"am i codependent?" - what codependency is and how to work on it

codependency.jpg

In my latest vlog, I'm talking about codependency: some of the most common patterns and behaviors that define it, and a couple of the most important changes that you need to make if you think you're codependent in one or more relationships. Codependency might sound rather innocuous -- hey, it's way less harmful than what some people do, right?! Wrong. I have worked with many clients where codependent relationships are one of the core issues they're struggling with, and it's often so painful that they then turn to other self-destructive coping mechanisms to numb, like eating disorders, drugs and alcohol, shopping, promiscuity, etc -- which in turn create even more problems.

It can be tough to clearly define codependency and to know when it's become a problem, because the fact is that we are all a little codependent. If you dropped me off in the woods somewhere, I probably wouldn't survive very well, because I need other people. And while I'm not a parent, I know many parents struggle to find the line between being a good parent and being codependent or enmeshed with their kids. It's just realistic that we are sometimes going to put others' needs before our own, especially if there are little ones who are literally dependent on us.

But the bottom line is looking at the pattern: if you are consistently putting others' needs and feelings before your own, and you're not making sure that your own needs are met and feelings are tended to, that's not sustainable. It's only a matter of time before you crash and burn, or start doing something really unhealthy to try to keep this up. 

Check out the video for a few basics on codependency, assertive communication, and setting boundaries: 

(If you're reading this on your phone, you may need to click here to view the video on YouTube.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uELKSRTpkS0

One point of clarification: In the video, I mention that sex & love addiction is often an off-shoot of codependency. This is true, but I think it's important to make the distinction that "love addiction" is not talking about real healthy love, but about patterns like relationship-hopping, inability to be alone, excessive preoccupation with your romantic partner, doing sexual things you wouldn't normally do just to keep the person around, etc. All related to codependency, but for some people, their codependency shows up mostly in these relationships and not necessarily in others, so it's called more specifically "love addiction."

Pure sex addiction (most common in men, but some women, too) is related in that it often stems out of trauma or dysfunction in the family of origin, but it's more similar to drug or gambling addiction than it is to codependency. Sex addiction involves acting out in some kind of sexual behavior(s) compulsively, to the extent that it's negatively impacting their life, and they desperately want to stop but feel powerless to stop on their own -- so they keep acting out, which more shame, which then leads to more acting out to numb the shame. It's the classic cycle of addiction. (The behaviors differ from person to person - could be affairs, prostitutes, porn, exhibitionism, etc.) Yes, sex addiction is a legit thing, no, recovery is not "anti-sex," and no, it does not clear someone of their responsibility for their behaviors and committing to a program of recovery.

In addition to therapy (or residential treatment if the problem has gotten more severe) 12-step programs can be very effective for people struggling with codependency, love addiction, and sex addiction. Below are some good links to check out. (And by the way, I've been in trainings on sex addiction over the past year, so I'm currently a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist Candidate, and will be heading to my next training this spring.)

What questions do you have about codependency? Do you put your own feelings and needs first? 

Comment

Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin, LMSW, is a Primary Therapist at The Ranch residential treatment center, where she works with eating disorders, addiction, trauma, and co-occurring mental health issues. Valerie focuses on a holistic treatment approach of mind + body integration, using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), somatic and bioenergetic therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), psychodrama, 12-step, and shame resilience. She is also a Certified Sexual Addiction Therapist (CSAT) Candidate. Valerie received her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications and Master of Science degree in Clinical Social Work at the University of Texas in Austin. She is an active member of the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, and emphasizes spiritual exploration in her work with clients.