Relationships are complicated, each having its own nuance. However, the most important and supportive relationships are defined by unconditional support and compromise. Codependent relationships can turn genuine caring and love into something negative, with great effects on one’s mental health and emotional well-being. Identifying codependent relationships and prioritizing one’s own mental health is crucial for creating a truly supportive relationship with family and loved ones, or for distancing oneself and creating a healthier sense of self-care and agency.
What Are Codependent Relationships?
Codependent relationships are any kind of relationship where one member has an increased need and another with a “need to be needed.” These relationships are often one-sided, with one member providing direct care for another. However, this care can quickly turn into overly-controlling behaviors. While codependent relationships can be common among romantic partners, it is also possible to develop codependency in familial relationships or among friends.
Codependent practices can also be learned behaviors, and it is possible to pass down codependent behaviors to future generations. These kinds of relationships are also known as “relationship addiction” due to many individuals continuing to engage in these destructive or dysfunctional relationships despite any negative or abusive elements present. Those in codependent relationships may also become trapped in relationships with others struggling with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), further compromising the relationship.
Codependent relationships are most common among individuals with additional needs, such as one suffering from addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination therein. Being a part of a codependent relationship is difficult, and often leads to an imbalance of power among members of the relationship and a myriad of mental health implications.
Signs of a Codependent Relationship
Codependent relationships are both physically and emotionally difficult and can skew the power dynamics in a relationship. This often manifests as one member feeling love by providing any kind of assistance deemed necessary, while the other may feel “love” by having this assistance given, creating a one-way exchange and accentuating one person’s “need to be needed.” Some of the common elements of an individual in a codependent relationship include:
- An exaggerated sense of self-worth or responsibility toward others
- A need for one’s efforts to be consistently recognized or celebrated
- Overly controlling behavior
- Difficulty adhering to personal boundaries or adjusting to change
- Need for approval
- Difficulty managing anger or frustration
- Feeling pity or that others are helpless without them
- Lack of trust in others
Conversely, others in these relationships may:
- Have difficulty identifying and managing emotions
- Be unable to make decisions or feel guilt about asserting one’s opinion or viewpoint
- Fear being left alone or abandoned
- Have difficulty establishing communication
- Engage in self-destructive behaviors
Both sides of a codependent relationship come with emotional trials, and addressing codependent behaviors and the presence of a codependent relationship is necessary for the mental and emotional health of all involved.
The Effects of Codependency on Mental Health
Codependent relationships take a toll on all involved. Those taking on the role of “caretaker” can find that destructive codependent behaviors bleed outside of the relationship and their other relationships, making it difficult to maintain any healthy connections. One may become defined by their ability to care for another, intimately tying one’s identity to their ability to control others. While controlling behaviors can be to the detriment of another, defining oneself by their actions and constantly needing validation based on the assistance provided can compromise one’s identity outside of the relationship.
Those who have additional needs also struggle in codependent relationships. While having assistance to meet one’s needs can be beneficial in healthy relationships, codependent relationships often take these situations and do more harm than good. Having one’s life controlled by another, or feeling as if one has to abide by a certain doctrine or is unable to speak their own opinion, are incredibly damaging to one’s mental health. This can compromise not only one’s feelings of self-worth but also comes with difficulty identifying and overcoming their own emotions and challenges.
Those struggling with addiction may also feel as if their sobriety is tied to another person, leaving an individual without the opportunity to develop their own coping strategies or identity in sobriety. Coupled with the perpetual feelings of abandonment, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, fear, and much more are all common, making it difficult to pursue one’s own healthy and sober future.
Codependent relationships all have their own nuance, and there is no simple way to address these damaging dynamics. However, dedicated family programs can help address the situation, providing each person equal space for their voice while establishing effective communication strategies for an equal dynamic. Those pursuing recovery from addiction or mental health disorders can be empowered through dedicated treatment programs, rather than having one’s supports treat symptoms rather than the whole self. However, professionals can also be instrumental in helping an individual navigate mental health disorders and determine if pursuing a particular relationship is healthy in the first place or if creating distance between oneself and an abusive partner may be necessary.
Codependent relationships are incredibly complex and can be damaging to mental health. If you or a loved one are struggling in your relationship and are ready to explore your personal needs and goals while managing mental health disorders, Pacific Sands is here to help. We understand the complicated nature of relationships and how codependency can impact your emotional health and sobriety. We are ready to develop a recovery plan that is right for you. From your first step into detox and recovery, we can personalize your recovery alongside a community of understanding peers and professionals, helping you find your own path to your best future. We utilize an array of proven therapeutic techniques and connect them to your unique needs to create a truly transformative experience and help you define your own journey to a healthy future. For more information on how we can help you, call (714) 492-1119.