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Interpersonal relationships are important to humans, but there are also times when these relationships can be unhealthy.

Hosted by: Brit Garner
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/805469
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.61.6.595
https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Dependent_personality_disorder
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-2850.1997.tb00108.x/full
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[INTRO ♪].

In any healthy relationship, whether it’s with a friend or a partner, you should be able to depend on the other person. Hopefully, you can count on them to keep their promises, or listen to you vent if you’ve had a tough day.

But sometimes, people can become too dependent on each other. One person can start relying on another for all of their emotional health, and even identity. And that’s where codependency comes in.

It’s a word thrown around a lot in pop psychology, and it doesn’t have a clinical definition. But when it comes to relationships, it’s not healthy— even if Hollywood might romanticize it. The term codependency was first used in the 1980s, mostly by organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous and addiction counselors.

It was supposedly a condition that comes from being close with someone who struggles with alcohol addiction. The idea was that a codependent person ends up supporting their loved ones so that they never hit rock bottom, basically when they finally realize they have a problem and change their lives. And in doing so, the codependent person supposedly enabled the addiction instead of helping.

But there’s no research supporting this idea. And abandoning someone who’s struggling usually causes more harm. In fact, many things that were labeled codependent, like providing treatment or safer ways to gradually fight an addiction, are often really helpful.

These days, psychologists and counselors mainly use codependency to refer to a set of observed emotional behaviors and attachments. And to separate it from the old, false ideas about addiction, they’ll sometimes call it relationship dependency, emotional dependency, or even obsessive love. In a codependent relationship, one person is dependent on the other for their emotional needs, and they don’t feel “complete” without their romantic partner or best friend.

Some psychologists think codependency might be influenced by things like personality or a traumatic event in someone’s childhood, like if they have a broken relationship with a caregiver. But it’s also not something you can be clinically diagnosed with. Emotional dependency can be measured with surveys like the Love Attitudes Scale, which was developed by psychologists in the late 1990s to help determine someone’s feelings about relationships.

The survey asks people to think about their partner or hypothetical partner, and then has them agree or disagree with statements like, “If my partner ignores me for a while,. I sometimes do stupid things to get their attention back.” If they score within a certain range, their behavior is most likely codependent. Now, codependency or emotional dependency is different than something called Dependent Personality Disorder, or DPD.

This is in the DSM-5, the most recent version of the manual that clinical psychologists use to diagnose different conditions. People with DPD often feel totally powerless and like they aren’t capable of caring for themselves. Meanwhile, someone who’s codependent may think they can function independently just fine.

But if they aren’t in a close relationship, they might feel lonely and emotionally unsatisfied. And if a close relationship ends, they’ll often feel stronger grief and have a higher risk of depression than the average person. Not only that, but codependency is unhealthy while a relationship is happening, too.

Multiple studies have shown that codependent relationships are related to depression, eating disorders, and health problems related to stress. Because when someone links their self worth to other people, they may feel a need to prove themselves or sacrifice too much to try and make someone else happy. And the person being depended on can feel pressure to keep the relationship going, to avoid hurting their friend.

So it really isn’t healthy for anyone. Multiple researchers have also shown that people who are codependent are more likely to stay in abusive relationships. They may even think this abuse comes out of love, or have such low self-esteem that they believe they deserve it.

Which—to be totally clear—is never true. Even though codependency doesn’t have a spot in the DSM, like Dependent Personality Disorder does, it can still be treated by talking with a therapist. A professional can help someone get out of an abusive relationship or friendship, or work with them to manage their connections and feelings in a healthier way.

And medicines like antidepressants can also help with the depression or anxiety that can go along with codependency. So even though some romance movies or cheesy #relationshipgoals graphics might glamorize relationships that “complete you”... it’s definitely not true. Now, healthy, loving relationships are important, and tons of studies have shown that we don’t do so well if we’re cut off from other people.

But one relationship should never define someone’s value or be the source of all their emotional health. That’s just not how people work. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych, especially to our patrons on Patreon, who make episodes like this possible.

If you’d like to support the show, you can go to patreon.com/scishow. [OUTRO ♪].