Codependency is a term that originally was used to describe family members of addicts, but it defines how nearly everyone interacts with others. Codependency is when we see the needs of others as more important than our own and, deep down inside, we may have some resentment about it. The resentment may be demonstrated as an expectation of acknowledgement for our sacrifice, sideways anger, passive/aggressive behaviors, martyrdom, and keeping score.
Codependency in relationships is destructive, and it is preventable.
To better understand codependency, it is important to recognize where it originates. We are taught to be codependent at a very young age, which makes it seem as though it is a pattern that is just part of life. Every time children are told by words, actions, or body language that their feelings need to be shut down (for example, “Please stop crying.”), those children are learning that their feelings do not matter and that their parents’ as well as other authority figures’ needs and feelings are more important than their own.
Every culture I have worked with to date has its own way of stifling feelings, which is the starting point for codependency. When children are very young, they wish to please their parents more than anything else because their parents are the most important people in their life. When parents ask or tell children to stop crying, the child wants to please their parents so they work to stop crying. By the time children are in elementary school they already have started to learn how to shut down their feelings, and by the time they are done with elementary school their feelings are shut down.
The purpose children shut down their feelings is to please their parents, who in many different ways with words, actions and body language teach children that their feelings are not important. They are also teaching that it is important to take care of their parents’ feelings by not feeling their own.
The problem is that even though children learn techniques to shut their feelings down, the feelings still exist because they are the core and essence of each child.
Deep down, children continue to have the feelings. They may think at some level they must be doing something wrong because they have these feelings that they are not supposed to have. The feeling of doing something wrong is where guilt originates.
At the same time they may think there must be something wrong with them because they have these feeling they are not supposed to have. This creates a sense of shame.
Interestingly enough, the core underlying issues with any addiction are guilt, shame, and codependency. The codependency becomes even more apparent when the addiction is removed.