Am I co-dependent? Can I change this unhealthy behavior?
June 28, 2018

Co-dependency can destroy your happiness, career, health and personal relationships. It is a type of dysfunctional helping relationship in which one person supports or enables another person's serious addiction or mental health issues. It is as toxic as any drug or alcohol dependency.

Co-dependency can destroy your happiness, career, health and personal relationships. It is a type of dysfunctional helping relationship in which one person supports or enables another person's serious addiction or mental health issues. It is as toxic as any drug or alcohol dependency.

Co-dependency can affect an individual's ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. Many times, co-dependents will turn to addictive behaviors themselves as a coping mechanism to manage their own unresolved feelings. For others, co-dependency is a survival technique to cope and feel fulfilled, even when you truly are empty inside. 

Examples of co-dependency can be a wife purchasing beer for her alcoholic husband to keep him from getting upset, or a parent bailing out an adult child from financial consequences as a result of poor, irresponsible decisions. The co-dependent individual gives much more than he or she receives and the result is an unhealthy balance for both people in the relationship. The person with the issues is never forced to deal with the consequences of his or her behavior, while the co-dependent person becomes more emotionally exhausted from cleaning up the messes. Co-dependency often is found in women who, as young girls, were nurtured to be good little caretakers of others and their needs, especially in dysfunctional families. 

If you are worried you may be in a co-dependent relationship, or are concerned about the affect a dysfunctional family member may have on your life, there are a few steps you can take on your own to help determine if you are exhibiting any of the signs of co-dependency.

First, read through the questions below and answer them honestly.

  • Do you neglect your needs to take care of others?
  • Do you accept verbal or physical abuse from others?
  • Do you do more than your share at work, home or in the community?
  • Do you need the validation from others to feel good about yourself?
  • Do you think everyone else's feelings are more important than yours?
  • Do you have low self-esteem?
  • Are you always trying to please others so they will love you, approve of you and accept you?
  • Is your mood, happiness and identity defined by the other person in your relationship?
  • Are you always the one to fix a problem and come to the rescue?
  • Do you consider yourself an excessive caretaker?
  • Are you the only one constantly making sacrifices in a relationship?
  • Do you seek out, maintain, or feed off relationships that are not fulfilling or healthy?
  • Do you rely on your partner to provide your happiness, approval and sense of identity?
  • Are you completely wrapped up in your partner's unhealthy issues and do you feel responsible for them and their wellbeing at the expense of your own?

You only need to answer "yes" to some of the characteristics of co-dependency to be afflicted with the beliefs.

Here are a few tips to help you start the process of unlocking yourself from co-dependency.

Awareness is key to beginning the healing process. Start learning more about co-dependency so you can identify when those behaviors surface. You can find plenty of self-help books on the subject, and the more you read, the more you may find yourself within the pages of those books.

As you learn more and recognize that you are co-dependent, it will become easier for you to identify when your thoughts and actions are co-dependent and need to be replaced with healthy thoughts and actions. Be on the lookout for words, feelings, thoughts and behaviors that demonstrate you are co-dependent. Identify them in your mind. For example, you see that your husband is angry today, and your first thought normally would have been that you are going to feel anxious and nervous all day because of his mood. Instead, say to yourself, "his happiness is not my responsibility. I don't have to feel bad or guilty or worried because he is having a bad day." Initially, this action will be difficult because your husband is used to relying on you for unhealthy support. But, this step will get easier the more you practice it; and the more you practice it, the healthier and more empowered you will feel.

Another step you can take to stop co-dependence is to write down all of the signs of co-dependency you experience. Jot down your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Journaling is a productive and healthy way to relieve stress and sort through your feelings. 

Through this process, it is important to realize it is not your fault that someone in your life has an addiction or mental health issue. You are not in control of their actions. Stop blaming yourself for what they do or do not do. You can only control your own emotions, reactions and actions. If the consequences of their actions are negative, it is their fault not yours. You are not responsible for correcting their mistakes, and you are not to blame for them. Self-blaming is an extremely destructive behavior.

Change the way you think about yourself by recognizing your strengths. Be aware of the negative thoughts in your mind and replace them with positive ones. Begin creating an atmosphere of self-improvement and self-forgiveness.

Surround yourself with strong support people. Positive friends will uplift you and bring out the best in you.

If you find you are not successfully coping with your co-dependency on your own, you may want to consider seeking professional help. Co-dependency is a complex, serious condition.

Remember, only you have the power to heal yourself. Only you can change you. You have to let go of the thought that you can change another person. Find your inner strength and value your happiness. Only you can decide what kind of life you want for yourself.

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Donna Litinsky, LMSW, CAAD, is a Licensed Master Clinical Social Worker with extensive experience in alcohol and chemical dependency. She works with individuals and families who present with co-occurring diagnoses of mental health issues and chemical dependency. Donna also specializes in working with couples who struggle with marital and communication issues. Her skills also include more than 25 years of experience helping clients with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, codependency issues, grief and loss relating to substance abuse, as well as parenting and problematic family dynamics. Her therapy approach includes mindfulness teachings. She practices with The Center for Relationship and Sexual and Health in Royal Oak. To reach Donna, call 248-399-7447 or request an appointment online.

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