What Does Codependency Look Like in Family Relationships?
Codependency is certainly not a new condition, and awareness of codependency is growing in the greater community. At the same time, it’s also one of those labels that many of us have heard of but don’t know exactly what it involves. In the media and online, it is most commonly linked to romantic relationships, people who exist in a caregiver role, and unhealthy relationships involving addiction or abusive characters. But codependency is just as common in family life, and even more so in the area of family relationship struggles. I think this is such a prominent issue that it needs better
To that end, we will look at a few basics about codependency: What is codependency and why it is an unhealthy place to exist. What are the signs of existing in a codependent relationship — and offer some examples of what it looks like to live this way.
At the heart of codependency is the sacrifice of one’s personal needs in order to try and satisfy the needs of someone else. It can be the loss of self, through caring and doing more for others than you do for yourself. Someone who is codependent displays the character trait of having an external focus away from themselves and their own needs. Their focus, actions, and thoughts revolve around others, and they place more value on the needs of others before their own. When faced with conflict in a relationship, their lives can be focused constantly on trying to help, fix, and save others — at their own expense.
Codependency can also involve a fear of abandonment, and the need to be loved. Again, because in codependent relationships one person is giving all of their focus and emotional power to another person. For this reason, recognizing and dealing with codependency is a very important step in healing from family relationship struggles. It is a crucial step for empowerment and reclaiming personal strength. Codependency is a loss of self: it is the existence of putting yourself second to another’s needs. And in the world of family relationships this is a very common reality. Many people don’t even realize they exist this way because they believe they are simply being a concerned family member and acting on feelings of care for their family. Yet there is a difference between caring in a balanced way, where your feelings and needs are also met, and an unbalanced, codependent way where you neglect to also respect your own feelings and needs.
Codependency is not a clinically diagnosed conditioned, or personality disorder. It is a behavioral pattern that develops most commonly from trauma, or from patterns that start in childhood. It is therefore most commonly a deep-seated behavioral pattern, but it can be reversed.
Codependency may seem straight forward: putting the needs of someone else before your own. But it is actually a very complex relationship issue, and if it is allowed to go on for a long duration, it can be very hard to break free from. This ongoing existence is a very common problem in the area of family relationships and family estrangement. Many people don’t even realize they exist in a codependent relationship because they believe they are simply being a dutiful family member. They believe that their responsibility as a family member is to provide care for other family members, or fix problems. And this can be a good trait in a family member, but NOT at the cost of their own needs and self-development. A person may also feel the need of love from their family members to strengthen their own lack of self-worth and identity.
Even though this all sounds loving – to care for our family member and to want to try and solve everything, or fix flaws within a family, or our desire to want to be loved by family – if it leads to existing in a codependent relationship, it is actually a very unhealthy place to be.
As noted above, at the core of codependent relationships is the reality that one person is sacrificing their needs for another, or that they need the love of another in order to feel self-worth. In codependent relationships that involve conflict there is always a giver and a taker. In a balanced relationship, an interdependent relationship, both people’s
feelings and needs are recognized. In a codependent relationship only one’s person’s feelings and needs are met. This results in a very unbalanced and unhealthy relationships.
I want to stress that a codependent relationship can involve physical contact and communication, but it can also exist on an emotional level while experiencing separation from a family member. It is possible to be separated from someone, yet still put their feelings and needs before your own. It is possible to be separated, yet your thoughts are consumed by the feelings or needs of your family member. Your focus is always on their feelings, their needs, their life, and not on your own. Also, during times of separation you can be consumed by feelings of low self-worth from not having the love of your family member.
These are examples of the complexity of codependency, and how that codependency can be a mental, emotional, physical, and/or spiritual dependence on a family member. Unfortunately, this is very common in the area of family struggles.
To really understand this, we need to look at the ways codependency can feel and how it can exist.
If you exist in a codependent relationship you might feel some of the following, or exist in one or more of the following ways.
- That you are always “walking on eggshells” to avoid conflict with your family member.
- Your family member is suffering from a chronic illness or addictive behavior that you feel you must fix.
- You are constantly trying to rescue your family member from destructive behaviors, or failed life experiences, even though the help they need goes beyond one person’s responsibility or capabilities.
- You feel you need to have control over the relationship.
- You are overly agreeable and have trouble communicating honestly.
- You are often the one who apologizes even when you feel you did nothing wrong.
- You feel sorry for your family member even when they have let you down, hurt you, or treated you badly.
- Always saying yes to the needs and demands of your family member, even if it does not suit you.
- Agreeing to do something for your family member even if it makes you feel uncomfortable or unhappy.
- Placing your family member on a pedestal or always excusing their behavior, even if they do not deserve this treatment.
- Feeling the need to constantly check in with your family member or constantly holding thoughts about their actions, needs, and daily activities above your own.
- You have a need for your family member to love you in order for you to feel good about yourself.
- Your mood is dependent on the mood of your family member. You’re happy when they’re happy and their life is going well — you’re stressed and anxious when they’re angry or depressed and they have problems in their life.
- You’re afraid to say no to your family member and you overly give of your time and resources, which can lead to you feeling resentful.
- You have the tendency to get taken advantage of or used up by your family member.
- You spend more time thinking about the needs of your family member before your own.
- You suffer fear of abandonment or feel abandoned by your family member.
- You feel guilty if you can’t commit to helping or caring for them, or don’t have time to attend their needs.
- You struggle to find time for yourself and your needs because you’re constantly giving your time or thoughts to your family member.
- You feel as if you’ve lost a sense of yourself and independence within your relationship.
It is possible to feel and experience a number of all of these traits, and this is very common in the area of family dynamics. But because we are dealing with family relationships, this unbalanced existence is often overlooked because we think that is what we must do as family members.
As mentioned earlier, there is a difference between caring and losing oneself. Yes, it is a beautiful thing when we can care for our family members and feel responsible for looking after them, or that we care about what led to our relationship issues, and try to resolve them — but it becomes unhealthy when we become consumed by an external
focus on family and fail to pay attention to our own needs. Responsibility to others, and care for others, needs to coexist with responsibility and care for self.
Codependency is very common in family, and if you experience this, you are certainly not alone. Getting help with codependency issues can help you reclaim your life. If you feel that this article on codependency in family spoke to you, and you need help in this area, then please consider our Healing Harbor Membership, which offers weekly help,
support and lessons with how to navigate relationships issues and conflict in family. You can break free from codependency in family and reclaim your life!
By Yasmin Kerkez
Please visit the following link to learn more: https://familysupportresources.com/membership/
Yasmin is a regular contributor to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency, Codependency Recovery.