Breaking Free From Co-Dependent Relationships
Do you continue to find yourself in relationships that are unhealthy and emotionally exhausting even though you have the best intentions? Ever considered that you might be co-dependent in nature, and move from one co-dependent relationship to another?
Co-Dependent Relationship– this term is rarely spoken about in Nigeria but yet, we are plagued with so many variations of it in our society.
What Is Co-dependency?
According to Dr. Allan Schwartz, this is when one seeks love based on feelings of inadequacy that one hopes will be fixed by one’s lover- this means that their partners cannot be who they really are, but must fulfill a certain role that their partner has for them- which is to give them constant love and security. However, the problem is that in reality, the love is never enough.
What are Co-Dependent Relationships?
Dr. Shawn Burn defines this as a relationship where one person is doing the bulk of the caring and often ends up losing themselves in the process. In that relationship, both parties fulfill their roles- The Giver and the Taker.
The Giver continues to do too much either physically or emotionally to please their partner, maybe to keep the relationship alive or for the fear of being alone. Whilst the taker, continue to benefit from this dynamic because they take more than they give.
In the Nigerian environment, I have seen this in motion so many times, as women continue to give themselves to their partners and families until they have nothing left to give. I am inclined to believe that this trait of co-dependence is deeply rooted in the psyche of many African women. In my last article, I discussed how co-dependence behavior is nurtured in women from childhood.
But why do people get into co-dependent relationships in the first place? Some psychologists say that it often stems from childhood; because the way, we connect with people determines our attachment styles. This article by the licensed psychotherapist Sharon Martin gives more details on this.
Signs of Co-Dependence
According to the Marriage and Family Therapist Darlene Lancer, these are some signs to identify if you are co-dependent:
- Low self-esteem– Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable or inadequate.
- People-pleasing- Codependents usually believe they have no choice but to please the people they care about. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
- Poor Boundaries- They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else. Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones
Some other symptoms include–
- Excessive and unhealthy tendency to rescue and take responsibility for other people.
- Engaging in well-intentioned but ultimately unproductive unhealthy helping behaviors, such as enabling.
- Trouble Communicating Honestly
- Confusing Love and Pity
- Attracting low-functioning people looking for someone to take care of them so they can avoid adult responsibility or consequences, or attract people in perpetual crisis unwilling to change their lives.
- Low Levels of Narcissism
However, the mere presence of these traits obviously does not mean that one is co-dependent, but if one has a high number of these symptoms, it could be worth looking into. You can try some co-dependency tests like the checklist from Melody Beattle – Characteristics of Co-dependent people or the Hamrah co-dependency test (I highly recommend this test)
Signs of a Co-Dependent Relationship
To identify if you are currently or have been in a co-dependent relationship, you need to ask some questions like –
- Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
- Do you feel a need to make extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partners need?
- Do you recognize unhealthy behavior in your partners but stay with him/her regardless?
Can It Be Cured?
Is it all doom and gloom? No! The good news is that one can overcome this, by unlearning unhealthy habits that give room for co-dependent relationships to exist. To do this, you can start by-
- Being honest with yourself and your partner
- Stop Negative Thinking
- Establish Boundaries
- Consider Counselling
Darlene Lancer also sheds light on the recovery process that entails a 180-degree reversal of this pattern in order to reconnect with, honor, and act from your core self. You could also download the co-dependent anonymous patterns of recovery.
Co-dependency in Africans can be a little tricky; as our socialization often differs from the west- you can learn more about this here.
As Africans, there are many unhealthy habits that we truly unaware of, which stem from childhood to adulthood because they are not spoken about openly in our communities. We owe it to ourselves to unlearn these habits immediately we become aware of them so that we do not continue the vicious cycle.