What Does Being ‘Codependent’ Actually Mean?
So what does it really mean to be codependent? If you ask a dozen different therapists you’re liable to get a dozen different answers, which is why codependency is so difficult to understand. Codependents have been given a bad rap. They are often described as emotional manipulators and controlling, but the truth is codependents are some of the nicest people around. They care about others and strive to help whenever and wherever they can, the problem for codependents as you will see, is that they go overboard in their focus on caring for others. Codependents are usually good people but often stressed out by their relationships.
Codependency is a strategy developed by children usually under duress for obtaining love or approval from troubled caretakers or peers. This strategy however is composed of mistaken beliefs and rules that guide codependents in their attempts to get their needs met in relationships. Since this strategy is based on erroneous rules about how healthy relationships are created, codependents are sadly doomed to failure in their quest for satisfying relationships, which is why they often feel depressed, anxious, and stressed out. Codependency is a strategy for getting needs met in relationships, but it’s a flawed strategy because the rules by which codependents approach relationships are unrealistic.
If you visit websites about codependency you will see long lists of supposed codependent behaviors which makes it seem like everyone is a codependent. To break things down more simply, there are basically just a few beliefs most true codependents harbor within themselves. The first is something to the effect of, ‘I must never ask for what I want because my needs and feelings are bad, wrong, a burden to others, or even dangerous. I must pretend to have no needs or feelings and instead focus on the needs and feelings others.’ Another codependent belief could be, ‘I must never say ‘no’. To do so would be selfish and mean and then no one would like me or love me.’ Yet another might be, ‘I can make a relationship work all by myself. I can fix other people and I can make them happy.’ If these beliefs sound familiar don’t panic.
Codependents are good people with a bad set of operating rules. In order to become a recovering codependent, you must change the operating system, you must change the rules by which you approach relationships. Some beliefs that foster healthy relationships that you can strive to live by could include the belief that all healthy relationships are negotiations. Thus, I must be able to identify what my needs are and then be willing to ask others to meet them, and I expect others to do the same. My feelings and needs do matter and so do the needs and feelings of others, which is why we negotiate.
An individual must be able to say ‘no’ to behaviors that are unacceptable to them and expect others to do the same. It’s important to know that one cannot make a relationship work all by oneself because it takes two people to create a healthy relationship. You cannot fix another. You can only fix yourself. You cannot make another happy. You can only make yourself happy. So if you look at these codependent beliefs you will notice that codependents are filled with distorted and unrealistic thinking. Since they avoid asking for what they want or saying ‘no’ they expect others to read their minds as to what they need, want, like, or don’t like.
In addition, codependents believe they have the ability to make relationships work all by themselves. They think they can control things they can’t control, like other people, while ignoring what they can control or advocating for their own needs in a relationship. They also feel responsible for others as if they are the only adult around and thus feel obligated to attend to others needs and problems. No wonder codependents are so stressed out. They put the world on their shoulders and think they can carry it forever, and are thus guilt-ridden because they tell themselves they have no needs of their own.
If a codependent ever thinks of doing something for themselves, their mistaken beliefs tell them that they’re a bad person for thinking that way. Being a codependent is simply no fun. They are guilt-ridden because they believe their needs and feelings are selfish. They are stressed out by feeling responsible for everyone around them. They are anxious because they can never say ‘no’ and thus feel like they have no control in their lives. They are depressed because they feel like failures when they can’t fix everyone else’s problems. They are resentful because no one is reading their minds to see what they need. “What about me?” they think, suffering in silence. The good news is that recovery from codependency is possible.