Codependency is a pattern of behavior in which people appear to place the needs of others before their own needs. As a result, codependent people may have difficulty forming healthy and balanced relationships. Instead, they tend to get close to other people who have addictions or mental health problems that the codependent person tries to ignore or avoid.
Codependency was first described as a pattern among partners or family members of people with alcohol and drug problems. Since then, the term “codependent” has been adapted to many situations.
Codependent people often look for something outside themselves that makes them feel better. Dysfunctional families, in which misbehavior or abuse is accepted as normal, are a major source of codependent behavior.
Codependent people fall easily into a caretaker role. They often view themselves as “martyrs” and thrive on the sense of being needed. In addition, they may not acknowledge that a problem (e.g., a partner’s alcoholism) exists. Over time, the sense of caring can become compulsive and emotionally draining, leaving the codependent person feeling angry and unappreciated.
People engaged in codependent behavior tend to avoid confronting difficult emotions. They feel disconnected from their own needs and desires, struggle with their feelings and have difficulty trusting others. The emotional toll of codependency often leads patients to try to escape through drug and alcohol abuse. Others with codependency may develop compulsive behaviors such as gambling or risky sex.
Several types of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and family therapy, may be used to treat codependency. Treatment may take the form of individual or group therapy, or a combination of both. Ultimately, treatment for codependency is only successful when patients move away from excessive caretaking and learn to address their own needs.
Several forms of therapy may be used to treat codependency, including family therapy and cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Patients will likely explore issues from their childhood that may have led them to form the destructive patterns that are in place today. Therapy may take the form of individual or group counseling, or a combination of both.
During treatment, patients may be encouraged to reconstruct family dynamics and to try to get in touch with hidden emotions. The goal is to have patients reconnect with their feelings.
Ultimately, treatment for codependency will not be successful unless the patient learns to recognize and stop behavior that has negative consequences for the patient. Patients must move away from excessive caretaking and learn to address their own needs.