How Growing Up in a Dysfunctional Family Makes You Codependent

By Laura K. Connell.

If you are codependent in a relationship, it means you tend to give more than you receive and feel resentment over lack of appreciation for your efforts. You might enable someone in their addiction or abusive behavior, making excuses for them and allowing them to continue in their dysfunction.

Codependent behaviors are often inter-generational. If you grow up in a dysfunctional home, you are more likely to feel unfulfilled in your relationships due to over giving and self-abandonment.

In the dysfunctional home, you were expected to suppress your own needs in favor of those of your caregivers. This primes you to become codependent because you’re so used to putting your needs last.

You may feel you have no right to assert your needs and this feeling might be subconscious. So, you may be unable to ask for what you want because you have no idea what that is.

If you were discouraged from having needs and wants as a child, it will be difficult or impossible to prioritize yourself as an adult.

You believe love and acceptance only come when you make yourself useful. You may have been praised for being a good helper and that leads you to believe helping is the only way to win love.

You take this belief into your adult relationships where all your behaviors are motivated by a desire to receive recognition for your efforts. In a healthy relationship our efforts are geared toward a desire to connect rather than receive validation.

When you don’t receive the desired recognition for your self-imposed martyrdom, you feel resentful and unappreciated. Instead of doing less, you may ramp up your efforts because you think that will bring the validation you need.

Codependent external focus

The problem lies in looking outside yourself for signs that you have value. You never learned that your value is intrinsic.

As a codependent you don’t believe you have value simply because you exist. You believe your worth lies in how other people view you.

You may struggle to accept criticism, even when it is constructive. That’s because when your sense of self depends on others’ opinions of you, feedback can feel devastating, almost like a death.

In a dysfunctional home, you would be discouraged from setting boundaries. That means you would not learn to protect yourself or stand up for yourself because you were raised to believe what other people want and need takes precedence.

That’s why you find it hard or impossible to state your needs clearly. You may have trouble understanding what those needs are because you’ve been conditioned to disconnect from yourself.

In relationships, you tend to over give. But you can’t see any way out of the situation because you fear that things will fall apart if you don’t take care of everything.

Steps to healing

So, what can you do to begin to overcome the tyranny of codependent relationships? The first step is to get to know yourself better.

Take time to understand who you are and what you want. What are your likes and dislikes, your values, etc. Tune into yourself instead of constantly turning your focus on others.

Ask for help. Being codependent means rarely asking for help, and this is what keeps you mired in resentment for doing more than your fair share.

Give up the idea that others will recognize you for your efforts. It’s likely you’ve been raised in a home where you were taken for granted and expected to give more than you received.

Hoping dysfunctional family members will change to see your value based on what you do for them is a losing game. If you want change, it starts within and won’t come through the same behaviors you’ve been using all your life.

It will come when you decide you are the most important person in your life and your needs take priority. Looking outside yourself for validation is a shaky proposition because we can’t control others’ views of us.

Understand that nothing outside of you will make you feel better, at least not for long. True self-worth comes from the inside and begins when you accept your value as innate and not defined by external factors.

Laura K. Connell is a trauma-informed author & coach who helps her clients recover from the devastating impact of dysfunctional family trauma. Take the Dysfunctional Family Roles quiz here:

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