Compassion is an important part of human relationships. We have all experienced people in our lives that need help. Many of us are built with an ingrained sense of compassion and are inclined to strive to help others meet their needs when they are down. We selflessly perform acts of kindness because we want to help alleviate the suffering that the other person is going through. This is normal and healthy; however, some individuals cross over the line of being supportive into that of codependency. Codependency occurs when an individual puts his own needs at a lower priority than the needs of others. A codependent person tends to throw out the “if I am able to” aspect by pouring all of his resources (time, money, energy, emotion) into helping another person overcome their problems, sometimes putting himself at risk. Codependent people often help others because they have a need for other people or things to give them self-worth. These individuals often subconsciously use their ability to help overcome other people’s problems to avoid their own issues.
Drawing the Line
It can be difficult to draw the line between codependency and being supportive, but there are some hallmark differences between the two. While being supportive strengthens a relationship, codependency destroys the foundation of relationships. In healthy relationships, both parties should feel energized and satisfied. In codependent relationships, one individual will often be exhausted, discouraged and overwhelmed.
Traits of Codependency
To identify whether you have entered into a codependent relationship, consider these traits that are common in codependent people:
- Sacrificing your own needs to help someone else
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling guilty if you cannot help
- Engaging in illegal or dangerous behaviors to help a person
- Excessive compliance
- Obsessive thoughts about the person you are helping
What To Do If You Suspect That You Are In Codependent Relationship
Too often, people continue in self-defeating relationships out of fear of being alone or because they feel they are responsible for the other party’s happiness. If you are one of these people, there is hope.
- The first step is becoming aware of your struggles. Denial is a hallmark of addiction.
- Know that you do not need to prove yourself to anyone else to have value and self-worth. Challenge your negative thoughts about yourself.
- Set clear boundaries for yourself.
- Allow others to help you. This is actually a sign of strength. Ask for help if you need it, and take it! Seek healthy friendships that you don’t have to give disproportionately to be part of. Consider counseling. You can find great success in your journey by using many resources available to help you overcome codependency.
Resources: American Psychological Association: PsycNET: Codependency: Clarifying the Construct http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1999-13886-005 University of Rochester Medical Center: Answers to Your Questions About Codependence https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=4107