Co-dependency means that you need and rely upon seeking approval from another person to validate yourself. You receive a compliment from someone you are close to, it feels good, and who doesn’t like feeling good?

If you find this is a repeat pattern with the same person, that you go to extraordinary lengths to receive a compliment, to be told you are good friend, good person, great partner but the efforts that you go to are at the expense of your own dignity, energy and moral code then you are in a co-dependent relationship. The problem lies in the repeat pattern/ behaviour and also, because you have become reliant on them to increase your own self-esteem; once they judge you or criticise you then that also deeply impacts on a negative view of yourself. You can become self-loathing, push yourself to go further than is safe to do so and your whole sense of your identity becomes tangled up in their world and personal viewpoints.

This can happen for both of you or just one of you; if it’s happened to just the one of you then it is likely that the other is aware of the influence that they have over you- either consciously or not.

If you have a history of people-pleasing then it is likely that you can relate to the behaviours mentioned above. Continually putting someone else’s needs above your own damages your sense of self and you can become unable to prioritise yourself, even when you are ill.

Some additional features of this kind of relationship include:

  • Feeling unfulfilled when this person is not around or is not giving you attention
  • You can see that unhealthy behaviours are part of their daily life but you make excuses for that, turn a blind eye or enable those behaviours by supporting them or taking part in them too.
  • You put all your energy into supporting them at the cost of your own physical and mental health
  • You feel anxious when they aren’t in touch with you and even around them; it becomes the predominant set of feelings for you- such as increased heart rate, nausea, palpitations, confusion, and being unable to hold your focus etc and can be mistaken for love, lust or longing, if that was the original emotion when the relationship began.

What drives our need for seeking satisfaction and validation from other people is an inherent lack of self-esteem, low self-confidence and not being able to value ourselves enough to take care of us above other people.

In this particular relationship type, the pattern(s) and the enabling of their behaviours are the key points of the cycle to break. Before being able to attempt that though, it is important to check back in with yourself first and think about:

  • What do I want from this relationship?
  • What are my own life goals?
  • Am I doing anything to achieve my life goals- if not, what can I start doing in order to get there?
  • Do I do anything for me; is my spare time about me?
  • What can I do to become comfortable with my spare time if I don’t like being alone?
  • Why don’t I like being alone?
  • Are there any behaviours that my partner/ friend/family member exhibit that offend me?
  • Do I contribute to that behaviour in some way?
  • Do I allow them to treat me in a particular way?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What behaviours are reasonable?
  • Which behaviours are unreasonable and I don’t want to tolerate any more?

We rarely have this level of questioning with ourselves so some of these questions may be difficult to answer if you have not thought about them before. The more time you put aside to think about what you do want in your life then the clearer this will be come, and in thinking about what you want to tolerate you will begin to realise that boundaries are necessary if you do not want some behaviours to continue. If you don’t address them then they will continue, because there isn’t a challenge to an existing pattern being spelt out to someone. If you don’t question it then the other person may not be aware that they are doing it. If they don’t know then how can they stop?

There will be the scenario that some co-dependants DO know what they are doing and ARE aware they are hurting you mentally, emotionally, and/ or physically. By thinking about what you want as an individual you can begin to think about whether the quality of your relationship or friendship is actually worth saving or not. I strongly urge you to fight the feeling of being a burden, if that’s how you do feel. Take the time to consider the questions above and if you do have access to a good support network then if you feel comfortable enough then do sound out your ideas. Chances are they have spotted the same things you have about the friendship/ relationship so they can continue to support you by confirming your thoughts or offering a different perspective. Once you have answered the questions and acquired a clearer mindset on what you want then the next step is to discuss with the friend or partner- a strong and caring relationship can handle feedback and together you can work towards a stronger bond; one that is supportive and nurturing for both parties. A partner or friend unwilling to listen, blames you completely, belittles you or leaves you feeling unheard will give you confirmation that your thoughts are feelings are valid about them and it will be time to appraise if you want them in your future.

These are general guidelines and if you are reading this whilst in an abusive relationship (mental, physical, emotional) then it is important that you seek help both from your own support network and a professional to help you with your specific situation. You deserve the life and future that you want; it should not be sacrificed for someone who cannot support you positively or makes you question your worth. You are important and your life does count.

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