John is the head of a non-profit organization that benefits the poor. He is loved and respected, yet feels it is never enough. His identity is his work. He neglects his family and friends.
Jane is the mother of three. She dedicates her life to her children’s needs and wants. She has no social life and no interests of her own. Her only sense of identity is as a mother.
Sally is a “closet” alcoholic. She works all day, but at night and on weekends she is consumed with alcohol. Every activity must include the opportunity for alcohol. She lives to drink.
Sam’s marriage looks perfect from the outside. On the inside, Sam is unable to separate from his wife. He calls her many times during the day. When they are apart, he becomes anxious and feels empty inside.
Andy spends most his free time alone. He has friends that he sees occasionally but, he feels more comfortable when he is home alone. He tells himself he is an introvert, when actually he is afraid of close relationships.
Each of these people is co-dependent.
The definition I use for co-dependent is a person with little to no sense of self. They must center their minds around a person, an idea, or a substance in order to have an identity or to feel like they exist. This leads to co-dependency, which is a way of behaving and forming relationships. It becomes a dysfunctional way of life, where a person cannot get their needs met and grow as a person.
Co-dependents develop in many ways. Some become relationship-phobic, while others need attention and feedback to feel like they exist. Wherever a person lands on the spectrum, their behaviors create a negative loop. That prevents them from developing into their true selves. They are unable to be alone.
Co-dependency is passed down from generation to generation. Co-dependents usually come from dysfunctional families where there was abuse, addiction, or incest. They may come from a family where there was intentional or unintentional neglect, mental or physical illness, rigid rules, or incompetent parents.
Many of these families looked “normal” on the outside. Whatever the reason, the children’s needs were not met, and at times were shamed. Individuality and autonomy was neither respected nor allowed.
Not knowing oneself propagates a feeling of emptiness and aloneness that cannot be satisfied. This cycle can change, beginning with you. I can help you stop the cycle co-dependency. First, you have to know the signs. In my next blog I will talk about the characteristics of co-dependents.