The term “codependency” is used to describe a dysfunctional relationship in which one person facilitates another’s unhealthy behaviour. For both, the relationship can be extremely damaging, and they need to address both the root causes and the immediate threats to their well-being.
In a codependent relationship, one is generally reliant on another’s approval to an unhealthy degree for their sense of identity and self-worth. Rather than thinking about what they should do, and how they should behave, to maximise their own chances of happiness and fulfilment, they generally try to do what they think a significant person in their life—often a romantic partner or parent—would like them to do. In consequence, they often struggle with appropriate boundaries and can experience a profound sense of anxiety if they are separated from this person, or if they feel that they have angered or displeased them in some way. For some people they may develop love addiction due to the codependency issues.
Conversely, the other person (or people) in the relationship develop a strong identity around providing help, support, guidance, etc.—often to the detriment of the other, and even themselves.
In both cases, dysfunctional codependent behaviours frequently have their roots in the family dynamics of their families of origin.
Therapy for Codependency
In a clinical setting, therapists often work with patients who have problems around issues such as substance abuse, or an unhealthy relationship with food, that relate to a codependent relationship that they have with a person, or people, in their lives.
For example, a substance abuser with an addiction problem may find it very difficult to address this behaviour because they are in a relationship with someone else who abuses substances, and they want to make them happy by doing so too—or, conversely, because their loved one has developed an identity around “helping” them so much that they never have to confront what they are doing.
However, codependent relationships are also found in a wide range of circumstances that can present very differently. In general, one person in the relationship experiences the need to “help” the other, to the point of excluding them from all decision-making about themselves, while the other responds by presenting as passive and unable to function without this support. It can become very difficult for either of them to move beyond this situation, as their very identities have become inextricably bound to the concept of their being essential to the other’s basic well-being.
With help, most people in codependent relationships can learn how to recognise what they are doing, and to learn new, healthier behavioural patterns. Therapeutic approaches such as Psychodynamic Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, often alongside exercises to practice at home, and possibly in conjunction with attendance at a support group, can help people to create sustained change and to learn how to live in a more functional way.
If you would like to talk to someone about issues relating to codependency, please get in touch with us at the Private Therapy Clinic by telephone at: 020 3887 1738, book online or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anderson, S.C. (1994). “A critical analysis of the concept of codependency”. Social Work. 39 (6): 677–685
Cermak M.D., Timmen L. (1986). “Diagnostic Criteria for Codependency”. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 18 (1): 15–20.
Morgan Jr., JP (1991). “What is codependency?”. J Clin Psychol. 47 (5): 720–9.
Codependency was last modified: February 26th, 2021 by Dr Becky Spelman
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