• Carrie Winn, LCMHC

Are You In A Codependent or Interdependent Relationship?

Updated: Apr 25

You may have heard the term "codependent" when relationships turn sour. Maybe you have described yourself this way. Perhaps the word comes up when someone in your family seems pushy or needy. But what does codependency actually mean? Is it a problem? And if so, what can be done about it?

What is codependency?

Codependency is defined by Merriam-Webster as "dependence on the needs of or on control by another." Simply put, it is the need to help or be helped, taken to the extreme. Most of us like to feel important, and it can be quite flattering when our partners, parents, adult children, friends, coworkers, etc. tell us how much they need us and rely on us. It also feels great to help others who could use a hand. So what's the problem?

Healthy relationships between adults usually include mutual respect, care, and compassion. We need to feel accepted for who we are, but also held accountable when we mess up, right? It's important to try not to hurt the other person's feelings, admit when you're wrong, take feedback well, and actively work on being a better person. You want to be able to speak up when your feelings are hurt, and to ask for what you want. All relationships go through ups and downs where one person is a little bit "needier" than the other, but in healthy relationships, for the most part, there is a good balance most of the time.

Codependency can happen when this balance is off. One person, the helper, has a pattern of working really hard to please, or fix, others. Walking on eggshells, avoiding conflict, sacrificing their own needs, being overly apologetic, or blaming themselves for other people's upset or behavior are signs of the helper role. Their sense of self often depends on the other person's feelings (i.e. "if they're happy, I'm happy."). The other person in a codependent relationship, the helpee, starts off needing help, and ends up relying on others to take care of them. Feeling helpless, frantic, and blaming others if their needs aren't met are common signs of the helpee role. This helper/helpee cycle can set up an imbalance of control where both people feel like they depend on the other person for how they feel and what they do. Resentment, depression or anxiety for one or both people in the relationship is common.

The helper may try to step back, but feels guilty. The helpee may feel abandoned without knowing how to take care of themselves. People in codependent relationships often want to and try to change but don't yet know how to step outside of those roles, so they revert back to the same patterns. The cycle continues; resentment and helplessness build.

So, what can you do?

If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. With self awareness, and a sincere desire to change, it is possible to learn to become more interdependent. Interdependence means that two people in a relationship feel more like distinct individuals who compliment and influence each other without being controlling or controlled. It involves kindness and compassion for others as well as themselves. You can work toward feeling more secure as an individual, with your own values, goals, limits and imperfections. Interdependence is the sweet spot between self confidence and empathy for others.

Change is a process and can be tough. Once you have a better idea of who you are, you can set boundaries respectfully, and build a healthy give-and-take relationship with the people you care about most.

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