When your emotional needs aren’t being met in a relationship, it can feel soul-sucking and isolating. Healthy relationships involve an equal give and take, where you take turns being the caretaker and the nurtured, but in a codependent relationship, you permanently take the role of the caretaker, and your mental health suffers as a result. You may be asking, why do I do this to myself? What is the root cause of codependency?
Codependency is usually rooted in adverse childhood experiences. For example, children may take on inappropriate emotional/household responsibilities in order to survive a traumatic upbringing, which causes the child to neglect their needs for the sake of someone else’s (codependency).
This learned behavior helps you survive your childhood, but it sets you up for struggling to maintain healthy relationships as an adult. If you want to learn more about the root cause of codependency, overprotective and underprotective parenting, signs that you’re codependent, and, most importantly, how to break out of the codependent cycle, keep reading!
What is the root cause of codependency?
The two parenting styles that breed codependency are overprotective and underprotective. Both hinder a child’s development of a healthy sense of independence, but are very opposite in their presentation in dysfunctional households.
Overprotective parents can also be described as snowplow (or highly involved) parents, who provide too much support in their child’s development. They remove all obstacles or risks from their child’s path so that they never have to experience rejection or pain.
These parents tend to be emotionally enmeshed with their children in an inappropriate way, talking to them about relationship or money problems or putting responsibility for the parent’s emotional wellbeing on the child’s shoulders. This can lead to the child feeling intense guilt or shame around having their own desires for an independent life outside of the parent/child relationship.
On the flip side, underprotective parents don’t provide enough support in their children’s development. Whether they’re always at work, struggling with addiction or their own mental health issues, or just incredibly hands off, underprotective parents fail to allow their child to build confidence and discover a sense of independence over time.
These children often take on responsibilities that don’t fit their age, like raising their younger siblings or anything that compensates for the neglect. They are overly independent for their age, and often respond negatively to offers of support because they feel intense guilt or shame for needing it.
Signs That You Might Be Codependent
If the previous section resonated with you at all, you could have codependent tendencies. Other signs are as follows (these are JUST signs, please try not to diagnose yourself as some of these signs can be generalized):
- Low self esteem
- Trouble identifying or expressing your needs
- Planning your entire life around your partner
- Extreme dislike of being alone
- You derive your self-worth through being the caretaker
- You struggle to cope with day to day life without your partner
- Intense anxiety around keeping your partner happy
- You fail to trust your own judgement and seek external reassurance frequently
- You feel incomplete without your partner
That list might hit you hard, and that’s okay. Because codependency is a learned behavior, it can be unlearned! You can become a healthy partner and relate to your loved ones in a way that doesn’t hurt you.
How to Break Out of the Codependent Cycle
The first step is to give yourself grace. You were a child when you developed these coping skills, and they helped you navigate through a difficult childhood. At the time, it was the best option for you! The problem is simply that your situation has changed since then, and those coping skills aren’t serving you well now.
Be honest with yourself about where these behaviors came from. In order to heal, you need to address those needs you had as a child that your caregivers failed to meet. Once you’ve learned to identify past needs, it becomes easier to identify your needs in the present.
Next, take a look at your present fears. What are you afraid of most when it comes to your partner? For example, if it’s being alone, introduce a little alone time into your schedule. Maybe a weekly class or book club that your partner isn’t a part of.
Tackling your codependent behavior is hard but rewarding work. If you find you’ve bitten off more than you can chew on your own, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of the therapists here at Pittsford Therapy.
You already have the stability and comfort you crave within you. You just need to give yourself permission to be the source of it.