© Andrea Bentley for Auckland Therapy Blog, 21 September 2018
Have you met this person?
Have you heard these words before? Do you say them, or things very much like them, a lot? It could be that you’re in a co-dependent relationship.
There’s nothing wrong with kindness. In fact, the world could probably use more of it. But when does kindness become something else? And how do you know if you’ve crossed the line from helpful to harmful?
Here are a few hallmarks of co-dependency:
Search the web for ‘co-dependency’ and you’ll find a plethora of information. There are literally hundreds of articles filled with questions and quizzes designed to tell you where you sit on the helpful/harmful spectrum. Some are better than others, and as with everything you find online, consider the source before you place your faith in something.
A lot of people look at co-dependents and wonder what they could possibly get out of the relationship. Why would someone give so much and get nothing in return? Why would they allow themselves to be used like that? Can’t they see what’s happening? Sometimes even the co-dependent asks, “What’s in it for me?”
But there is something in it for the co-dependent. They get to feel important, valued, needed. They’re in control and working hard to help someone less fortunate. That gaping hole in their self-worth and self-esteem gets pasted over with a façade of meaningfulness.
Co-dependency also tends to run in families, so the co-dependent might have grown up thinking that this is how relationships work, that this is what love looks like: one person sacrificing everything for another. It’s known and comfortable, and moving away from it might be scary. Staying where they feel safe is worth the cost.
Suppose you do manage to get out of that one-sided relationship. Now what? How long before you’re in another one just like the last one? Lather, rinse, repeat. Why?
There is, of course, the familiarity factor mentioned above. You know what to expect when you’re in a relationship like that. Your part is easy to play because you’ve played it for so many time before.
But there might be other forces at work as well. Your attachment style may be taking you for another ride around the circle. In fact there’s a very good chance of this being the case, especially if you lived with a co-dependent growing up. The co-dependent caregiver is often neglectful or even abusive, leading to a child with a fearful avoidant attachment style. And that child can grow up to be a fearful avoidant adult, desperately attempting to win the approval and love of their long-lost caregivers.
You can get off the merry-go-round. Through the healing work of psychotherapy, you can make long-lasting changes to your attachment style and learn to be in a healthy, balanced relationship.
Psychotherapy provides a way to understand and develop insight to redress relational dynamics that are no longer helpful. Through a safe and supportive relationship, therapy can provide opportunities to find new ways of coping that support you to develop and enter into secure and mutually satisfying relationships.