In the best of circumstances, a parent will meet their child’s needs for nurturing, protection and emotional attunement in order to securely bond with them. When there is a failure to complete this process of secure bonding, codependency results.
Characteristics of Codependency
If you examine the characteristics of people with codependent behaviors, you will find behavior patterns more typical of children than of fully functioning adults. The reason is because they are still attempting to fill in the deficits that resulted from their early insecure attachments.
Below are some of the common characteristics of codependency:
You don’t trust yourself and your own decisions.
You let your partner hurt you without trying to protect yourself.
You do things to please your partner even when you do not want to.
You rely on your partner to define and take care of you.
You live your life as if you are a victim of circumstances.
You fear expressing your feelings for fear your partner will reject you.
You seek the approval and attention of your partner in order to feel good.
You whine or pout when you don’t get what you want.
If you can identify with more than half of the items above, you likely have codependency issues to resolve.
Codependency in a relationship occurs when two people, both seeking from the other what they are lacking from their early childhood, come together to form a complete person. Each feels he or she cannot function well without the help of the other. Eventually, one of the partners tires of the dysfunctional attachment and will seek to change the status quo. Lacking the proper tools to break the pattern, they will be unable to successfully create change.
Let’s look at the following codependent interaction between Daphne and Dave, in which Dave depends on Daphne as a kind of mirror to define him and tell him who he is:
Dave: I lost another client today and I am terrified I will be let go. What should I do?
Daphne: Oh no, you can’t do this to us Dave. I have already told you I cannot have a relationship with a weakling.
Dave: I need you to be strong for me or I will get more anxious, which will really mess me up.
Daphne: Okay. Okay. Let’s talk about the situation and just like I always do, I will come up with a plan.
In the above example, we see how Dave’s immediate response to his fear was to depend on Daphne, not himself, to come up with the answers to his dilemma. Indeed, his dependency on Daphne makes us wonder how he is able to function independently in his work environment. His ability to trust his own capacity to survive his work concerns is fragile at best.
Daphne’s initial reaction was self-serving (“How can you do this to us?”) and showed no recognition that Dave was the one with the problem and needed help. Ultimately, she assumed the familiar role of rescuing Dave, further reinforcing his dependency on her.
Are they enmeshed in a codependent arrangement? You bet. Dave’s dependence on Daphne likely makes him feel that not having instant access to her would be tantamount to losing himself. While appearing to be the stronger of the two, Daphne’s need to take care of him like a child reflects her codependent need to micromanage Dave, rather than encourage his independent thinking.
Breaking The Cycle of Codependency
Believing that their partner is more competent than they are, people with codependency issues tend to pass on the responsibility for their healing to their partner. Turning attention toward one’s self and recognizing patterns of codependent behavior are the first steps toward making changes. This means developing personal boundaries, which includes learning about one’s thoughts, feeling and behaviors. Breaking the cycle of codependency must take place before successful, mutual, and cooperative interdependency can occur.
Author of the recently released book, “Who Am I Without My Partner? Post-Divorce Healing and Rediscovering Your SELF,” Deborah Hecker, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist with over 35 years of private practice experience. She received her Master’s Degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from The Union Institute. In addition, she is certified as a psychoanalyst and has extensive training in the following areas: addiction counseling, grief counseling, collaborative practice and mediation. For more information, please visit www.drdeborahhecker.com.