These days we throw the words “narcissist” and “codependent” around like confetti. It is easy to label someone who appears self-centered as the former and one who gives a little bit too much as the latter. Despite the fact that we can easily recognise these traits in people, it is always dangerous to label people with any term that is not officially diagnosed by a specialist. While testing for NPD exists, it becomes more difficult when we delve into the murky waters that lie around the term codependency.
A formal definition of codependency has escaped psychology as a field for some time. It was originally a term proposed to describe the behavioral traits of partners of the chemically dependent (addicts).
To date, there are no official, defined medical diagnostic criteria for the phenomenon we call “codependency”. It has come to mean, among other things, extreme devotion, sacrifice, and attachment to another person, object or even company in an unhealthy manner.
I deal with codependents every day in my practice. Intelligent, sensitive people who cannot see the wood from the trees when it comes to relationships and indeed their view of themselves.. How do I know? I have had codependent tendencies myself that I have more or less worked through. I have come to realise that my needs are important and relationships are a transaction if they do have mutual benefit as a major factor. From my own point of view, it is clear where this came from. As the oldest child of four, the role given to me was one of caretaker to my siblings and I was punished if they stepped out of line. I was conditioned to believe that the more I looked after them, the more recognition and validation I received. If I didn’t, punishment followed. I took this mindset into my adult life, believing I had to look after others needs before my own and mine didn’t matter. I am sure this sounds familiar to many people.
The good news is that codependents can be helped once they learn that boundaries and self-esteem are important. Often this realisation only comes after extremely painful experience. In my experience, self-esteem and insecurity are the key factors that drive codependency… the feeling that you are not good enough to move on and find something better. It is easier to hope that a dysfunctional situation changes. Boundaries are especially important. Codependents usually allow these to be knocked over or they don’t exist at all.
Are you willing to take that first step to recovery? It may be painful, it may be emotional but it will be worth it.
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