One of life’s constants is that too much of a good thing is almost always a bad thing. For example, eating one donut is a delicious treat, but eating eight donuts could make you sick. Vacation is a time for refreshment and relaxation, but if every day were a vacation, people would be bored. The same holds true for being helpful: giving support in appropriate ways is great, but people may run into trouble when they help too much or too often. There is actually a term for this dynamic—codependency.
Consider Ryan’s story. He is the parent to a 24-year-old son who needs a lot of support. Ryan’s son is capable, but he has had difficulty keeping a job and finishing his education. Ryan pays for his son’s tuition and apartment—he’s the dad, so Ryan sees providing as his job. Ryan has a good plan for his son, if his son would only follow through with it. Ryan has done everything he can to help his son succeed. He’s happy to do it, who else would? Except that Ryan sometimes feels resentful toward his son. With each lost job or each semester that passes, Ryan is angry that his son is not seizing the opportunities he did not have as a young adult.
There is no doubt that Ryan feels deep affection for his son, but Ryan may have a big problem: his help has likely crossed a line from helpful into harmful, both for himself and for his son. Ryan may be struggling with codependency.
The counselors at Thriveworks Philadelphia provide therapy for codependency because many people have found themselves in situations where they are helping in a way that is harming both themselves and their loved one.
Codependents often center their thoughts and actions upon another person, usually choosing a person who struggles with an addiction or irresponsible behavior. Codependent behavior can be exhibited between parents and children, between spouses, between friends. In these relationships, codependents often sacrifice their own well-being to compensate for another person or appease another person.
People who struggle with codependency may appear, at first, to be unbelievably selfless and overly kind. On the inside, codependents are often filled with shame, insecurity, and passivity. They often feel like they need to prove their adequacy by fixing other people.
Codependent behavior is harmful, but distinguishing it from appropriate forms of help can be difficult. The following behaviors characterize codependency:
- Difficulty setting boundaries: When codependents receive a request, their internal response may be “no,” but their external response is often, “yes.” The request may even harm them financially, emotionally, or physically, but they still grant it.
- Dependency: A basic fear of people who struggle with codependency is rejection. On the other hand, they often experience satisfaction and fulfillment when people need them. As the song says, “I want you to want me. I need you need me.”
- Low self-esteem: Feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy often drive codependents. They draw their self-worth from how much they can help or fix others instead of feeling adequate in and of themselves.
- Poor communication skills: Expressing their own feelings, needs, and thoughts is often difficulty for codependent people. They may fear upsetting others if they are honest. They may also struggle to be honest with themselves about what they want and need.
- Tendencies to people-please: Codependents may feel intense anxiety when other people are angry, upset, or disappointment, and they may take responsibility for other people’s feelings and making them happy.
- Caretaking: Codependent people may anticipate other people’s needs and meet them without being asked. They may also feel anger, resentment, or rejection if another person declines help.
- Minimization: Codependent people almost always see themselves as helpful and have a hard time acknowledging the harm they cause. They may blame the person they are attempting to help for any problems instead of accepting responsibility for their behavior.
Treatment for Codependency
Codependency can be a difficult behavior pattern to identify and correct, but many people have learned healthier ways of connecting with their loved ones. Recovery for codependency may involve codependent people…
- Learning to focus solely on their own needs: Codependent people need to learn how to value their own needs and feelings. Then, help can be offered from their personal strength, not from a need to be needed.
- Acknowledging and taking responsibility for the problem: Awareness of the problem is important because codependent often feel helpless. Instead, codependents must see themselves as active contributors.
- Accept themselves for who they are: Self-acceptance can bring much healing. People should feel loved based upon their inherent worth—not on what they do or do not do for others.
- Establishing new behavior patterns: Change means embracing new behaviors. Codependents need to practice saying, “no,” disappointing people, and expressing their thoughts.
Do you struggle with knowing how much help is too much? Do you recognize some codependent behaviors or attitudes in your own life? You are not the only one. Thriveworks Philadelphia offers therapy for codependency because many people sacrifice their own well-being to help others.
If you are ready to make a change, know that we have convenient evening and weekend sessions available. We also work with many forms of insurance. When you call to make an appointment, a person will answer and find a time that works for you. Often, new clients see their counselor within 24-hours. Call today.