The term co-dependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, research has since revealed that the characteristics of co-dependents were much more prevalent in the general population than first imagined. In fact, co-dependent behaviour can be commonly present in dysfunctional families or those with an ill parent. This is due to the fact that co-dependency is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behaviour.
David Smallwood, one of London’s top counsellors and therapists discusses co-dependency and the signs to look out for.
Many people have already heard the word: co-dependent, but what is it?
The definition that I prefer is that co-dependency is the inability to have a good relationship with yourself. It is a fundamental discomfort with ourselves and our place in the world. Therefore, we then tend to pick up something (a person, a thing, a place) that helps us feel good.
Are co-dependents prone to other disorders or psychological issues?
Yes, as it causes consequences for people. When someone is extremely anxious, using alcohol and drugs, depressed, if you look underneath what is presented, quite often you can see that co-dependency is happening.
What causes it?
I believe there is a predisposition in some people for sensitivity, which they were born with. That sensitivity means that whatever happens to them, they will feel that they are not good enough. We live a society and we see that other people cope better than we do. Then one might think, that he/she is not enough and naturally they start doing things to cope with that sensitivity. Those things that we use to medicate our distress can cause us stress.
Why is it harmful?
If I try and make myself appealing to people, look after people, get affirmation that I am ok, it can be irritating to people. I pick that up because I am sensitive and start thinking about what can I do to make myself ok with other people. People usually medicate that distress by drinking, by using drugs or by simply doing good deeds for people, anything that gets them applause.
What are the signs to look out for?
Co-dependent personalities usually follow a pattern of behaviours that are consistent, problematic, and directly interfere with the individual’s emotional health and ability to find fulfilment in a relationship. Signs of co-dependency include excessive caretaking, controlling, and preoccupation with people and things outside of ourselves.
Signs of co-dependency can include:
- Having difficulty making decisions in a relationship
- Having difficulty identifying your feelings
- Having difficulty communicating in a relationship
- Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself
- Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem
- Having fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval
- Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships, even at your own cost
- Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
If you or someone else you are close to is displaying co-dependent behaviour, please contact The Kusnacht Practice for further help and support – contact us.
David Smallwood, Counsellor and Therapist, Msc, PG Dip, NCAC