The more time I spend working in the trauma-focused world of counseling, the more I realize codependency is far more widespread than previously thought. Especially traumas that are experienced in childhood, which makes sense as that is where everything is set for future behaviors, beliefs, and choices.
Codependency most often stems from a childhood that contains either physical/sexual abuse, witnessed domestic abuse, addiction in parents, lack of parents, neglect, parents with mental illness, emotional abuse or any combination of these. Codependency also occurs if the child has no parents especially mothers in their lives.
The child will develop beliefs about themselves and an absolute need to try and contain, control, or cover up the situations they find themselves in. All while desperately wanting to maintain the relationship so their parent will love them or at the very least acknowledge them in some way.
The child will spend every waking moment trying to make sure the parent is okay or in their minds “happy.” If people are happy they won’t take their unhappiness out on them. They also spend their lives being small adults caring for parents who cannot care for themselves. Cooking, cleaning, providing alcohol or drugs, doing what the parent wants no matter what it is to keep them happy, taking care of siblings.
Always, always, seeking love from the parent, approval, even just being noticed is enough to keep the child repeating the cycle.
Through this behavior, the child develops a very low self-image believing they are not worthy of love. They develop poor boundaries and in many cases no boundaries. There is a constant need to save others or make others happy. They never consider what they need or want. There is a constant need for perfection so that they might be lovable. And an absolute need for control over anything that they can control because life with their parent is always chaos.
All of these things become set inside the child between birth and age 7. After this, these beliefs, behaviors, and choices become solid in the psyche and they are then seen as “normal” and they are not questioned. They are just repeated and repeated throughout their lives in every single relationship they have.
They seek out relationships with those who need saving. They never consider what they want or need or how they feel. Every relationship is the one they had with their parent or the one they didn’t have with their parent because the parent wasn’t there. They control their children’s lives because they couldn’t control their parents. They never say no in relationships because they need the other person’s approval for their own self worth.
Codependency can be extremely hard to change because by the time someone seeks out help it has been their norm for years and years. They have no concept of self-love or self-care. Boundaries are a foreign concept. Being alone is an all consuming fear. Children will always want their parent to love them no matter what the parent has done even when they are no longer children – it is genetic.
Learning to say no is one of the most important things codependent people can do to begin to set boundaries with others. Understanding the difference between saving people and supporting them without enabling their behaviors. Self-care and self-love are absolutely necessary to breaking the chains of codependency. Knowing that they have worth in themselves and do not need others to provide it for them.
Counseling can help codependent people see things more objectively and offer ways to start to change. The biggest thing that keeps people from letting go of codependent behaviors is fear. Counseling can help process through this fear and open the road to moving forward. Reaching out for help can be the first step to change.
Until next time,