A Primer on Codependency

How to achieve self-improvement for healthier relationships.

Posted Jun 11, 2019

The first discussions and research into codependency were completed with spouses of alcoholics. In fact, many researchers see the early concept of codependency in the work of psychoanalyst Karen Horney, who practiced psychotherapy in the United States from 1932 until her death in 1952.

Horney, as well as the mental health professionals that followed, saw codependency as a coping mechanism, although it has been enhanced from its limited scope in early studies. While not considered a diagnosis on its own, codependency is seen as a subclinical and situational behavior condition. With characteristics of over-caring, inability to set boundaries, and the overwhelming need to feel acceptance and affection, recovery from codependency is a combination of unlearning behaviors and learning new, healthy and effective behaviors for the present and future. 

Recovery Process 

The recovery process for a codependent is very personal and individual. Codependency includes a set of long-held and used behaviors, some dating back to early childhood in dysfunctional families. 

Simply telling yourself to change a behavior only provides a temporary solution. Stress, anxiety, being overwhelmed, or being in the presence of a manipulative narcissist can trigger those old codependent behaviors again, and this needs to be considered at all times through recovery.

Initially, working with a psychotherapist to uncover the deeply hidden aspect of the codependent behavior is essential. Typically during this initial phase of recovery, the therapist recommends avoiding all types of dating relationships and working on building healthy relationships with your support network and healthy family members. 

At some point in time, when you have built up your self-confidence, developed the ability to set boundaries and stick to those boundaries, and learned to listen to yourself and trust in your ability to be independent, you are in a better place to start looking for a prospective relationship. 

The Codependency Challenge 

It is safe to say that a person who has been codependent in the past has to remain focused on not becoming codependent again in the future. Taking the time and doing the work to learn new coping strategies, to practice self-care and to put yourself first is definitely important, but it is also critical to learn to spot the early signs of a narcissist or someone who is not a healthy dating partner.

A life coach or therapist is an excellent choice to assist you in staying on your positive personal growth plan. Each one of these professionals can also be a way to hold a mirror up to a relationship and to determine if the new partner is a wonderful, mentally healthy, attentive person or someone who is also playing out a pattern of behavior that is comfortable, familiar and initially very attractive to you through your past codependency.  

These professionals can also help you to assess when you are ready to move into the world of dating. There is no magic deadline or timeline, but it is important to take all the time you need and only move forward when you are emotionally, mentally, and physically ready.