Clichés often become cliché because they reflect people’s experiences with some degree of accuracy. Take, for example, how too much of a good thing often turns bad. One bowl of ice cream may be a delicious dessert, but eight bowls almost always causes a stomach ache. The same can be true for other circumstances, even for helping a loved one. A little help is often good, but too much help may be causing harm. There is even a term for when helping turns bad: codependency. Consider Paul’s situation.
Paul has a 20-something son whom he loved deeply. His son is talented, capable, and Paul has great plans for his future. Paul wants to give his son every educational opportunity he never had. He pays his son’s rent, tuition, utilities, and books. His son makes good grades, but he has changed his major three times and has a hard time finishing his degree. Paul, at times, feels upset that his son is not capitalizing on the opportunities he has provided, but then Paul remembers that seeing his son succeed is its own reward. Paul is happy to help.
Without a doubt, Paul loves his son deeply. However, Paul may have a big problem on his hands: he may not be helping his son. His actions may be meeting his own needs instead of his son’s. Paul may be codependent.
Thriveworks Reston offers counseling for codependency because a lot of people go too far with their help and harm themselves or their loved one.
Codependent Behavior Patterns
Codependent people usually center their lives around other people, especially people who struggle with addiction, have a history of reckless behavior, or are particularly needy. These relationships can form in any context—between spouses, friends, and coworkers. Codependent parents may even raise their children to be needy.
Helping or fixing another person becomes a way for codependent people to prove they belong, are loved, and are capable. Feelings of shame, passivity, and insecurity often overwhelm codependent people, but nothing they do for others could ever compensate for these difficult feelings. In fact, codependent people often find that their relationships are filled with resentment—both in themselves and in their loved ones.
Distinguishing between codependent behaviors and truly helpful behaviors can be tricky, but it is important. The following are red-flags for codependent behavior patterns:
- Difficulty setting boundaries: Codependent people have a hard time saying, “no” or “enough.” They rarely set limits with their loved ones, often draining their own mental, physical, and financial health to meet other people’s needs and wants.
- Minimization: While they focus upon other people’s problems, codependent people often face their own, serious challenges. They may use other people to minimize, deny, or distract themselves from their own situation.
- Dependency: Rejection or abandonment is a base fear for many people with codependent tendencies. They may tell themselves that if their loved ones need them, they will not leave them—they are dependent upon others for their safety. However, this usually leads to resentment instead of safety.
- Poor communication skills: Because they do not want to upset their loved ones, codependents may never communicate their own needs, feelings, and thoughts. Over time, they may even have difficulty admitting to themselves what their real needs are.
- Tendencies to people-please: Codependent people feel accountable for other people’s feelings. When someone is upset, angry, or disappointed, they may feel at fault. They often work hard to make other people feel happy.
- Low self-esteem: Codependent individuals often feel deep-seated shame, and their actions are often driven by a desire to prove that they are loved and competent.
- Caretaking: What codependent people do for others is often intertwined with their identity. Foreseeing other people’s needs and meeting them may be a source of pride for codependents.
Do you recognize some of the listed behaviors and attitudes in your own life? If you are ready to make some changes to overcome codependency, then counseling may help you…
- Recognize your inherent self-worth: Healing can come through accepting oneself—both the good and the bad—and living from that sense inherent self-worth.
- Prioritize your own physical, emotional, and financial needs: Valuing your own needs is an important part of healing.
- Cultivate new behavior patterns: Maybe you need to disappoint someone, communicate your true feelings, or say, “no.”
- Take responsibility for your emotions (and only your emotions): As you let go of keeping others happy, you may be able to focus your attention and energy on your own emotional health.
Counseling is not a magic formula or a silver bullet that cures relational problems, but skilled and caring therapists have helped many people learn healthier relational patterns. Thriveworks Reston knows, and we have seen our codependent clients learn how to establish boundaries, communicate their needs, and work through their own problems.
We are ready to help if you are ready to work toward healthier relationships. When you call our office to make an appointment, you may see your therapist within 24 hours. We offer evening and weekend appointments, and we work with many insurance providers.
If you are ready to get started, call today. We are ready too.