“Codependents are reactionaries. They overreact. They under-react. But rarely do they act. They react to the problems, pains, lives, and behaviors of others. They react to their own problems, pains, and behaviors.”

Addiction, the constant need for positive affirmations, low self-esteem, an extreme need for approval, an exaggerated sense of responsibility, an intense fear of being alone, and an unhealthy dependence on relationships are all the signs and symptoms I recognized but actively ignored when I was quickly kicked to the curb by a dear friend of over 13 years. For over a decade I saw this person plummet into the dark depths of substance abuse and struggle with her obsessive-compulsive disorder. I stood by her and unwillingly watched her endure emotionally unhealthy romantic relationships and with each new relationship, my friendship with her became more and more strained. Strained because she constantly needed attention from everyone and anyone, if I didn’t agree with one of her viewpoints she would lash out at me and if I didn’t ask her about her significant other within five minutes into our conversation, I would be blamed for not caring about her relationship. The truth is, she is co-dependent and although I recognized it at the time, I was not comfortable enough to explain to her my feelings. I didn’t want to preach to her from a soapbox and I did not want to come off as a “know-it-all”; I simply wanted to explain to her all the red flags I was seeing in her life, in hopes she would recognize her actions and become more in touch with her emotions. Before I had the chance to share my views with her, I was told that our friendship was coming to an end. This “breakup” hit me hard but after some time, I realized how unhealthy this individual was and how this was causing me underlying stress in my own life.

The difference between codependency and love

Here is the thing about codependency, when one person is codependent on another individual in their life, they do not need or recognize anyone else. That person becomes their idol, their caretaker and their world, even if it causes them anguish that they are not able to recognize. They will jump through fire, climb the tallest mountain and swim to the deepest oceans only so they can feel wanted and loved by an individual. Co-dependency is often mistaken for love, however, individuals who are in a loving healthy relationship make space and time for themselves and for other people in their lives. They have their own hobbies and interests as well as mutually common interests they share with their partner. One of the most devastating things to witness in a codependent relationship is to watch someone you care about completely lose him or herself in a relationship while abandoning their individualism.

Sacrificing your own happiness

Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because individuals with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive or abusive. They will destroy other relationships in their life in order to accommodate this one person in their life. A classic codependency model is an alcoholic husband and his enabling wife, however, studies have shown that co-dependency is much broader than this classic example. Individuals who are codependent will make their own self-esteem and well-being contingent on the behavior of their “loved one”. In other words, if their loved one is not happy then they are not happy. If their loved one is having a bad day, then they are also having a bad day.

The givers and the takers

There are two opposing roles in codependent relationships: the givers and the takers. Givers tend to have a relentless, subconscious need to keep their relationship alive; the fear of being alone causes them to overexert themselves physically and emotionally in order to please their partners. Takers, on the other hand, benefit from this dynamic of getting much more than they give. The typical taker lacks maturity or suffers from an addiction or personality disorder.

Asking for help

If you have a friend who is in a co-dependent relationship, speak up before it is too late. Although this can be a tough conversation and may put your friendship in jeopardy, it could potentially save the other individual from extreme pain further on down the line as co-dependency gets worse with time.

The following questions can serve, as a guide to determine if you or someone you care about is involved in a codependent relationship:

  • Does your sense of purpose involve making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner’s needs?
  • Is it difficult to say no when your partner makes demands on your time and energy?
  • Do you cover your partner’s problems with drugs, alcohol, or the law?
  • Do you constantly worry about others’ opinions of you?
  • Do you feel trapped in your relationship?
  • Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
  • Do you constantly need positive attentions and affirmations?
  • Have other individuals told you that you no longer pay attention to others in your life?
  • Do you no longer participate in your own hobbies and interests?