Clichés often become commonplace because on some level, they connect with people’s reality and capture their experiences. For example, take the saying, too much of a good thing. Almost everyone has had the experience of eating one or two or seven extra donuts, and what is the result? A stomach ache…too much of a good thing. The same result can occur with other life circumstances, even offering to help a loved one. Everyone needs help from time to time, but there are times when people help too much. In some cases, help may actually be causing harm. Codependency is the term for when lending a hand becomes too much of a good thing.
Consider Olivia’s situation: She has a daughter in her 20s who is capable, skilled, and has a great future ahead of her. Olivia just knows it. For now, her daughter is finishing up school while Olivia pays for her rent, utilities, and tuition. Her daughter has made the dean’s list every semester, but she keeps changing her major. She has come close to finishing school a few times, only to fall short a few credits and then switch her field of study. At times, Olivia is frustrated with her daughter—that she is not seizing opportunities that Olivia never had. But then again, seeing her daughter happy is the best feeling Olivia could ever experience. She wants to do this for her daughter. If she did not, who would?
There is no question, Olivia loves her daughter, but Olivia may have a problem—she may not be actually helping her daughter. Olivia’s actions may be fueled by her own needs (instead of her daughter’s), and she may be struggling with codependency.
The counselors at Thriveworks Newport News know that it can be difficult for people to know when they have gone too far in offering help. That is why we offer codependency therapy: many people find themselves in situations where they are harming themselves and their loved ones.
Behavior Patterns that Are Codependent
When codependent people organize their lives, they often center their energy and focus upon other people, especially people who need them. Often, codependents seek our relationships with addicts, with people who struggle with irresponsible behavior, or with people who are particularly vulnerable. Codependent relationships can take a variety of forms: among friends, between spouses, and even at work. Parents who struggle with codependency may bring their children up to need them instead of to be independent.
Codependent people often deeply struggle with needing to feel loved, capable, and safe. They often see fixing other people as a way to pacify the feelings of shame and insecurity that can overwhelm them. Unfortunately, doing for others is not the same as being accepted, and codependent relationships are often resentful, not loving.
Recognizing codependent behavior can be difficult because on the surface, they are often truly helpful. Yet, when a pattern of overstepping and enabling is seen, the behavior may be codependent. The following are behavior patterns that are often seen in codependent people:
- Minimization: Codependent people often have serious mental or physical health challenges that they minimize. Fixing other people is often a distraction from their own challenges.
- Difficulty setting boundaries: “No” is not a word codependents say very often, if at all. They have difficulty setting limits and often sacrifice their own well-being to meet their loved ones’ requests.
- Dependency: People who struggle with codependency are often deeply afraid of abandonment or rejection. They are often dependent upon others for their security and safety.
- Tendencies to people-please: When someone feels upset, frustrated, bored, or even happy, codependent people often take responsibility for those feelings. They work hard to make people happy and shield them from feeling upset.
- Poor communication skills: Codependent people often will not share their real opinions, thoughts, feelings, and needs, especially if they think someone will be offended or upset.
- Low self-esteem: Shame often drive codependent people’s actions. They often want to prove that they are worthy of love and that they belong.
- Caretaking: Who codependent people are and how they help their loved ones are often intertwined. When someone declines help, a codependent person will likely feel personally rejected.
Therapy for Codependency
As you read through the list of codependent behaviors, did you recognize any? If so, you are not alone. Many people struggle with how much helping is too much, and many people are also seeking therapy to help them learn the difference. Therapy for codependency may focus upon…
- Recognizing one’s inherent self-worth: Self-acceptance can bring a lot of healing. Everybody has both strengths and weaknesses. Everybody is worthy of love and belonging. Everybody can draw strength from their own self-worth.
- Prioritizing one’s own emotional, physical, and financial needs: When people fly on a commercial airplane, they are always instructed—in case of emergency, secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. The same is true in everyday life. Taking responsibility of one’s own emotional, physical, and financials needs should take priority.
- Practicing boundaries: Sometimes, people need to tell their loved ones, “no.” Maybe people need to practice disappointing a friend. Possibly, codependent people need to limit the time and attention they give to a family member.
There is no magic formula or special potion that can easily heal codependency, but there is guidance and help. Skilled therapists have helped many people establish new, healthier relational habits.
If you are ready to speak to a therapist, know that Thriveworks Newport News has appointments available. Many new clients meet with their therapist within 24 hours of their first call. Our office also takes many forms of insurance, and we offer evening and weekend appointments.
If you are ready for healthier relationships, we are ready to guide the process. Contact Thriveworks Newport News today.