Being needed makes us feel good.
It makes us feel important, valued, and wanted by other people.
But when is our need to feel needed becomes too much?
When The Need to Be Needed Turns Unhealthy
As humans, we all have this need to feel needed and significant. Similar to workaholism, wanting to be needed is okay until it turns compulsive and becomes an addiction.
It’s when our good intention of helping others becomes a perpetual means for us to get love, and feel superior and good about ourselves. It’s when we become so obsessed with other people’s problems that we neglect our own feelings and needs. And most importantly, we can’t stop it.
Our need to be needed becomes unhealthy when we become codependent.
In this blog post, we will discuss what codependency is and the signs of codependency in different areas of our lives. Being more aware of these unconscious, codependent behaviors will help us break free from our unhealthy addiction to be needed by others.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is a term that is widely used in pop psychology. According to Dictionary.com, the meaning of codependent is of or relating to a relationship in which one person is physically or psychologically addicted, as to alcohol or gambling, and the other person is psychologically dependent on the first in an unhealthy way.
The keyword here is “addicted’. Codependency is an addiction just like alcohol or gambling addiction. Some called it “relationship addiction”.
To understand the term better, let’s look at its history.
The word “codependency” originates from the word “co-alcoholic”.
Co-alcoholic is used to describe the partner or family member of an alcoholic who enables the alcoholic to continue their addictive behaviors by helping them. For example, the co-alcoholic might give the alcoholics money when the alcoholics are broke and need to buy a drink.
The co-alcoholic partner helps the alcoholic solve all their problems that they can’t solve by themselves due to their addiction. Some co-alcoholic might even minimize or deny their partner’s drinking problem to prevent the alcoholic from hitting rock bottom. So that they can continue to be the one alcoholic depends on.
Later, the term “codependency” is created and expanded to include the support of other addictive and dysfunctional behaviors such as chronic gambling and substance abuse. Nowadays, it’s also used widely to describe the dynamics of other relationships such as friendship and work relationship.
So you don’t have to support an addictive behavior to be termed a codependent. Simply put, when you have a compulsive need to help someone at the expense of yourself, you are codependent.
What Is a Codependent Relationship?
Human beings depend on each other, right? So what’s wrong with that? To illustrate what codependency is, we can look at its opposite — an interdependent relationship.
A codependent relationship is very different from an interdependent relationship. People in an interdependent relationship take turns to lean on each other. When you are down, I lift you up. And when I’m down, you lift me up. There is a healthy exchange of giving and receiving. Depending on other people or supporting others don’t automatically make you a codependent.
However, in a codependent relationship, the codependent needs to be the caretaker, the giver, the problem-solver, and the rescuer in the relationship. And it’s not that the codependent doesn’t want anything out of the relationship. They do it more passively, expecting the other party to return their love after they have done their good deeds.
In extreme cases, the codependent wants to be the person that the dependent can’t live without.
Without me, you can’t survive!
Some codependent is so heavily invested in the other person’s problem that they might even get angry when the other person becomes independent and don’t need the codependent’s help anymore.
Or they might get jealous and possessive when the dependent is receiving help from someone else or getting close to others. That’s because they feel threatened and are afraid of being unwanted.
Read these books on codependency to find out more.
“Am I Codependent?” Quiz
Codependency behaviors can be subtle and easily gone unnoticed, especially if you don’t have the habit of being mindful. To test if you are codependent or not, go through the 10 signs of codependency in the next section. They are grouped in terms of the types of relationship:
- #1 and #2 are signs of codependency in general,
- #3 and #4 are signs of codependency in marriage and love relationship,
- #5 and #6 are signs of codependency in the workplace,
- #7 and #8 are signs of codependency in friendship,
- #9 and #10 are signs of codependency in parenting and family.
If any of the following resonates with you, you are probably a codependent in that relationship.
But being codependent is nothing to be ashamed of.
Many of us have codependent tendencies to a certain extent.
It’s just a matter of intensity and degree. When you realize that you have become too addicted and going down an unhealthy path, then examine your codependency habits and behaviors and get a grip on your addiction. That’s all. There’s no need to judge or shame yourself.
Here Are 10 Signs of Codependency:
1. You do things that the other person ought to or can do for themselves.
There is nothing wrong with helping others. But if you find yourself constantly taking over other people’s responsibilities, then you might have a codependency problem.
Codependents find it difficult to separate the other person’s responsibilities with their own responsibilities. They usually take other people’s problems as their own because they have poor boundaries. Sometimes, they would also rationalize their behaviors in such a way:
“If I don’t help them, they will not be able to manage their problems.”
