Diary of a Doormat: Cut the Codependency

We all know her. She’s up at dawn, making breakfast for the whole family, and doesn’t complain when there are no eggs left for her. She speeds to work, hoping her boss isn’t mad if she’s a few minutes late, but pulls over to take a call from Johnny at school. She leaves work early because her husband wants her to run an errand. She’s a servant to everyone but herself.

Some call her codependent.  

What does it mean?

Codependence is a state of mind where you maintain relationships by carrying all or most of the responsibility for pleasing others. Your friendships and family dynamics are one-sided, where you worry about satisfying each of the other members, while getting little in return.

It’s known as “relationship addiction,” says Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit organization. “(Codependency) is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.”

Who Has It?

It may be a spouse who’s codependent and sometimes it can even lead to verbal or physical abuse, where one partner badgers or harms the other. The codependent partner tends to accept it rather than resist.

The term had its origin in the recovery community and is used, at times, to describe domestic violence victims. Sometimes codependent behaviors are formed when a person is living with an alcoholic or an individual with a chemical dependency, or even a family member with a mental illness.

In psychoanalysis, the word is often utilized to explain dysfunctional dynamics within a home or family. Today, however, the term has broadened to describe any codependent person from any dysfunctional family.

What is a Dysfunctional Family?

Mental Health America says a dysfunctional family tends to ignore the fact that members are suffering from:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Pain
  • Shame

In dysfunctional families there are sometimes individuals who have an addiction to gambling, drugs, food, sex or alcohol. There may also be sexual abuse occurring, which can contribute to one member becoming codependent.

One phenomenon seen in codependent persons is they see themselves as “survivors,” and several members of the family often show arrested emotional development. Feelings are denied and repressed, with an attempt to avoid any negative emotion.

The codependent family member takes care of everyone else, sacrificing needs of their own to benefit others.

How Do Codependent People Feel?

Losing their sense of self is one of the results of behaving as a codependent person, according to Mental Health America.  

A codependent individual’s self-image is based upon the view others have of them. When they make others around them happy they’re rewarded, and the positive reinforcement causes them to continue their selfless serving. Ideally, those with codependence issues would surround themselves with people who they can still make happy -- but by kicking back, putting their feet up and being catered to now and then.