An addiction not often talked about, love addiction, often presents itself in the form of codependency — which occurs when relationships do not set appropriate boundaries such as the following.
Addiction is not limited to substances, and addiction recovery is not limited to abstaining from an addictive substance or behaviour. Process addictions, including love or relationship addictions, can also be detrimental — as can other maladaptive behaviours such as codependency.
Even after you get sober, problematic patterns of behaviour and low self-esteem can continue to wreak havoc in your personal relationships. Recovery is an ongoing process, and especially in early days it is necessary to be aware of the tendency to substitute one addiction with another. In some cases this substitution can take the form of a love or relationship addiction. In order to develop healthy relationships in recovery it is helpful to understand the link between love addiction, codependency, and boundary setting.
What is Love Addiction?
Love addiction is the compulsive and chronic pursuit of romantic love. A love addict gains their sense of security and self-worth from another person and is essentially addicted to the high of the intensity of infatuation and romance in a relationship.
Love addicts may have a series of short relationships, each time feeling disappointed when the rush of “falling in love” dissipates. They will continue to believe that “true love” is just around the corner and that having it will fix everything. However, unconsciously they fear true intimacy and also fear rejection. Love addicts will experience negative consequences and emotions due to their behaviour, yet are unaware of the underlying problems. Addiction to love is closely related to codependency and they share many of the same patterns of behaviour.
What is Codependency?
“Not all codependents are love addicts, but all love addicts are codependent.” — Pia Mellody in her book “Facing Love Addiction.”
Codependency is an emotional and behavioural condition in which a person has difficulty drawing the line between where they end and another person begins. Like love addicts, codependents rely on another person for their sense of self-worth and identity. This affects an individual’s ability to have healthy and mutually fulfilling relationships.
Codependency is a learned behaviour that is often a result of growing up in a family with codependent relationship patterns. Originally, codependent was a term used to describe the pattern of relationships in a family where one or more person is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction. Now we know that codependent relationships can develop within many different types of dysfunctional family systems.
When a family member is struggling with an addiction, other members will often fall into different roles of codependency. For the partner of an addict this may take the form of enabling the addiction through caretaking. The codependent person may develop a dependence on the reward and satisfaction they gain from “being needed” to look after their partner.
The following are signs and symptoms of codependency:
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships.
(A codependent will do anything to avoid feelings of abandonment and may therefore stay in unhealthy and even abusive relationships.)
- Inability to find satisfaction in life outside of relationships.
- Neglecting one’s own needs in order to care for your partner.
- Difficulty creating boundaries and distinguishing between one’s own responsibilities, emotions, and behaviours and those of others.
The Role of Boundaries in Codependency
Boundaries are the imaginary physical, emotional, and mental dividing lines that allow us to differentiate ourselves from other people and are essential to help us protect ourselves from being used, manipulated, or violated. Codependents will lack healthy boundaries and are therefore unable to appropriately separate their own thoughts, feelings, and emotions from those of others. They will often feel responsible for other people’s emotions, thoughts, and actions. On the other hand, the lack of boundaries also makes it difficult for codependents to take responsibility for their own emotions and actions.
Setting healthy boundaries is a learned behaviour that begins with knowing who you are and what you want. For a person struggling with codependency they enter adulthood without learning how to set appropriate boundaries and without a clear sense of identity outside of other people. Due to their lack of experience in setting boundaries they often find this process extremely difficult and mistake it as uncaring. They will avoid setting boundaries out of fear that it will upset others.
Therefore, in recovering from codependency or other forms of love and relationship addictions, learning how to set healthy and appropriate boundaries is key. The following are the five types of boundaries codependents often struggle with.
Emotional boundaries help us separate our own emotions from those of others. This is a key area in which codependents struggle, and because of this they are often unable to establish their own emotional life separate from that of others.
Mental boundaries are what allow us to stay true to our own thoughts and opinions. This means being able to refuse thoughts and opinions we do not agree with. Codependents often lack confidence in their own thoughts and opinions and will quickly take on the thoughts and opinions of others.
Material boundaries help us determine what belongs to us and how we would like to use our money and possessions. Without solid material boundaries codependents may give inappropriate gifts, loan money recklessly, and otherwise use their possessions to manipulate others.
Physical boundaries refer to your privacy, personal space and body. Setting firm physical boundaries allows you to let others know when they have violated your physical space or privacy.
Spiritual boundaries allow us to define our beliefs about God. Having spiritual boundaries lets us define our own beliefs even when others try to impose their views on us.
Developing healthy boundaries allows us to have different opinions and feelings from others. When we have firm boundaries we are able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that make us uncomfortable. Developing healthy boundaries and overcoming codependency is a process that does not happen overnight, and often people will need the help and support of others to begin learning how to have healthy relationships.
Getting Help for Codependency at The Cabin Hong Kong
As part of our Recovery Zones services, The Cabin Hong Kong offers a group called Boundaries and Codependency that aims to specifically help people understand codependent relationships. The group focuses on learning how healthy boundaries can be used to heal maladaptive relationship patterns. If you are interested in any recovery services, contact one of our addiction specialists today.