaries and saying no

● Neglecting personal needs and prioritising others

● Fear of abandonment and being alone

● Over-involvement in other people’s problems

● Feeling responsible for other people’s happiness

● People-pleasing behaviour and seeking external validation

● Difficulty expressing emotions and asserting oneself; and,

● Difficulty making decisions independently.

Codependent individuals often experience high levels of anxiety and may be prone to depression.

The constant worry about another person’s well-being coupled with neglecting their own needs can lead to chronic stress and emotional exhaustion.

Constantly seeking validation and approval from others can make individuals feel unworthy and inadequate.

This negative self-perception can hinder personal growth and contribute to a cycle of codependent behaviour.

Codependency can have a detrimental effect on relationships.

The imbalance in giving and receiving can lead to resentment, enabling destructive behaviours and unhealthy dependency dynamics.

Over time, these issues can strain relationships and result in emotional turmoil.

Their focus on the needs and emotions of others can overshadow their own desires and interests, leaving them feeling lost and disconnected from their authentic selves.

While codependency can be deeply ingrained, it is possible to overcome it with self-awareness and support.

Here are some steps individuals can take towards healing and developing healthier behaviours.

Self reflection: Recognise and acknowledge codependent patterns in your behaviour.

Reflect on past experiences and how they may have influenced your codependency.

Seek professional help: Engage in therapy or counselling to address underlying issues and learn healthy coping mechanisms.

A qualified therapist can provide guidance and support throughout the healing process.

Set boundaries: Practice establishing and enforcing boundaries in relationships.

Learn to prioritise your own needs and communicate them effectively to others.

Focus on self-care: Prioritise self-care activities that promote your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Engage in hobbies, practice mindfulness and cultivate a positive support system.

Build healthy relationships: Surround yourself with supportive individuals who encourage personal growth and respect boundaries.

Seek out healthy, reciprocal relationships that promote individuality and emotional well-being.

Codependency is a complex issue that can significantly impact individuals’ mental well-being and relationships.

Individuals can take steps towards healing and personal growth by understanding the causes, symptoms, and consequences of codependency.

It is crucial to prioritise self-care, seek professional help and cultivate healthy relationships to break free from the patterns of codependency.

Remember, recovery is a journey and with dedication and support individuals can reclaim their autonomy and lead fulfilling lives.

Dr Praveena Rajendra is a certified mental health and awareness practitioner specialising in narcissistic abuse recovery. Comments:

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