Codependency is an unhealthy or excessively emotional reliance or psychological dependency on another person that can be passed down from one generation to the next. Also known as “relationship addiction,” or “love addiction,” codependent people typically enter relationships that are one-sided and emotionally damaging because their partner is affected with a pathological condition such as an addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Codependency is most often associated with those who have loved ones in recovery, or active addiction. It was realized that alcoholism was not just about the addict but also about the family and friends who helped constitute a network for the alcoholic. The term “codependent” is used to describe the family and friends who may actually be interfering with an individual’s recovery by overhelping.
Although experts can’t agree about when codependency was truly recognized in the addiction/recovery field, it seems to have come into prominence in the 1980s, driven by the “self-help” community. Books like Janet Woititz’s Adult Children of Alcoholics, (1983), Robin Norwood’s Women Who Love Too Much (1985), and Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More (1986), introduced the concept and attracted a lot of interest. The medical community started to take notice in 1986 when psychiatrist Timmen Cermak published Diagnosing and Treating Co-Dependence: A Guide for Professionals. Dr. Cermak advocated for the inclusion of codependency as a recognized personality disorder, but at the time was unsuccessful. However, the book set the stage for Co-Dependents Anonymous, a 12-step program, and the first meeting, attended by 30 people, was held in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 22, 1986.
Codependent people typically develop relationships that are one-sided and emotionally damaging to the parties involved. Their focus on others, – in many cases an addict – is an attempt to help alleviate the pain they may be feeling. However, by ignoring their own problems, it only exacerbates their personal issues, resulting in a circular system that eventually takes on a life of its own. The codependent’s thinking becomes obsessive, resulting in compulsive behavior that often leads to unfortunate consequences.
Signs of Codependency
Families dealing with addiction, like individuals, often use codependency as a coping mechanism. Many times, they do not realize their behavior may be enabling their addicted partner. Although people may not recognize some of the signs listed below, they may be an indicator that they are codependent:
- Having trouble expressing feelings and emotions
- Wanting to be liked by everyone
- Being unable to set clear boundaries
- Tending to ignore or deny problems
- Feeling responsible for other people’s feelings
- Being withdrawn and depressed
- Having low self-esteem and self-worth
- Suppressing thoughts and feelings out of fear or guilt
- Needing to control and fix others
- Setting aside your own interests to do what others want
- Being too loyal
- Having poor communication skills
- Refusing to seek help because you feel like the problem isn’t bad enough
If the codependent individual can’t recognize these signs, or simply chooses to ignore them, they are only allowing the addict to continue with their self-destructive behavior, manipulate their partner, and cause further damage for both. Studies have shown that codependency goes hand in hand with enabling addiction. Here are five main reasons why:
- The Codependent takes “responsibility” for the AddictIndividuals struggling with codependency feel a need to be responsible for the thoughts, decisions, and needs of others, in addition to being responsible for their own life. They may try to solve the addict’s problems by controlling or manipulating them. They will offer advice that was not asked for, although in reality, the addict is the one doing the manipulating.
The codependent may feel that initially, their efforts are welcomed, but in fact, they are driven by the codependent’s desire to feel needed. Too often they serve others without considering their own needs and desires. This mindset can lead to resentment and anger which can trigger other mental health issues including depression, anxiety, sex/relationship addictions, substance abuse, and physical health problems.
- Not Realizing They are Putting Someone Else’s Feelings Above Their OwnMany codependents lack self-esteem, self-worth, and confidence. Having little sense of self, they focus on how their partner feels, what they think, and what they believe in order to make a connection, instead of focusing on their own feelings and belief system.
This results in the codependent becoming totally absorbed by the addict. In the process, they lose themselves. In becoming totally reliant on how their partner feels about them, they basically submit to them. This can lead to overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and may push the codependent to make more unhealthy life choices in order to prove their loyalty and worth to the addict.
Codependents often become obsessed with their partner. This can cause the individual to deny or rationalize problem behavior, doubt their own perceptions, fail to maintain healthy boundaries, and disregard their own friends, jobs, studies, and other activities.
