Codependency: The Aftermath Of A Broken Childhood

How codependency can develop in relationships after a traumatic childhood.

Have you ever considered that you might be codependent?

It was a question I certainly wasn’t ready for, but I suppose I should have expected it. After all, I am paying my therapist to ask me these types of questions – to dive deeper into my damaged psyche.

I had heard the word before and I had an idea of what it meant, but certainly, I couldn’t be codependent… could I?

I never saw myself as someone who relied on others, as someone who desperately needed to fix others to feel good about myself. I considered codependency a weakness.

Ironically that happens to be one of the major signs of a codependent person.

The Recovery Village is a renowned rehab facility that helps addicts fight addiction and guides the family through the process. They define codependency as “an unhealthy or obsessive dependence of another person, or a willingness to sacrifice one’s wants and needs to please another to feel loved or validated.”

Often, codependent relationships begin with families where stress or dysfunction poisons the family. For example, a mother who has a substance abuse disorder or a father who inflicted years of trauma onto his significant other and children.

I was a part of one of those families.

After my parents got divorced, I would spend a week with my mom and then a week with my dad. This was when I truly found out who he was because my mom was no longer there to cover up his bad habits.

I watched my dad drown himself in alcohol almost every night. I watched him blow money away so he could gamble and then find a new woman to live with every month because we didn’t have anywhere else to go. These women never particularly liked me, and they made it clear when they would lock me in my room with no dinner.

I spent 12 years watching him, sometimes even defending him even when I knew he was wrong. I spent 12 years of my life watching and learning all of his bad habits.

This is how codependency begins, by watching and imitating other family members who display unhealthy behaviors.

According to an article published by the U.S. Army, over 90% of the American population demonstrates codependent behavior, and a study by Crester and Lobardo (1999) found that nearly half of surveyed college students displayed middle or high codependent characteristics.

And I’m willing to bet that 90% of the American population has no idea what codependency truly means. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about codependency is that it is only prevalent in relationships where alcoholism or substance abuse are involved when in reality, codependency can stem from several things.

People can be codependent on drugs, alcohol, sex, and even food.

For example, when I was a child, and my father was still involved in my life, he was a health teacher. Every day he planned out his meals and he wouldn’t eat any sweets or fatty foods unless it was Saturday – those were his cheat days. He woke up every morning at 5:30 a.m. and worked out… and then again later in the afternoon.

One day, my mom bought me GoGurt’s and I distinctly remember my dad say, “Why would you buy those for her? If she eats those, she’s going to get fat.”

That’s when I became codependent on food. I constantly tried to fill some void I had within me. It almost felt like I became codependent on food just to prove a point – No, you can’t stop me. Watch me eat all of this and not get fat Dad!

Then, when my dad gave up his parental rights in 2013, I realized I could not change him no matter how hard I tried. The hurt I carried from that followed me into my teen and adult years.

That’s when my other codependent relationship began. My codependency on broken people.

I found people who needed fixing and I thrived off trying to put their pieces back together. All the while I completely ignored how broken I was and the things about myself that I needed to fix.

I dated boys who didn’t really love me, and I clung to friends who supported my bad behavior - the same behavior my dad always showed.

I felt an electric current go through my body when I got approval and validation from others and I felt like I was sinking when I didn’t receive it.

Whenever somebody said something, I didn’t agree with I would get defensive and absorb their words until they were the only thoughts I had in my head. Replaying it over and over again until I felt I was no longer adequate in that person’s mind.

Telling someone “no” made me feel like they would no longer like me - and the only way I knew how to get people to like me was by swallowing who I truly was and pleasing anybody and everybody that needed my help.

These are all symptoms of codependency according to Psych Central. Some other symptoms include low self-esteem, poor boundaries, caretaking, control, obsessions, and denial.

It took me a long time to finally come to terms with the fact that I am a codependent person. It took me an even longer time to acknowledge that there are toxic traits about myself that I also need to change and that not everyone around me needs fixing.

If not treated properly, codependency can lead many to very unhealthy relationships. Which in turn will just cause the relentless cycle to continue.

It’s not an easy cycle to break. I know, because I am still trying to break it. But it can be done.

My therapist recommended I read a book titled Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie. I was hesitant at first, unsure if I was ready to uncover all the trauma I had packed tightly in a box in the back of my head. However, upon reading it, I discovered so many things about myself that ultimately have without a doubt made me more self-aware of my codependent traits.

If you or someone you know has codependent tendencies, be patient and kind. Remember that this is a result of years of trauma and patterns that have been ingrained in who they are. 

It’s something I think many of us go through and don’t even realize. 

It is not a weakness; you are stronger than the dependency you have leaned on your whole life. Do not let the fear of change hold you back from breaking the cycle. Push through. Persevere.

You are the only one you can depend on. Always remember that. 

No Saves yet. Share it with your friends.

Write Your Diary

Get Free Access To Our Publishing Resources

Independent creators, thought-leaders, experts and individuals with unique perspectives use our free publishing tools to express themselves and create new ideas.

Start Writing