Martin fell in love with Diana when they were 23 and 20 years respectively. Martin got attracted to Diana because she was orphaned and taking care of her two younger siblings. Apart from the fact that he thought she was responsible, he felt he was better placed to help Diana raise her siblings since he had a job and she didn’t.

When they got married, Diana stayed home to take care of her siblings and the husband continued to work. Three years down the line, they had two children of their own and a household of 6 members in total to care for. Martin started feeling overwhelmed by his situation and felt like the wife was comfortable, doing nothing to improve their situation.

On the other hand, Diana felt helpless and wondered what is it she needed to do. She felt the work of the husband is to provide for the family while the wife was to support him. Even when it was clear that the burden was too unbearable for Martin, Diana did not do anything to make the situation better.

Martin, being a first born raised by a father who was struggling with alcohol addiction, took up the role of taking care of his younger brother and mother who both had no source of income. He felt very guilty saying no even to his brother who could use all the money on alcohol. When asked, the brother blamed his problem on joblessness and the father who was absent in his life.

Martin was getting tired but found it very difficult to share his feelings with his family or his wife. He felt unloved, unappreciated and overworked. Everyone praised him and regarded him a hero because he cared so much and helped anyone who came his way, something that led him into accumulating many debts.

At work where he was a supervisor, his juniors praised his goodness. He would severally warn them of misconduct yet he took no actions. When some failed to report to work, he would end up covering for them because he couldn’t imagine them losing their jobs.

These characteristics described above are synonymous with codependency. Codependency is a behavioral condition caused by unhealed childhood trauma whereby an adult attempt to meet their bonding needs on other people. ( These bonding needs are supposed to be provided by parents.

Dr. Hemfelt in his book “Love is a choice” puts it this way; it is the responsibility of two parents to fill the love tanks of their children. If the two love tanks of the parents are empty or very low, the child will only get very little on its love tank. These children who get so low are always looking out for someone who can fully fill the tank, or add to the love tank.

 Symptoms of co-dependency.

  1. Inability to leave relationships that are hurtful, controlling and demeaning.
  2. Taking blame for what others have done –  an example is the case of Martin, he constantly owned to his juniors’ absenteeism afraid that they would lose their salaries and end up like his family.
  3. Inability to speak one’s thoughts, feelings and needs for fear of rejection.
  4. Forgetting, neglecting or delaying self needs to meet other people’s needs before yours.
  5. Depending on what others say about you to feel good about self.
  6. Difficulty in being vulnerable making it hard for them to experience intimacy.
  7. Feeling of need to save and rescue others from their troubles- they tell themselves that if they do not intervene, the person will not find help.
  8. Codependents find it difficult saying ‘no’ to loved ones.
  9. Even when codependents do very well, they still second guess themselves.
  10. They are dealing with one or more addictions to numb the pain caused by the attachments they never got during their childhood.
  11. Codependents control those close to them – they expect people to behave in a certain way for them to feel okay.
  12. They experience so much shame and have their self-worth and self-confidence challenged.
  13. They often feel they do not deserve the very opportunities that they have.
  14. They do not take responsibility in areas of challenge, they blame someone else for their own issues.
  15. Codependents use magical thinking- if I improve on this area, the other will automatically change certain behavior and get better.
  16. Addiction to caregiving – they are not attracted to stable individuals (these appear boring to them), they attract people who are in need of some fixing. (those challenges and instabilities give them a high as they figure out how to fix them)
  17. Self-made guilt trip where codependents believe the reason why anything negative happens to them is because they are not okay or they actually attracted it.

Who is more prone to codendancy.

  1. Firstborns.
  2. Parentified children– these are the children who were given the parenting roles because their parents were at work, the parents worked away, the children were too many that the parenting roles were divided or because parents were incapacitated in some way, are more likely to be codependents.
  3. Children whose parents had addiction issues.
  4. Children of parents with untreated and unmanaged mental illness.
  5. Heavily criticized children.
  6. Family heroes/ saviours – they are high achievers who work so hard to change their lives and that of their families.
  7. Children from violent homes.
  8. Abandoned children – children whose parents were emotionally unavailable.

By Joan Kirera- Family Therapist. For more visit: Facebook: joan kirera, YouTube: joan kirera

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