What is Codependency?
Oxford Dictionary defines codependency as excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one who requires support on account of an illness or addiction. However, Bridgit Dengel Gaspard, LCSW, has a franker way of defining it.
Gaspard states, “Codependency is having a weak sense of self.”
While that may come across as harsh to some people, it is true. As someone who spent fifteen years being codependent, I can attest to what Gaspard is saying. During that time, I had extremely low self-esteem, hadn’t a clue who I was—outside of who I felt I was supposed to be, according to society—and practically no self-compassion or awareness. That said, I relied on the love and affirmation of others to define my worth and reinforce everything that I lacked from within.
Gaspard continues by saying, “Often, people with codependency are filled with vague anxiety and dread related to their underlying anxious attachment style. They define themselves and their ability to function in terms of their perception of how a relationship is doing—and that could be with their boss, sibling, neighbor, or partner. They will do just about anything to stay in the relationship and will relentlessly try to please that person, to regulate their emotions.”
When we analyze codependent behavior through the lens of emotional intelligence, it’s apparent that there is a lack of self-awareness, self-compassion, self-esteem, or worth. The common factor? Self. Just as Gaspard candidly conveyed.
Unfortunately, when we behave co-dependently, we often do not realize that we lack a strong sense of self. In fact, according to research conducted by Tasha Eurich, ninety-five percent of us believe we are self-aware, while approximately ten percent of us are—on a good day. This can make addressing our unmet needs and core problems even more challenging.
So, what might we notice if we are subconsciously exhibiting codependent behavior?
Common signs of people who are codependent:
Difficulty identifying their feelings or emotions
A compelling need to control others (what they wear, where they go, who they hang out with)
A need to always know their another’s whereabouts
A display of mania ‘love’—an obsessive and emotionally dependent form of love
Lack of trust in self or others
An extreme need for acceptance and recognition
Easily hurt feelings when people do not accept their display of affection
Lack healthy boundaries
An overwhelming need to solve others’ problems
Find change difficult/rigid
Chronic anxiety related to the relationship
Or “If you’re wondering if you’re codependent, see if you answer yes to this question,” says Gaspard. “Is it true that if Person X appears… unhappy, upset, withdrawn, evasive, sad, rude, or otherwise unengaged, you feel like you can’t fully function?”
If the answer is yes, you are likely exhibiting codependent behavior.
“Even if you don’t know any details of the situation with that person, you frantically review how it’s probably your fault and how you can fix it. This is a way to live the life of the other person, rather than embody your life and take care of yourself. In its heightened state, some people with codependency will start catastrophizing by leaping to the conclusion (with no evidence) that they have already been abandoned and fall into a pit of doom and despair,” concludes Gaspard.
How might we overcome codependency?
Codependency is a learned behavior which means it can be unlearned. Although, being able to effectively address and correct for the cause of our codependent behavior is much easier said than done. Because we likely lack awareness and a sense of self, we will need to develop a foundation of self-love to help us manage the intense emotions that may arise as we begin to unpack and address the source of our unhealthy behavior.
Self-love starts with realizing that you are not broken. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with you. You are simply on a journey to discovering who you are and the hidden power within you through curiosity and expanding your level of awareness.
You can begin to develop your awareness by asking yourself insightful questions.
What is it that you seek within others? Your answer will indicate what you lack in yourself. The next question might be, What is preventing me from having ___ for myself?
What would that look like?
What is preventing me from giving that to myself?
You can continue to unpack these questions, with the help of a trained therapist like Bridgit Dengel Gaspard or other experienced specialists.
Emotional Intelligence Magazine™ would like to thank Bridgit Dengel Gaspard, LCSW, for her insight. She is the author of The Final 8th: Enlist Your Inner Selves to Accomplish Your Goals—published by New World Library, the same publishers as Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now—and founder of the New York Voice Dialogue Institute. Bridgit is a former performer who earned a Master's degree from Columbia University and teaches in numerous professional settings, including Omega Institute. She lives in New York City, where she maintains a thriving private practice. Talking selves or "alter egos" with Bridgit has inspired audiences at wellness summits and, most recently, at the Queen's World Film Festival in Judith and Friends.