Codependency is a highly complicated and individualized emotional issue, one that will vary dramatically on a case-by-case basis. Despite the degree of codependent behaviors exhibited by any one individual, the disorder is always characterized by excessive emotional and psychological reliance on a partner. In many instances, this partner will require a greater than average degree of support due to an addiction or illness. The codependent individual will belong to a dysfunctional and one-sided relationship, and will depend on the other individual in the relationship to meet all of his or her emotional and self-esteem-related needs. A codependent relationship may also enable the other individual to successfully maintain his or her irresponsible, addictive, or manipulative behavior.
What is ‘Codependency’?
The term codependency has been used amongst researchers and specialists in the mental health field for decades. In 1951, two women by the names of Lois W. and Anne B. founded what would soon become widely known as Al-Anon – a 12-Step program designed for the wives of alcoholic men (who began to be referred to as co-alcoholics). Eventually, Al-Anon came to include all friends and loved ones of alcoholics and addicts, providing them with a mutual support group of peers who had undergone the same emotional, mental, and spiritual hardships of living with and loving someone in the throes of addiction. By the 1970s, many residential treatment programs were beginning to include family members in their treatment plans, understanding that family involvement seemed to lead to lower incidents of relapse and longer periods of fulfilled sobriety. By the mid-1980s, many treatment programs began opening their doors to addicts and alcoholics, adopting the term ‘chemical dependency’ in lieu of the more exclusive ‘alcoholism’. To fit in with the changes, those who were once referred to as co-alcoholics became known as co-chemically dependents. Of course, this was quite the mouthful, and was soon shortened to co-dependents.
Researchers have since revealed that codependent behaviors are extremely prevalent throughout members of the general population, as well as amongst the loved ones of those suffering from addiction. As the understanding of codependency and codependent behavior has grown and evolved, the definition has shifted slightly. It is now understood that the core problem of codependency is a bruised relationship with oneself.
The 5 Core Symptoms of Codependency
- Difficulty loving oneself (issues with self-esteem).
- Difficulty setting appropriate and functional boundaries with others (protecting oneself).
- Difficulty knowing one’s reality and accepting/owning that reality.
- Difficulty expressing one’s reality rationally and in moderation.
- Difficulty with self-care.
5 Secondary Symptoms of Codependency
Codependent individuals will often blame others for crossing their boundaries, but they are unable to set or maintain healthy personal boundaries for themselves.
- Negative Control
Codependent individuals will often attempt to control others and allow themselves to be controlled by others. Both situations allow the codependent individual to avoid accepting personal responsibility for his or her actions, and allow for the exacerbation of internal discomfort.
- Mental or Physical Illness
The inability to face reality often stems from a harsh lack of a functional internal sense of self, and a strong desire to be taken care of. The codependent individual will typically feel excessively inadequate.
- Impaired Spirituality
The codependent will often make someone else into his or her higher power, however unwittingly. It is common for the codependent to worship another human being, or make another human being the center of his or her universe through fear or hatred. The codependent may also strive to become the higher power of the other individual in the relationship.
- Issues with Intimacy
By definition, intimacy means sharing one’s reality with someone else. Because the codependent does not have a firm grasp on his or her reality, true intimacy is nearly impossible. Codependent individuals will often try to change or ‘fix’ a partner, argue with the reality of a partner, justify themselves, and emotionally abuse a partner will criticism, manipulation, sarcasm, and exaggeration.
The Love Addict VS. The Codependent
The love addicted individual will struggle with the same symptoms of codependency, but will turn to addictive behaviors in order to compensate. Love addiction, like all other addictive processes, is an obsessive-compulsion utilized to relieve or self-medicate an intolerable reality. The love addict will seek to enmesh with another individual; to entirely blend into another person. Underneath this unhealthy behavior is a deep-seated fear of intimacy and abandonment. In most cases, those who suffer from love addiction also suffered from unhealthy attachments with their primary caregivers early on in life. A lack of bonding with primary caregivers often leads to a deeply rooted sense of abandonment, and false beliefs about self. The message that the infant received from his or her mother or caregiver was, “Because you are not worthy of love, and because you are worthless, I will not care for you.”
This kind of early neglect creates a sense of emotional longing, as well as a profound lack of self-esteem. Most love addicted individuals will develop a fear of being unable to connect with others on an emotional level, and will overcompensate with codependent tendencies. Many love addicts also compensate for early emotional neglect by engaging in fantasy. They immerse themselves in make-believe scenarios, in which they are being rescued and cared for by a kind of emotional savior – a knight-in-shining-armor type character, most often. Someone who will take away the lasting pain that goes hand-in-hand with a lack of early nurturing. When a love addict indulges in fantasy, endorphins are released into his or her system, resulting in an actual physical high. These endorphins temporarily relieve emotional pain, and this elusive feeling can become quite addictive.
Characteristics of a Love Addicted Individual
Love addicted individuals will begin relationships by trying exceedingly hard to please and connect with the other individual. They are motivated to find someone who will essentially rescue them from their inability to practice self-care; someone who will make them feel happy, whole, cared for, and appreciated. There are three noteworthy characteristics of every love addicted individual, which are:
- Unrealistic expectations.
The emotional needs of the love addict are essentially insatiable; they want o be constantly cared for, treasured, and treated with unwavering adoration. The fantasies that they build up in their heads are unrealistic, and they are always disappointed as a result.
- Disproportionate amount of time spent on relationship.
Love addicts obsessively think about and want to be with their partners; they lack a sense of autonomy, and make their partner their higher power without realizing that they are doing so.
- Self-neglect while in relationship.
Even if the love addicted individual seems to fare perfectly well while on his or her own, once in a relationship, an excessive amount of expectation is put on the other individual.
Codependency and love addiction can be successfully overcome, though healing from the wounds of early childhood neglect and emotional abuse often requires intensive therapeutic care. We at Next Chapter have extensive experience working with codependent and love addicted men, and focus on these issues through the lens of early childhood trauma and attachment disorders. For more information on our program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today.