Are you always the giver rather than the receiver? Find out if you could be co-dependent.
Rob describes himself as “a magnet for wounded birds. I keep finding women who are in bad situations and rescuing them.” Rob has recently realized this is a long-standing pattern. “Mom suffered from depression. After Dad died, I was the one who took care of her, cleaned the house, cooked the food. Twenty years later, I’m still in the same role, only the women are different.”
Rob knows now that he is co-dependent. He seeks relationships where he is the giver. He gets little in return, but he doesn’t expect to because he doesn’t feel worthy. Even when he’s treated badly, he makes excuses for the behavior. His sense of self comes from being a caretaker, and he feels lost without someone who needs him.
Co-dependency is usually learned early, often in a family where substance abuse was present. But it can be found in any unhealthy family where emotions are not addressed. This may include families coping with:
- Addiction of any kind, such as to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex or work
- Sexual abuse
- Chronic physical or mental illness
In these families, the focus is on the person with the problem. Other family members set aside their own needs to care for the person who is sick or addicted. They lose touch with their feelings and develop low self-esteem. As adults, they seek relationships that replay their family drama. Many of them also slide into depression or end up with addiction problems of their own.
We often think of women as being the classic co-dependents, standing by their men no matter how dreadfully they’re treated. But men can also be co-dependent, seeking to feel whole by devoting themselves to the needs of others.
Co-dependency is not currently a psychiatric diagnosis, but many mental health professionals recognize it and offer treatment. Treatment may include individual or group therapy. It focuses on:
- Helping the person identify the early experiences that led to the problem
- Recognizing self-defeating behavior
- Having healthier relationships
Are you co-dependent?
Answer “true” or “false” to each of the following statements:
- I need to be needed.
- Other people’s feelings and opinions are more important than mine.
- I feel rejected when my partner spends time with other people.
- I don’t think I’m worthwhile or lovable.
- I have trouble saying “no” when someone asks for help.
- My partner would fall apart without me.
- It’s hard to know what I really feel.
- I always do more than my share in a relationship.
- I’m very critical of everything I do or say.
- I always worry about what other people think of me.
- I’ve been in a relationship where I was hit or berated.
- It’s hard for me to accept compliments or gifts.
- I’ll do anything to keep a relationship going.
If you answered “true” to several of these, you may be co-dependent. If you are not happy with your relationship or yourself, you may want to seek help. You can look for a counselor who has experience with co-dependence, or you could find a self-help group through Co-Dependents Anonymous (www.codependents.org). Learning more about co-dependency can help you break its bonds.