Is codependency a sign of emotional immaturity? No, codependency is just a coping style, and can be used by mature or immature people. Codependent behavior will look different depending on the emotional maturity level of the person using it. Codependency is when you take on the burden of fixing something in someone else's life that is their responsibility.
When we feel anxious about our lives, codependency allows us to feel more secure by distracting us from our own unsolved issues. We take responsibility for other people and try to carry them along, even if the weight of their problems is enormous. What we are really trying to do is get the person to stop acting in ways that trigger our own insecurities. Trying to achieve an increased sense of safety, we are sure things will get better once we fix other people’s character defects. But the burden of supporting them is exhausting.
Codependents can be found at different levels of emotional maturity. The key is how much of the codependency impairs a person’s ability to be creative, spontaneous, responsible, and reciprocal.
People who are low in emotional maturity feel they can’t live their own life apart from the person upon whom they are codependent. This kind of codependency is based on enmeshment, so that life has meaning only when trying to rescue or stay close to the other person. Emotionally immature codependents avoid reflecting on their own lives by focusing on other people’s problems. This approach is often found in people who have not yet developed their own sense of self or unique interests. Their approach to life is based on either avoiding or distorting reality. They react to stress emotionally with little objectivity, and rarely self-reflect on their actions.
Emotionally immature codependent people often show multiple problems in several areas of their life. They tend to have unstable work and relationship histories. They typically blame others rather than look at their own behavior. They are comfortable with enmeshment, and dislike the idea of honoring boundaries with anyone. They feel compelled to tell others what to do, yet reject most of the advice that might help them have more stable lives.
On the other hand, other codependents are quite emotionally mature. They cope with life by trying to view reality and themselves objectively. To this purpose they are self-reflective, and use empathy to understand other people. They have developed their individuality, and feel drained when taking care of the frustrating, emotionally immature people in their lives. These more mature codependents are often very capable in their adult life. They are able to form relationships and careers, and they can anticipate the future and plan for it responsibly. They have a workable life apart from the relationship that is codependent.
More emotionally mature codependents are often pulled into codependent relationships because others depend on their emotional maturity, complexity, sensitivity and perceptiveness. They are perceived as having the strength to carry other people's loads as well as their own. These expectations often make codependent people feel they should step in and take over when their emotionally immature family or friends are creating problems. They end up bearing most of the emotional weight in their codependent relationships, with little coming back to them in a reciprocal way.
Many of the more mature codependents start out in life in emotionally neglectful families with emotionally immature parents. As children, these people experienced family members as needing them to be a kind of mini-adult in order to make the family more stable. These children are parentified from an early age, and are often made to feel like it is up to them to fix things in the lives of more emotionally immature people.
These more mature codependents are capable of learning to step back, keep better boundaries, refuse burdens, and accept that the other person’s life is his or her responsibility. They can step away from inappropriate guilt, and let other people make the decision whether they are going to improve their lives. They are open to change and new ideas.
If you think you have codependent tendencies, you can decide to straighten out the life of the one person you can control – yourself. As you set better boundaries and step out from under the burden of taking responsibility for others, you will also develop a strong sense of clarity about your needs for self-protection. Instead of trying to change others, you will enjoy developing yourself – the one person who will really appreciate it when you step in to help.