They underestimate what the other person can and cannot do, and have exaggerated their role in someone else’s life.
Furthermore, responsibility is not even a matter of whether the person has the ability to do something or not. It’s about a person’s duty and accountability for their own life.
For example, it’s an employee’s responsibility to turn up for work on time. It’s not your duty to wake up your partner or your adult-child and make sure they reach their office on time. Even though you are helping the other person, you have crossed the line.
2. Your relationships are often one-sided and imbalanced.
Codependents maintain relationships that are one-sided. They structure their relationships in such a way that they are always the person giving. They find it uncomfortable to receive help from others, thinking that it’s selfish to ask and receive help.
Codependents often think it’s their job to make other people happy. So they place other people’s needs above theirs and keep giving until they overextend themselves.
You give until you hurt yourself.
When their actions are gone unnoticed, unappreciated, or unacknowledged, the codependent might feel secretly unappreciated, angry, and resentful.
They feel hurt that they are always the ones giving (even though they have positioned themselves as the giver in the first place). They might start to wonder if the other party truly cares about them or is just using them and taking them for granted.
3. In love relationships, you lose yourself in the other person.
Out of all the relationships, it’s the easiest to lose yourself in an intimate relationship. Codependents have weak or no boundaries. So when they get attached to another person, they merge with their partner and lose their own identity.
If you find yourself giving up on things that you love and are important to you or you lose contact with your friends and family after you are in a romantic relationship, this is something worth paying attention to.
Some codependents sacrifice their desires to match their partner’s preferences.
When you are in a codependent relationship, you organize your identity around another person. You might have opinions but you follow your partner’s opinions. You let your partner makes the decision on your behalf because you value what he or she thinks more than what you think. Your partner’s problems become your sole responsibilities.
There is no more “I”, there is only “we”. When you feel that you have to change and sacrifice all the time to fit your partner or you can’t function without him or her, you might have become codependent in your marriage or love relationship.
4. You are obsessed with controlling your partner’s behaviors.
Codependents have low self-esteem. Some codependent idealize and see their partner as one up to them. As mentioned previously, they follow their partner’s opinions and decision-making. These codependents are accommodating to their partners because they fear that their partners will abandon them.
But codependents can also be in a relationship with someone who they see as one down to them. The traditional definition of “codependency” captures the essence of these codependents. They find partners who have major flaws or problems in their life such as addiction and psychological issues or someone who appears to be weak and broken so that they can rescue and fix them.
Controlling behaviors can be covert.
Sometimes, it’s not easy to recognize your own controlling behaviors. Instead of expressing their desires directly, codependents can manipulate their partner to do what they want. For example, they might say, “If you love me, you wouldn’t do such things.” or “I’ve always been the one taking care of you, can’t you just do this one thing for me?”
These codependents want to control who their partner hangs out with and what they do so that they can remain as the sole person that their partner depends on and needs. If you realize that you are too preoccupied with how your partner behaves and you want to control their behaviors, this is a telltale sign that you have become codependent.
5. In the workplace, you are too involved in your colleagues’ work.
Codependents have a compulsive need to help others with their problems. So in a work setting, they are the ones who go around helping their colleagues and being over-involved in other people’s work instead of putting their own work a priority.
For codependent managers, they like to micromanage and have control over their subordinates’ work, rather than letting their subordinates be accountable for their own work.
There is no boundary between your work and your colleagues’ work.
People who help others in a healthy manner will not allow their work to be left undone. They make sure that their work is done before they help their colleagues. Or if their colleagues need urgent help, they will still ensure that their work can be done on time and not be too self-sacrificing or burn themselves out helping others.
Codependents, on the other hand, are attracted to other people’s crises. They go to whoever that needs immediate help, give their colleagues suggestions, and readily abandon their work. Subconsciously, doing their own work is too boring for codependents as it doesn’t give them any sense of acknowledgment from their peers.
6. You feel a sense of pride from helping others at work or you feel bad when you can’t.
There is no doubt that helping others makes us feel good. But for a codependent, there is something more than feeling good. You feel a sense of pride, achievement, and worthiness for helping others.
For some codependents, they display their pride externally. They do more than they are expected. They are keen to tell others how they have helped their colleagues at work and show how significant and important they are in their workplace.
For other codependents, pride is internal. In their minds, they perceive themselves as helpful and selfless. They feel bad and guilty when they aren’t able to help others. Or they feel that they are selfish when they care for themselves and don’t help others.
Your identity is tied to your act of helping others.
