Codependency

We’ve all seen codependency. Maybe we know a couple that is codependent, maybe we’re codependent, maybe we once were. The thing about codependency is that it’s a hard thing to identify. The term is thrown around often with little understanding of the true meaning. I’ll tell you how Wikipedia defines it.

Codependency is unhealthy love and a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life.

In counseling, we look at codependency as an addiction to a relationship.

We often have codependence in adolescence. Those first relationships where we are IN LOVE. Like, we look at that pimply faced person with braces sharing our milkshake and there is nothing more beautiful.

Then that person gets all weird and crazy possessive. They read our text messages. They buy us presents every time they screw up and make us feel guilty for wanting to leave. They make us feel like we can fly at the same time that we feel like anymore would make us unable to breathe.

For those of you who have ever had or known substance abuse or addiction, does that sound familiar?

We get the same chemicals from relationships that we get from drugs. Dopamine. Adrenaline. Oxytocin.Turns out, love is a drug.

Dopamine is the calming hormone. It makes us happy. We generally secrete dopamine during and after sex. It just feels good. Dopamine is primarily affected by heroin use.

Adrenaline makes our hearts race. Too much adrenaline and you feel awful. Just the right amount and you get butterflies in your stomach and the courage to say “I love you”. People do really stupid things to feel the effects of adrenaline.

Oxytocin is known as the cuddling hormone. We secrete Oxytocin after sex. It makes us want to connect. It’s also what creates bonds between people. As mothers, women secrete Oxytocin in their breastmilk the first time they breastfeed. This is what bonds mother and baby. It’s also the dominant hormone found in long term partners. Serial killers are often found to be devoid of Oxytocin.

Like any drug, relationships can be bad for you. I’m sure all of us have had a relationship that hurt us in one way or another. Codependency is the same difference between the person who gets a couple bad hangovers and learns to drink responsibly and the person who always gets hangovers, gets sick, makes a fool of themselves and goes back for more.

The best way codependency was ever explain to me was by my professor, Dr. Hagedorn (I mention him a lot because he’s awesome and knows his stuff).

The circles almost completely overlap and the relationship is seen as much larger than the self. The relationship becomes the identifying piece of a person’s life. A sense of self is lost.

A healthy relationship is ideally even most of the time. Sometimes the relationship takes precedence over individual wants, but the relationship makes space for the individual. Each partner has their own hobbies, interests, and time spent outside of the relationship.

We grow up being codependent for many reasons. Generally it’s a nurture thing. It’s very common for children of addicts to become codependent because that behavior was modeled and/or encouraged.

The good news is that there’s resources for codependency where there once wasn’t. Melody Beattie has written several books on the topic, including Codependent No More which is the foundation for the 12-Step Codependency Anonymous group.

So, that’s that. I find codependency to be very common and not often discussed as much as it should be. After reading about this (or already knowing), do you agree?

Have a great weekend everybody! I’ll see you on Monday.



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Posted on by Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA Posted in Couples, Individual, Mind
Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

About Jen Bingaman, M.A. LMHCA

Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a mental health counselor newly residing in Seattle, Washington. I strongly believe in the mind-body connection as the cornerstone of my professional ideology, along with the healing possibilities of puppies, a good glass of red wine, the smell of a new book, and the importance of travel.