What is Codependency?

I was reading an article recently titled “How the Co-dependency Movement Is Ruining Marriages” and realized just how much people misunderstand codependency. I did understand the author’s point though. I’ve heard it many times before. When people hear about tendencies associated with codependency they often say “Isn’t everyone codependent then?” He talked about all the reasons he would be considered codependent such as trying to keep his wife happy, trying to make sure she doesn’t get angry with him, meeting her expectations, and building his self-esteem by caring for others. He argues that these are good things; that of course we should do things for others and care about what others think.

The problem lies in the lack of explaining that codependency is not defined by what people do, rather it lies in why we do what we do (our motivations) and how we feel as a result. Codependents don’t give for the right reasons. We don’t give out of the overflow of our hearts for the benefit of others. We give out of fear, anxiety, or low self-worth for example and even though our motives seem selfless, they are actually selfish. We just want to feel better. We want to reduce our fear of others anger by making them happy. We want to reduce our anxiety when we should confront someone by ignoring the issue. We want to reduce our low self-worth by saying yes to everyone and everything, even when we don’t have the time or the energy. Unfortunately we learn that the fear, anxiety, and low self-worth don’t go away. Our behaviors keep us stuck in a cycle that doesn’t end (called insanity; doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results). Because we give for the wrong reasons, we end up angry, resentful, and hurt because of the way people treat us. We feel that we don’t have choices; that we are trapped by other’s wants, needs, desires, and feelings. We can’t be ourselves if it makes others angry, upset, or unhappy. Basically we choose not to express our free will, becoming prisoners instead.

Codependency cannot be easily described or understood. My short explanation only identifies the tip of the iceberg. However, I hope it might have given you a hint of its nature. It has taken me nearly 5 years of difficult, painful work in Celebrate Recovery to understand the complexities of my struggle with codependency. The process has strengthened my marriage as it has never been before rather than ruining it, as was suggested in the article I mentioned above. But I am fully aware that misunderstanding codependency can contribute to the destruction of marriages. Through this blog I hope to help others understand it more clearly so they (as well as their marriages) may become healthier and stronger as a result.

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