Boundaries are an integral part of healthy relationships. They define acceptable and unacceptable behavior and what behavior is allowed or discouraged.
Boundaries can be psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual, and it’s essential to be clear on these boundaries in your relationships. This is partly for your comfort as well as improve the overall strength of your relationship.
Codependency is, however, seen as a negative form of dependency in which someone has become so entwined with another due to their need to be loved by them that often, their wants, needs, and goals in life are put to one side to maintain that relationship.
Healthy dependency, on the other hand, is different. This article will delve further into these differences, discuss the causes, signs, and solutions to codependency, and compare this to healthy dependency in relationships.
Causes of Codependency
Codependency can be caused by various factors, ranging from childhood trauma and negative parenting to early relationship dynamics, which become ingrained in our psyche.
The reason these things can lead to codependency in future relationships is often related to a lack of self-worth and trust in one’s abilities. Of course, some couples struggle even if things seem okay, which might not be related to codependency issues.
Regardless, it’s not always a simple issue. There are many different layers to relationships and codependency problems, so it’s essential to identify the potential causes if you suspect this could be a problem in your relationship.
Unhealthy Home Life
Many codependent adults grew up in unhealthy homes where their emotional needs were unmet. As humans, we thrive on love and care from family and friends, and when someone grows up in a home that lacks this love, they can often go to one of two extremes in adult life.
One extreme would be shutting everyone out or believing that they now thrive on coldness and being uncaring towards others. Instead, they seek validation from anyone they can, most notably from their romantic partners.
Trauma or Abuse History
Codependency can also result from childhood trauma, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or invalidation by caregivers.
This is not dissimilar to an unhealthy home life, but direct abuse can naturally infer that the abused person is not wanted, loved, or valued. This leads them to have a strong desire to be needed somehow.
Low Self-Esteem/Self Worth Issues
People who struggle with codependency often have underlying issues with self-esteem and feelings of low self-worth, which is why they will settle into a relationship with someone who isn’t good enough.
Social anxiety and introversion can sometimes be linked to these problems, too. Settling for someone who isn’t kind or caring can harm our well-being, yet someone struggling with these issues might not acknowledge this or believe they deserve better.
Warning Signs of Codependency
You can typically identify a codependent relationship by looking for signs of submissiveness, depression, and extreme anxiety.
The individual may also need to consider their partner when it comes to every decision, such as staying out for one more drink or simply going out for a coffee with a friend.
People Pleasing Behavior
Codependents tend to be people-pleasers who have difficulty saying no and will often go out of their way to please others, no matter the cost. These are the types of people who are the first to jump at offering their assistance without first considering their capabilities, their prior arrangements, or even their inherent desire to do a task.
Inability to Say “No” to Others
Codependents have difficulty setting boundaries and saying “no” to others. As a result, they experience exhaustion from constantly trying to meet the needs of those around them.
Similarly, they will also agree to do things that might make them uncomfortable not to rock the boat, such as going to a nightclub when they prefer a quieter environment.
Feeling Responsible for Other People’s Actions
Codependents often take responsibility for the actions of others and feel a need to control or manipulate their behavior to act in a way they perceive to be correct.
This is abusive, yet the intentions are often not malicious and come from a desire to keep those they might care about on what they perceive to be the right track.
Extreme Anxiety in Response to Conflict or Change
Codependents have difficulty navigating through conflict and change, which can result in feelings of extreme anxiety or panic. This can prevent them from resolving severe personal or professional relationship problems.
Instead, they prefer others to take responsibility for the situation and may bury their head in the sand until it gets sorted.
The Difference Between Codependence and Healthy Dependence on Another Person
We classify healthy dependency by acknowledging love and support while maintaining individual identity and autonomy.
This is the same way we care for and raise our children in the healthiest way possible, by providing them with guidance and assistance wherever needed but letting them flourish and grow as their own person.
But the same can be done for those we are romantically involved with. Lend each other assistance when they truly need it, which can help you and your partner become more fulfilled in your relationship.
Role differences in a relationship do often occur. Still, fairness should always be sought so that one individual in the relationship isn’t pulling a majority of the weight.
Understanding that different levels of dependence are expected in a relationship can help you and your partner find a good compromise and encourage more fairness.
Can Couples Therapy Help?
Couples therapy and couples counseling are effective ways for codependent individuals to learn how to communicate and set healthy boundaries. Working with a therapist can help couples better understand each other and resolve any issues.
It can be a great way to help those in a codependent relationship transition to one of healthy dependency instead.
This can be done by encouraging the codependent individual to become more independent and the other person in the relationship to reduce their dependency on them.
This can be done by offering more validation and working to reduce their anxiety in certain situations, for example.
Summary: Codependency Vs. Dependency in a Healthy Relationship
To conclude, there is a stark difference between someone being codependent on others and dependent on someone in a healthy relationship. Remember that being dependent on someone is still possible for those who live a fully independent life.
It can benefit us emotionally to have these deep connections and bonds with others. It can also help us grow as individuals as we may learn new ways of doing things from those we depend on and become better people.
However, codependency involves sidelining your desires and needs for others. While sometimes these sacrifices can be a good thing on rare occasions, it doesn’t build a healthy relationship if it is something that is done regularly.
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