Healthy relationships are good for mental health. It is good to know that when times get tough, we have people who love us to lean on and support us. That love and support can get us through dire circumstances and keep us moving toward brighter days ahead.
It is good to be able to depend on other people. However, independence is a good thing too. Even when we lean on others, it is good for our mental and physical health to be able to rely on ourselves and to give of ourselves when others also need help.
Sometimes we can depend on others too much, which can cause an unhealthy imbalance in relationships. Our behavior becomes abnormal when it causes harm to ourselves or others. One such way this can happen is through co-dependency.
What Is Co-Dependency?
According to the fifth and latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), co-dependency itself is not a distinct psychological disorder. However, it is a factor in several mental health issues, including substance abuse and many personality disorders. How do we define co-dependency?
Co-dependency occurs in a relationship when one person’s behavior enables the self-destructive or otherwise harmful behavior of the other person. In a co-dependent relationship, the enabler gives your loved one the facility to engage in behaviors that may cause harm to themselves or others. The enabler does this out of love, but the power imbalance may come to cause damage to them.
Co-Dependency in Relationships: Warning Signs
Relationships do not often begin as co-dependent. Instead, some of us possess certain personality traits that make us more susceptible to becoming an enabler, allowing another person to abuse them through controlling behaviors.
People who might be at risk for enabling others’ behaviors might exhibit some of the following characteristics:
- Being willing to sacrifice your own needs for the wants of others
- Intentionally restricting your own wants in favor of those of another person or persons
- Finding oneself trying to take care of someone at the expense of your own needs
- Letting the standards and rules of other people control your life
- Not expressing your own feelings for fear they might offend someone
- Being afraid to seek attention, even if it benefits your own well-being
Some of the characteristics above may be admirable qualities, but when they allow you to become an enabler, these qualities become abnormal. We cannot let the behavior of others cause harm to us, no matter how noble a personality trait we may possess.
Not all people who are enabled mean to hurt others through their behavior. They may not even realize they are engaging in an unhealthy co-dependent relationship. Sometimes they may struggle with a diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health disorder. In some cases, they may struggle with addiction and issues stemming from substance abuse.
Co-Dependency and Substance Abuse
Not all family members of people with substance use disorder (SUD) have co-dependent relationships with their loved ones and enablers. However, researchers have found strong connections between substance abuse and co-dependency in relationships.
In studies, spouses of those who engage in substance use were more likely to display a host of co-dependent psychological factors, including neuroticism, being highly open and agreeable to an abnormal extent, and high-stress levels. In the same studies, researchers have found that openness and agreeableness in individuals represent two personality traits that moderate codependent behaviors. How does this work?
People who are agreeable tend to be able to regulate their own feelings, especially in prosocial environments, keeping them from engaging in negative codependent behaviors. They can empathize with their loved ones without enabling their behavior or allowing their own needs to be sublimated. People who are open are more creative and can better reduce stress and quickly evaluate situations. This trait allows the individual to cope with problem-oriented skills, thus managing stress more easily.
Going From Co-dependence to Independence
Being in a co-dependent relationship can feel suffocating for the enabler. Over time, the degradation of mental health can take its toll and leave you with feelings including depression and anxiety.
Luckily, there is hope. There are behaviors that enablers engage in and personality traits such as openness and agreeability, which encourage independence in relationships. Thanks to psychotherapy and clinical treatment, we can learn new behaviors through treatments such as behavior therapy and family counseling that can end the cycle of co-dependence and bring us into the light of a brighter tomorrow.
What Is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) seeks to modify our behavior by showing how it impacts every aspect of our daily lives. It aims to show us how our behavior is connected to how we feel and think and then helps us learn skills to modify behaviors that cause detriment to ourselves or those around us.
Just as we learn to behave, we can change how we behave. In co-dependent relationships, enablers’ behaviors make their own needs and feelings secondary to the person they enable. In CBT, these behaviors can be modified by learning to break that cycle, recognizing one’s feelings as valid and legitimate, and learning to engage in behaviors that assert one’s own needs.
Family Counseling: Seeking Treatment Together
It is also important to engage in therapy together when breaking the cycle of co-dependence. Family therapy can help couples and family members in co-dependent relationships by facilitating communication, offering support, and creating an atmosphere of sharing and learning during the recovery process.
Co-dependent relationships can affect every part of your life and the lives of others around you. They can leave you with low self-esteem and low self-worth. Luckily, you can break free of this cycle. Help and hope are within your grasp. You can learn to cope again with a healthy mind, body, and spirit, free of the toxicity of a co-dependent relationship. The caring professionals at SoCal Mental Health are here, offering a variety of treatments and plans to get you and your loved one back on the path to a healthy and happy relationship. Through psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, individual and family counseling, and treatment plans tailored to your needs, you can find all the help you need at SoCal Mental Health to put you on the road to recovery. Call (949) 502-2041 and begin your journey today.