Updated 17 September 2015

Are you addicted to your relationship?

In a relationship it can be difficult to differentiate healthy concern from obsessive behaviour. Identifying co-dependency can be difficult but addressing it will help to get your relationship back on track.


Our relationships deliver the most important value in our lives, and we know how important it is to make them a priority.  But what happens, when you go over the edge to find that you have an unhealthy obsessiveness about the people in your life?

Although co-dependency is common, identifying it is arduous challenge in itself because, as Mindfulness-Based Coach and Facilitator, Mandy Johnson points out: the condition is heavily characterised by denial with the co-dependent person insisting that problems they face can only be solved by another person or a different situation.  Mandy, who is one of the speakers at SACAP’s upcoming Psychology Festival of Learning, says that co-dependency commonly originates in dysfunctional families.  “In order to survive our wounding in childhood, we lose our authentic selves and replace it with a pseudo self, which then runs our life. Increasingly this disconnected way of living results in a feeling of deep emptiness that needs to be filled from the outside.” 

  This neediness for the approval of others and constant obsessing about others leads to a blindness towards self and a compulsiveness that is always about someone else.  “The clients I work with report feeling a deep sense of ‘not enough-ness’”, continues Mandy, “In the same way as addicts need their substances for relief, the co-dependent person needs relationships and to be validated by other people for relief.” According to Mandy, the compulsivity often results in out of control, risky and self-destructive behaviour with co-dependent people staying too long in harmful situations.  “This pattern is characteristic of all addictions.”

Unmasking Co-dependency

The good news is that, like other addictions, it is possible to recover from co-dependency.  The first major step is to acknowledge the issue.  Typical characteristics of co-dependent people include suffering from:

-   Low self-esteem often resulting in relying on others' approval for your sense of self-worth

-   Inability to experience and set functional boundaries including internal boundaries

-   Difficulty experiencing life realistically causing reality to be distorted by fantasy, projections and other psychological defence mechanisms

-   Inability to take appropriate care of your own needs and wants, and often an inability to know what your real needs actually are

-   An inability to express feelings and emotions moderately  often resulting in allowing resentment and anger to build until breaking point or illness

-   Frequent painful emotions including shame, anger, resentment, fear and anxiety about being judged, rejected or abandoned, depression, hopelessness and despair Dysfunctional communication where the truth about your feelings, thoughts and needs are not spoken out of fear of being rejected and abandoned.

“Recovery is a process which allows the co-dependent person to reconnect with their authentic selves.” Mandy says “They get to identify their true needs. They learn how to set functional boundaries and start a process of being kinder to themselves. They learn to live with honesty and to be congruent with their thoughts, values and feelings. They cultivate ‘inner intimacy’ and free themselves of the need to get approval and affirmation outside of themselves. They learn to let be and trust the flow of life.”

 Mandy will be talking about “Unmasking co-dependency” on Thursday, 10th September 2015 at SACAP’s Cape Town campus. Engaging for Change is the theme for the annual Psychology Festival of Learning, which will be hosted by SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) at their Johannesburg campus on 8 and 9 September and at their Cape Town campus from 10 to 12 September. Tickets for the Psychology Festival of Learning as well as the programme with speakers details and topics are available on the website.

Read more:

Is this depression? 

Lonely in relationship  

- Relationships can make you sick


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