People often think of addiction when they hear about codependency. Codependents are notorious for being drawn to people who have addictions. Codependency is characterized by helplessness, denial and indecisiveness. Codependents have an excessive need to be taken care of, are often clingy and fear separation.
Approval from others is more important for codependents than respecting themselves.
Codependents grow up in dysfunctional families. The are often taught to supress their own needs to please a difficult parent. This sets up a pattern of trying to get love from a difficult person.
Becoming a stepmother presents challenges for most. When a codependent becomes a stepmother, those same challenges can present the same scenario as when a codependent marries an alcoholic. Her self-worth can get tied to how her husband and her stepchildren behave toward her.
A mistake many women make when marrying a men with children, is trying to win the children’s approval or acceptance. The children may be resistant to their new stepmother’s attempts to befriend them. The children may feel as thought they are being replaced, that they have less value to their fathers, and that they are being forced to share their father’s time/love/energy/money with an outsider. It’s common for stepchildren to struggle with these feelings and very often their behaviors will reflect their feelings.
For a woman who has a strong sense of self, who is skilled at protecting her emotions and who is able to not take these struggles personally, she will have an easier time navigating through the challenges that come with being in a blended family.
However, rejection can make a codependent only try harder, particularly if she is unaware of why she is struggling to hard to win their approval. The chase can take a large toll on these women. Part of the problem, is that very often codependents don’t recognize their own traits or they are in denial. Instead, they keep trying to gain their stepchildren’s affections because they believe their have good intentions.
These women can become so consumed by what everyone in her blended family thinks of her, that she never gets a true perspective of who she really is. Is she the witch that Bobbie tells her friends that she is? Is she really the gold digger that Derrick told his buddies that she is? Is she jealous like the ex-wife says? Is she just a trophy wife like her mother-in-law said? Rather than jumping to defend herself from the accusations, a codependent needs to be proactive about getting help.
Codependents can benefit from setting boundaries, finding happiness as individuals, setting individual goals and accomplishing them, and spending time with friends and family to broaden their circle of support. Therapy can help a codependent realize why they put everyone else’s needs/opinions before their own. Resolving codependency can improve relationships, improve self-esteem and decrease depress/anxiety.
Following is a list of symptoms of codependents. You needn’t have them all to qualify as codependent. (1)
- Low self-esteem.Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
- People-pleasing. It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
- Poor boundaries.Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.
- Reactivity. A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
- Caretaking. Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.
- Control.Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control.Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.
- Dysfunctional communication. Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.
- Obsessions.Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”Sometimes you can lapse into fantasy about how you’d like things to be or about someone you love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps you from living your life.
- Dependency. Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
- Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem.Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy. Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.
- Problems with intimacy. By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
- Painful emotions. Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment,depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.
If you are a stepmother and you are struggling in your stepfamily, please take a moment to consider if you are a codependent. Often the answer for stepmothers who meet tremendous resistance is to learn to disengage, or to take a step back. For codependents, taking a step back may seem counter-intuitive. You always want to do more, to help out, or to make someone happy. However, disengaging can often bring peace to the stepfamily and also give a codependent stepmother some help in disconnecting from negative behaviors. It might be the break you need to gather your thoughts, realize who you really are and to become the person you want to be rather than leaving that up to someone else.