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Being codependent doesn’t just hurt you. This learned behavior can be passed down from generation to generation.

Nearly half of all American families have a friend or close family member who’s affected by addiction. Addiction doesn’t only affect the person who’s abusing drugs or alcohol. In fact, the efforts of having a close relationship with someone suffering from addiction could affect your family for generations.

So how do you know if your relationship with your partner could affect the mental wellbeing of your grandkids? It all stems from codependent behavior. A trait that can be learned and passed down from generation to generation.

What is Codependency?

According to Mental Health America, codependency is an emotional and behavioral issue that can prevent an individual from having a healthy and emotionally satisfying relationship. According to Psychology Today, when two dysfunctional people form a relationship, they can bring out the worst in each other.

It can also be known as a ‘relationship addiction’ because many codependent people may form relationships that are one-sided, abusive or emotionally destructive. Although these behaviors are not new, this disorder was identified 10 years ago after studying the relationships between alcoholics and their spouses. In fact, spouses of alcoholics were originally called ‘co-alcoholics’.

Codependent behavior is passed on to the younger generations through watching and imitating their parents.

Who Does Codependency Affect?

While originally thought to be an issue only for the spouses of alcoholics, codependency is much farther reaching. In fact, codependency can affect siblings, children, parents, friends and even close co-workers of a person abusing drugs or alcohol. While children have no choice about their involvement, adults choose to stay in these relationships. The reasons to stay may involve finances, children, time together, shame of relationship failure and even a deep seeded belief that they deserve to be mistreated.

While codependency can come from enabling someone who displays addictive behavior, this is not always the case. It can also mean relying on your partner exclusively to meet all your emotional and self-esteem needs.

What Causes Codependency?

While many references the term codependency to the spouse of an alcoholic, there are many relationships that can cause the development of codependent behavior. According to Psych Central, the characteristics of codependents are much more prevalent in the general population than previously thought. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family or were cared for an ill parent, you could find yourself falling into these learned behaviors patterns. Researchers have found that symptoms can get worse if untreated but are reversible. So, if you are asking yourself, am I codependent? Look at our warning signs and how to overcome them.

Codependency in Childhood

Psychology Today explains that in order to have healthy relationships, we must bond with one or more caregivers as infants. Growing up, if one parent is absent or dysfunctional it can cause a child to take on a parenting role. In this role, the child will put the needs of the parent ahead of their own. They’ll then repeat this behavior into adulthood with their future partner.

Codependency can also be born from dysfunctional families. These are families that don’t speak about or address problems. According to Mental Health America, dysfunctional families are where members suffer from anger, fear, shame and emotions are denied or ignored. This can occur in families where there’s sexual or physical abuse, addiction and even chronic physical or mental illness.

Am I Codependent?

According to a study published by the Journal of Substance Abuse, there are some primary characteristics of codependent behavior in relationships. These include: control, exaggerated responsibility, worth dependency, rescue orientation, and change orientation. Men and women seem to demonstrate codependency differently. Most of the characteristics were demonstrated by women, although men in the study did show the change orientation and exaggerated responsibility.

Symptoms of Codependency

Low self-esteem: Do you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to others and not quite measuring up? Guilt and perfectionism can also be linked to low self-esteem.

People pleasing: Does the thought of saying no give you anxiety? While people pleasing can be positive, it’s not nonnegotiable. Do you go out of your way to do for others even if it means sacrificing yourself?

Poor Boundaries: Do you feel responsible for other people’s feelings or problems? Do you blame your problems and feelings on others? Codependents often have problems creating boundaries between themselves and others.

Reactivity: This is a result of poor boundaries where you react and take on another’s thoughts and feelings.

Caretaking: People who suffer from codependency put others before themselves even if it means they’re hurting themselves in the process.

Control: Codependents feel the need to constantly stay in control to feel safe and secure.

Denial: Codependent people often feel it’s others who have the problem. This can make it difficult for them to seek the help they need.

Take the test!

Answer some common questions as suggested by Psychology Today to see if your relationship may be codependent.

Are you making extreme sacrifices to satisfy the needs of your partner? Is your self-esteem tied to this behavior?

Do you find it hard to say no when your partner demands your time and energy?

Do you find yourself covering for your partners substance abuse or legal issues?

Are you preoccupied with the opinion’s others have of you?

Do you stay quiet to avoid arguments?

Do you feel trapped in your relationship instead of happy?

The good news is that codependency can be treated and even reversed. If you suspect you may be falling into codependent patterns you may benefit from speaking to a qualified counsellor.

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