The best place to start would be with a clear answer - it is not a myth. However, the question remains as to whether or not it is a toxic trait.
Codependency has been described as an unhealthy dependence on another person that can lead to anxious attachment and self-sacrifice. It is often portrayed as a negative trait that weakens individuals and stunts their growth. In this article, we'll talk about codependency in romantic relationships and how it relates to anxious attachment styles, not about codependency as a mental disorder or diagnostic of addiction.
*If you are an addict (people with addiction to alcohol or to other substances), or relatives of addicted people, please reach a therapist to get help. You could also read Maia Szalavitz article about codependency and addiction recovery.
In today's society, being codependent usually carries a negative reputation; codependent individuals are often viewed as constantly sacrificing their own needs in order to meet the needs of another, commonly a partner or family member who mistreats them.
Recently, there has been much discussion about the nature of codependency and whether it is a positive or negative characteristic. Should we strive to avoid it or could it be misunderstood?
What role should our spouse play in ensuring our mental well-being? Should we rely solely on ourselves?
Is codependency toxic?
Let's talk about the concept of codependency. Sometimes seen as relationship addiction, it is a psychological condition where a person relies on another to meet their emotional needs in a codependent relationship.
People who have codependent tendencies may feel that they are not good enough to be in a relationship nor are they worthy of love. They may feel that their partner is always treated poorly, hurt by them, and that they have no respect for them.
People with codependent tendencies often deal with this by denying their emotional needs and blaming themselves for wanting them met. If this is the case, a codependent is likely to have low self-esteem in the relationship and would attempt to overcompensate the other individual up to a point where they end up losing themselves in the process.
In spite of this, codependency is not a toxic myth, it is a natural trait that can be minimized in order to move toward healthier relationships. It is a natural characteristic, often associated with an anxious attachment style. As a result of their hypervigilance and sensitivity to their environment, those who are anxiously attached have the potential to be the most compassionate individuals and the most effective emotional comforters.
Why am I codependent? Understanding the anxious attachment style
A person's attachment style is a psychological pattern that is mostly formed by his or her experiences as an infant, which shapes how they interact in their adult relationships.
A codependent person, usually with an anxious attachment style is one who feels insecure and anxious about being alone as a result of childhood experiences. Oftentimes, the caregivers of these children were too busy or unavailable to meet their emotional needs consistently, causing them to anxiously hold on to any time that their needs were met in the relationship.
When infants' needs are not met consistently, they will grow up to fear emotional and physical abandonment.
As anxiously attached adults, we would seek reassurance and emotional fulfillment in external relationships. We would constantly try to find a secure base in romantic relationships, and do everything in our power to avoid abandonment.
Codependents who are anxiously attached will constantly and obsessively worry that any small misunderstanding could end their relationship. As a result, they may rely entirely on their spouse for emotional support, and ask for reassurance aggressively.
Moving from codependency to interdependency
There is a misconception that being interdependent is the same as being codependent, but the two terms are not exactly the same. Being interdependent with others means being able to rely on others for support and help, but also being able to provide that kind of help and support to others in return. Interdependency in a relationship is formed from a secure connection. The partners in an interdependent relationship are equally dependent on each other for their mental well-being in a healthy and supportive manner.
Many codependents are actually people who want to be interdependent with others. They want to be able to rely on others and feel safe, but they also want other people to be able to rely on them as well.
Their attachment style, however, may make it difficult to transition from codependency to interdependence, from anxious attachment to secure attachment.
We must first understand the causes of our daily relationship behaviors and biases in order to make progress toward interdependence. When we are codependents with an anxious attachment style, we will most often engage in self-soothing activities, take actions to prevent a loss of self-ability, and remind ourselves of the natural reasons for our behavior.
Facing the codependency myth
It is common for codependents to feel as though they don't deserve love and help from others. It could also be difficult for them to transition from being alone to being with others due to their hypervigilance about their environment.
Yes, it could be challenging work to transition from codependency to secure attachment, where we would become interdependent. However, the good news is that it is completely possible to accomplish this, and understanding the reasons behind our behavior is the first major step! Now let's examine some helpful self-help strategies to overcome codependency:
The best way to start the process of recovery is by seeking the help of a professional psychologist. A therapist can offer guidance and support as you work through psychological patterns and trauma. Therapy sessions can also assist you in identifying and overcoming obstacles that may be holding you back from healing.
Modern therapy takes many forms. Some people prefer to work with a therapist one-on-one, while others prefer a group setting. In any case, we recommend choosing a licensed therapist who has experience working with people who suffer from codependency.
In addition, you may wish to consider seeing a therapist who specializes in codependency trauma or is acquainted with attachment theory, such as an EFT therapist. If you are looking for a therapist, you can use these tips or search for one at Talkspace or BetterHelp.
If you're not ready to start seeing a therapist yet, you can still begin your path to healing and overcoming codependency in other ways. One way is by journaling.
Journaling can be a very effective way to express your feelings and get in touch with your emotions. It can help you process all the feelings that you’re dealing with, and give you a chance to vent. It can also help you track your progress and stay motivated throughout the healing process.
One of the best ways to start journaling is by getting yourself a journal. An old spiral notebook, a digital note-taking app, or even an app on your phone can be used for this purpose. Feel free to experiment with different journaling tools and methods to find what works best for you. No matter what journaling tool you choose, make sure it allows you to express yourself freely and openly.
Once you have your journal, start by taking a few minutes each day to write about everything that’s been happening in your life. You can write about your emotions, what’s going on at home or at work, or anything else that is on your mind at the time. Furthermore, you can also write about any positive or negative events that are taking place in your life.
As a result of codependency, a person may worry excessively about the past and the future. Keeping a journal serves as a way to keep in touch with one's feelings and emotions.
3) Calm activities
When you're stressed, it's easy to get caught up in your worries. You might feel like you're doing everything wrong and have trouble focusing on what's important. But there are things you can do to cope with stress, including taking time for yourself and doing things that make you feel calm.
Doing activities that calm you could be a great idea. Whether it is walking in the park, practicing mindfulness, yoga, or any other thing that helps you feel relaxed and less stressed. Additionally, if you find yourself getting anxious when you’re around other people, try taking a break from social situations for a while to see if that helps.
As a codependent, doing things that calm you can have a big impact on your mood, and it can help you feel more relaxed and ready to face the world.
Codependency was developed as a coping mechanism for dealing with unmet emotional needs in our early childhood years. It is often associated with an anxious attachment style, which can make it difficult to let go of codependency and move towards being interdependent.
Remember that this is a natural characteristic, and it is totally possible to move towards a more secure attachment style. Taking the time to assess your needs and making the necessary changes will help you to be able to meet them within a healthy relationship if you are codependent.
To soothe yourself, try some of the techniques mentioned in this article, and consider shifting some emotional stress from your romantic relationships to family and friends.
You got this!