The term codependency was originally coined to describe interpersonal dynamics between a chemically dependent person and his/her caretaker. This definition has since been expanded to encompass any relationship in which there is a loss of self. In general,
Five main dimensions dominate the professional literature on codependency:
1. Codependent individuals typically focus on others to the point of self-neglect. This tendency may manifest itself as attempting to control others, taking responsibility for meeting the needs of others, and having enmeshed relationships with others.
2. Codependent individuals have a low sense of self-worth. This low self-esteem often results from feelings of shame. These individuals attempt to gain their self-esteem through the approval of others or vicariously through the success of significant others. Attempts to increase self-worth are also sought through their willingness to “suffer” for the sake of others.
3. Codependent individuals have dysfunctional relational dynamics in their family of origin. This dysfunction may include childhood abuse, enmeshment, authoritarian parenting styles, and non-nurturance. Children growing up in dysfunctional families learn to survive in their home environments by being overly sensitive to the needs of others. Frequently the parent-child roles are reversed so that the child is forced to demonstrate parentified behaviors as they take care of needy parents. The child learns that fixing the problems of other people is a means of preserving one’s self-worth.
4. Codependent individuals develop a false self that serves to hide the true self. Since these individuals focus almost exclusively on the needs of others, their personal identity is unable to form. These individuals deny feelings and thoughts that pose a risk of rejection by significant others. A false self emerges that is compatible with the self that others will approve and accept. After prolonged hiding of the true self, an individual is rarely able to distinguish his/her real self from that of others.
5. Codependent individuals are preoccupied with real or imagined medical problems. As a result of neglecting personal needs, mismanaging anxiety surrounding relationships, experiencing associated feelings of shame and low self-worth, and hiding true self, these individuals tend to manifest their relational dysfunction as somatic complaints.
Some consider codependency to be a personality style, perhaps even synonymous with dependent personality style. Others consider it to be a social construct, an unfortunate result of social inequality and socialized gender role. One thing is clear: As prevalent as the notion of codependency is, this construct warrants careful consideration.