Top 3 Signs of Codependency

By Kevin Petersen MA, LMFT

A quick search on Google will give you a wealth of signs that indicate codependency. In 30 years of experience, I’ve had my share of clients that struggle with codependency. Here’s what I’ve found to be the top 3 signs:

1. Enabling:

Enabling is working harder on someone else’s problems than they are. As a result, you are
willing to sacrifice or help that person you think needs help. But the key ingredient here is that person may or may not have actually asked for help. They’re not willing to do the work themselves.

There’s nothing wrong with offering someone some advice if they ask for it. But then, you need to learn to let go of them and say, “Good luck. I hope this works out for you.”

The thing I see the most with my client base is that they take on other people – specifically addicts or alcoholics – as their project. Maybe you feel this way, too. Then, the addict or alcoholic can stand back and let you do all the work for them. This creates another challenging dynamic: you get very angry with them because you now realize you’re working harder on their stuff than they are.

Many of the families I work with have the constant need to rescue the person that’s struggling and solve their problems for them. This catapults into becoming your life‘s mission and you take it on as part of your personality. You see yourself as the person who makes the train run on time and these people need you. What’s really happening is the person that you think you’re helping is standing back and allowing you to handle everything for them instead of actually taking care of themselves and learning how to solve their own problems.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, I see that you’re struggling and I’ll be happy to offer you some advice or point you in the right direction.” But then you need to stand back and let them figure it out themselves.

2. Riding the roller coaster:

It happens almost always. When I meet a family for the first time, they share their story – and a common detail in the story is that there’s a person in their system that’s struggling and that person is taking the entire family on a roller coaster ride with them. The family desperately wants to help this person, stop the drama, the chaos, and the crisis of being on that roller coaster. But the family approaches it from the perspective of, “If we just fix the person, everything will be okay.”

This isn’t a matter of “fixing” the person. I help clients understand that there are two sides to this coin. On one side, we need to get that person help. That’s absolutely important – no questions asked. And on the other side, we need to change the way the family system is operating. In short, the family needs to change the way they’re engaging with the individual and the individual needs to change the way they are engaging with the family. The addict needs to address their issues whether it be mental health or addiction.

Another thing I tell families: every morning you wake up and at your front door there’s a car from the roller coaster waiting for you. You have a choice to get on or to let it go by.

3. Avoiding conflict and people-pleasing:

Avoiding conflict is a trait I see in almost every family I work with. There’s always someone in the system that wants to be the peacekeeper and make everybody happy at the expense of themselves. Sometimes, it is also at the expense of the entire family system to keep the person that’s struggling happy.

Why? That person has learned that if they get big, loud, and angry, everybody else backs down. Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the problem and allows the person struggling to continue to struggle. Here, it’s important to learn how to set boundaries, hold the person accountable with love and empathy, and offer them a solution.

Sometimes, this is also called people-pleasing, in which we’re constantly trying to make sure everybody else is happy and nobody’s fighting and there’s no conflict. One of the things about human nature is that there’s always going to be conflict. But it can be managed and it doesn’t have to be angry and aggressive.

Kevin Petersen MA, LMFT and Founder of The Chronic Hope Institute. Learn how we can help your family can heal from addiction and codependency:

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