What is a codependent relationship?
A codependent relationship is dysfunctional because it does not favour personal growth and development. When in one, you are bound to feel a sense of discontent, as your needs are not being met. Codependent relationships are not made of heroes and villains. Those who put others’ needs before their own have obscure motivations that go beyond limitless kindness. The considered bad guys, or those who receive devoted attention and often unsolicited help, have vulnerabilities that go beyond selfishness and self-centredness. The codependent relationship dynamic is complex, far from static and cannot be fully understood through such simplistic terms.
The main vulnerability of those involved in codependent relationships is weak boundaries. Even though that is easily identifiable in the case of the giver, since their dedication to the other seems to have no bounds, it is also present in the receiver. Those who depend on givers’ dedication and effort to feel a sense of worth and connection do so because of their inability to nurture that autonomously. When you are greatly reliant on external sources for your wellbeing, the boundaries between yourself, others, and the world around you are porous, which often leads to all kinds of dependences, including emotional and relational.
Weak boundaries are deeply intertwined to high expectations, bad communication and a lot of mind reading. Since there is no clear separation of individual needs, both giver and receiver often feel dissatisfied in the relationship. The giver often feels that their dedication and effort are not matched by the receiver, while the latter may feel overwhelmed with the responsibility to match them or feel stuck with their reliance on them. Because of their fear of rejection and abandonment and poor self-regulation, both giver and receiver lack the tools to express themselves emotionally, resolve conflict and feel heard, seen and felt.
If you find yourself in a codependent relationship and would like to change that dynamic, start by working on becoming more emotionally mature. The focus of emotionally mature individuals is on learning how to tolerate discomfort felt in their own bodies, rather than psychoanalysing and fixing the other. You can achieve that through emotional autonomy, by allowing yourself to feel and process your negative feelings, such as anger and insecurity, while resisting the urge to soothe yourself through validation from external sources, be it through reassuring your worth through your dedication to others or depending on givers to feel loved and safe in relationships.