Teens and adults alike can sometimes mistake codependency for love. While love is grounded in mutual respect and enjoyment, codependency is characterized by neediness and control issues. Codependency often begins in dysfunctional families where there is substance abuse, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, chronic mental or physical illness or a hypercritical atmosphere, according to Mental Health America, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people live mentally healthier lives. In families with these problems, people have a lot of painful feelings but lack permission to talk about them, leading to unhealthy relationship behaviors.
Teens sometimes need to take on extra responsibility at home to cover up for an addicted or otherwise unavailable parent. Sometimes they take this behavior into their other relationships. Codependents display three characteristics related to an out-of-balance sense of responsibility. They have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others; a tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue; and a tendency to do more than their share, all of the time. A fourth characteristic is a result of the first three: they have a tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts. Sometimes they do so much they make it too easy for the other person not to give their fair share.
People from chaotic backgrounds are prone to codependency. Because of the turmoil surrounding their home lives, they often develop a fear of abandonment and four related characteristics. Codependents have an unhealthy dependence on relationships; they will do anything to hold on to a relationship to avoid the feeling of abandonment; they have an extreme need for approval and recognition; and they experience a sense of guilt when asserting themselves. The guilt comes about because they have learned if they stick up for themselves, the people they love will abandon or harm them.
Codependents learn to repress their feelings and find it difficult to talk about their feelings or problems. This leads to the next three characteristics: chronic anger, lying or dishonesty, and poor communication. While many codependents may not realize they are dishonest, since they had to push down their feelings and were often expected to cover up for family members who were abusive or abusing substances for so long, they failed to learn how to speak truthfully about their feelings or what was going on. Repressing feelings and excessive care giving both often result in chronic anger.
Codependents often display four more characteristics. They have difficulty identifying feelings; they are rigid and have difficulty adjusting to change; they have problems with intimacy and boundaries; and they have difficulty making decisions. Problems with intimacy in the teen years often manifest as engaging in sexual behavior just to please the other person. Boundary problems may mean you have a problem saying no or accepting when other people say no. People who think they might be codependent often find it helpful to talk to a counselor or therapist. They can also attend a self-help group called Codependents Anonymous.
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