How you perceive yourself or how you see others perceive you depends on your ability to help others. Your self-esteem is based on conditions. You believe that to be loved, you need to be needed and wanted. And the only way to earn this love is to be of service to others.
Instead of loving yourself as you are regardless of what you do or don’t do, you believe that love needs to be earned. Deep down inside, you don’t feel that you deserve love. Therefore, you seek approval from others through your actions.
7. For friendships, you are drawn to needy people.
Codependents attract and have a tendency to collect needy people. They want others to depend on them and needy people fit the bill perfectly.
Instead of reflecting on their own issues, codependents are constantly worrying about their friends’ problems. They might spend hours researching their friends’ problems, trying to help them find a solution, giving them advice, and solving their problems for them.
Needy friends are good distractions to not look at our own life.
It’s easier to look at other people’s problems than our own. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be there for our friends when they need your help and emotional support. But we must realize we can’t be there for them 24/7.
To know if you are codependent, take an inventory of your closest friends.
- Are they always complaining to you about their life? Are your conversations with them always about them and their problems?
- Do they have endless problems for you to solve? And do they keep coming to you with the same, old problem?
- Do your friends make you feel drained? For example, do they expect you to reply to their messages immediately?
- Are your friends clingy? Do they need a lot of your time and attention?
8. You and your friends support each other’s bad behaviors.
Having needy friends don’t straightaway make you a codependent. Probably, the more important questions to ask are:
- Are you allowing your needy friends to complain, take up your time, and still encourage them to do so?
- Are you afraid to say no to them because you don’t want to hurt their feelings?
- And are you too available for your friends that you neglect yourself and sacrifice your schedules for them?
If yes, then you are codependent.
A healthy friendship will nurture and help both parties grow.
We remind each other to take care of ourselves and share knowledge on how to do so.
Codependent friendship, on the other hand, will strengthen both parties’ bad behaviors and habits. Your needy friends get to complain and play the victim, while you empathize with them and be a good friend. You don’t get to learn how to assert and take care of your needs because your needy friends will make you feel guilty. But this only strengthens your tolerance for behaviors that hurt you.
Not all friendships will be nourishing and nurturing. Most of them are neutral. But if your friendship depletes you and stops you from growth, examine whether there is codependency.
9. As a parent, you are not letting your adult-children lead their own life.
Even though the term “codependency” is usually used in a love relationship, it’s rather common to develop a codependency relationship with your child.
When your child is a newborn, your duty is to take care of your child. Your child is helpless and needs you for survival. It makes perfect sense for the child to depend on you.
However, when your child becomes an adult, you need to let go and allow them to take responsibility and make their own decisions. If they make mistakes, they have to be accountable for it and learn to overcome their problems without you. This is difficult for some parents because they still feel responsible for their child’s well-being.
Controlling is often mistaken as caring.
When children become teenagers and start to have their own ideas about things, this is a scary time for codependent parents. Suddenly, they lose control of their kids. They can’t control where their kids go, the friends that their kids meet, the career and course that the kids choose, and etc. Even though they might impose restrictions on their kids, ultimately they don’t have control.
And it’s not easy for parents to see their own controlling behaviors. They are more likely to see that they are helping their children lead a better life and suggesting what’s good for them. What they don’t realize is underneath the “caring” behaviors, there are intense fear and attachment to their child.
Their happiness is tied so tightly around their children’s happiness that their adult-children can do no wrong. This “right” or “wrong” depends on the codependent parents’ view of what “right” and “wrong” and it’s not from the perspective of their adult-child. If this is true for you, then you are controlling your adult-child to help you cope with your negative feelings.
10. Your adult-child is overly dependent on you.
If you are codependent, you might find that one or more of your adult-children is overly dependent on you. They don’t work and earn a living. They live with you and expect you to do things for them. They ask you for money and you give it to them because you think how else are they going to survive without a job.
Or rather, how else are they going to survive without you?
You blame your adult-children for making you unhappy.
You see yourself as a victim. But the sad truth is you didn’t prepare your child for the next stage of their life. You didn’t set boundaries with your child and now that they have become adults, they feel entitled to be taken care of. Whatever that is yours, they feel that it belongs to them. They don’t know how to live without you because you never teach them how.
Your excessive care-taking only taught them how to rely on you and now it has become a habit. You feel guilty when you say no and don’t meet your child’s wants. You can’t enforce your boundaries and quick to remove them as you want to be liked by your child and don’t want them to be angry at you.
There is no motivation for your adult-child to change, grow, and do something because you have done or will do everything for them. If you have weak parental limits, it’s highly likely that you are a codependent parent.
Featured Photo Credit: UACM San Lorenzo / ismael villafranco