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Co-dependency and Attachment
Co-dependency is a term applied to summarise someone who continuously puts other people’s wants, needs and feelings ahead of their own and endlessly pleases others to achieve approval, even when it affects their everyday life and mental health.
For people with co-dependent predispositions, the risk and thought of someone they value important leaving them will feel unbearable, evoke deep feelings of fear and panic. Fear of abandonment is a primal and overwhelming emotion that can flood in at the thought that they will be completely alone. It will feel like the person leaving is essentially taking their self-worth, safety and purpose.
Interestingly after the initial struggles, the end of a co-dependent relationship might bring a sense of relief and freedom from the pressure of continuously pleasing others and seeking validation, creating a sense of calm and personal space
Co-dependency is often linked with anxious attachment.
- Secure attachment – Secure attachment is the healthiest form and defines an attachment where a child feels reassured by the presence of their parent or carer. Securely attached children may show little signs of distress when their parent or carer leaves, however, they quickly compose themselves when the caregiver or parent returns. Overall, the child feels protected and assured that they will return.
- Insecure attachment – Those with an insecure attachment type have trouble creating emotional relationships and connections with others. It can appear as aggression or unpredictable behaviour towards their loved ones, which roots back to a lack of consistent love and affection experienced in their childhood.
- Avoidant attachment – Avoidant attachment styles are independent, self-directed and intimacy or intimate situations can leave the person feeling very uncomfortable. Avoidant attachment types regularly criticise when they deem the relationship to be “too close” and complain they feel “suffocated”.
- Attachment trauma – Attachment trauma defines the disruption of the important process of bonding between a baby or child and his or her parent or caregiver. The break of the bond can include covert abuse or neglect, or less obvious disruptions including lack of affection or response from the parent or carer, which as a result can lead to attachment trauma.
Attachment trauma and co-dependency
Co-dependency can have many causes including childhood experiences, unhealthy relationships, dysfunctional family dynamics and attachment trauma.
Attachment trauma is a disconnect in the process where a baby or child bonds with his or her parent or guardian. Attachment trauma includes lack of affection, lack of attention, neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and abandonment.
Co-dependency can be in connection with early attachment trauma.
Childhood traumas can lead to prolonged periods of self-neglect throughout a person’s life, focusing upon the needs of others to cover up issues with oneself. It is often found that this coping mechanism will create emotional, behavioural and psychological problems in all or most relationships.
Dealing with and facing past traumas can be exceptionally painful. Therapy can provide a helping hand to enable the person to talk through their past experiences and feelings, easing the process so the person can begin to finally heal.
Whose fault is my co-dependent relationship?
It is no one’s fault. The relational bond between two people will co-create a co-dependent relationship, where one partner will deliberately or unconsciously take advantage of the other, and the other compromising their own self-worth and minimising negative behavioural patterns.
It is always important and healthy for everyone to feel and consider their relationship and partners as an ongoing choice.
“Codependency is a circular relationship in which one person needs the other person, who in turn, needs to be needed. The codependent person, known as ‘the giver,’ feels worthless unless they are needed by – and making sacrifices for – the enabler, otherwise known as ‘the taker.’” – Dr Exelberg
It is imperative for co-dependent people to develop understanding and awareness of their own needs and capacity to convey and communicate them. Separateness, individuation and clear boundaries in taking and allocating responsibility can be a slow process in a co-dependent relationship.
Co-dependent relationships have some short term pay offs but long term complexities and negative effects on one’s mental health.
Therapy has been incredibly effective in helping couples to make positive changes to better their relationships in their life via individual, couples and family therapy.
How do I know if I am Co-dependent?
You might experience a disconnect with how you feel as a result of being anxious and obsessed with how others feel. Making decisions can be difficult without consulting your partner due to concerns for how they will react or about their disapproval.
As with every aspect of human experience – there is a wide spectrum of thinking, feeling and choices that might sum up into problematic and co-dependent relationships and that might lead to lack of self-esteem or self-worth, even to an acceptance of abuse from partners and/or family members.
Signs of Co-dependency include:
- Finding it hard to make decisions
- Struggling to identify one’s own feelings
- Fear of abandonment
- Having poor self-esteem and/or faith in yourself
- Taking on responsibility for other people’s choices
- Revolving life around relationships
- Problems communicating effectively in relationships
- Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself
How therapy can help
A person showing these signs can question whether they ‘will always be in co-dependent relationships with unhealthy attachments?.’ The short answer is no. The first step of breaking out of a co-dependent relationship is acknowledgment. The next step is doing something about it and seeking help and advice. Therapy will help with putting one’s own feelings first and discovering their own values and wants. Therapy can also support and teach a healthy approach to relationships and look deeper into why someone is co-dependent and what past issues could have come into play to result in attachment anxieties.
At the Leone Centre, an initial assessment can be made for an online or in person counselling session from a choice of highly experienced therapists who are here to help. Call us now on 0203 930 1007 or alternatively click on the Leone Centre scheduling link.