- Going to Extremes to Maintain the RelationshipCodependent relationships are never healthy. Unfortunately, neither partner involved is in a position to realize that. In many cases, the relationship is based on fear. The fear of being alone, the fear of being rejected, the fear of being abandoned. This desire for acceptance and approval leads to desperate attempts to please the partner. Often, the codependent resents the addict for being in the condition they are in, but fears that their getting well could mean either losing them or losing their status as the addict’s caregiver.
Codependents are usually guilty of enabling to order to help their partner and their relationship. Some examples:
- A wife justifying her husband’s drinking by saying he had a stressful day at work or needs to relax.
- Excusing a partner’s absence at events because he/she is busy getting high.
- Apologizing to others/doing favors to repair relationships damaged by a partner’s addiction.
- Taking on additional responsibilities around or in parenting duties because your partner is always under the influence.
- Risking your financial future by loaning money to your partner so they can feed their substance abuse addiction.
The codependent will also accept blame when it should fall elsewhere because they are responsible to a fault. They are people pleasers who have fallen into the trap of absorbing the feelings of others so the affected individual does not have to take responsibility for their own actions. They provide the foundation for building and continuing a toxic, dysfunctional relationship.
- Difficulties in Recognizing and Expressing EmotionsThere is a major disconnect between who the codependent is and who they perceive themselves to be. They are so obsessed with the other person, their emotions imitate those of the addict. Often, they are incapable of thinking on their own, navigating their own feelings, or tending to their own needs. Other times, they know what needs to be done, but simply can’t own up to their own truths. The codependent is afraid to be truthful because they don’t want to upset the person they are trying to please. Communication becomes more dishonest and confusing as the codependent tries to manipulate their partner out of fear.
Another problem codependent people have is a tendency to spend their time obsessing about other people and relationships. Anxiety and dependency are usually the cause. They also can become more obsessed when they think they’ve made a mistake. Because the individual is scared to death about upsetting the addict for fear of incurring some kind of punishment, he/she will stay in denial, preventing them from living a healthy life. By constantly focusing on the needs of others instead of their own, they won’t reach out for help and can’t become self-sufficient. This leads to yet another circle of denial that continues to play over and over.
- Inability to Set and Maintain Healthy Personal BoundariesCodependency is often a learned behavior. It can be the result of growing up in a home where parents/loved ones suffered from alcoholism or drug addiction. Children of addicts are particularly vulnerable to becoming codependent because they were exposed to so many negative behaviors while growing up, and were expected or taught to do whatever it took to appease the addict in the household. Without having positive role models to learn from, codependents struggle to learn how to set boundaries that can protect them. Boundaries are vitally important when you are in a relationship with an addict because they are master manipulators whose only concern is themselves. Boundaries not only provide a division between what is yours and someone else’s, but they are also needed to protect feelings, thoughts, and needs. This is where the codependent gets into trouble. Sometimes their boundaries are weak. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings or problems and blame their own on others. Others have rigid boundaries. But this type of boundary forces them to shut down and withdraw, making it difficult to allow others to get close to them. In either case, the inability to set healthy boundaries will inevitably lead to additional relationship problems and emotional setbacks.
Even though codependency is considered a mental illness, there is good news for those that suffer from it. The symptoms are reversible with treatment. Recovery from codependence begins by learning about the disease and coming out of denial. In a codependency recovery program, you learn to shift focus from the addict to yourself. It’s important to realize that like recovering from any other addiction like drugs or alcohol, it is not a simple process. It takes time, as the individual has to build their own identity and self-esteem. They must learn to express their feelings and needs in a healthy way. Finally, they must learn the importance of maintaining self-responsibility, setting healthy boundaries, and taking care of themselves.
Codependency will not disappear simply by leaving a codependent relationship. Like any recovery, it is a long term process that requires changes in thinking and behavior. Codependent people can’t worry about being “perfect,” which is part of their problem. There is never a perfect recovery, but as long as healthy habits are learned, you can have a successful recovery.
If you are struggling with codependency with your addicted loved one, contact us today, at 855-448-3588.