Codependency is an excessive emotional, physical, and psychological reliance upon a relationship that is dysfunctional. It is an emotional condition that can destroy a person’s happiness, career, health and personal relationships. Research has found that codependency is generational. It is a way of relating that is learned from the family of origin. Understanding codependency, the behaviors associated with it, and where it originated is important. At the core of the codependent behavior exists the refusal to acknowledge a problem and a belief that one’s needs should be sacrificed for others, regardless of the consequences.
When was Codependency “Discovered?”
In the 1950s, substance abuse counselors for alcoholism called the alcoholic’s partner or significant other the co-alcoholic. In a short period of time, therapists began to notice certain behaviors that were similar among co-alcoholics and began to understand that these co-alcoholics were suffering from their own set of common problems termed codependency. Today in drug rehab centers and around the therapeutic community, the term has been expanded to include other addictions and behaviors. Those suffering from codependent behavior in relationships with those in active drug addiction unwittingly enable the alcoholic, drug addict, rageaholic, workaholic, and abuser to continue inappropriate behavior at a high cost to the codependent. The lists below reflect some of the most common characteristics displayed by those who suffer from codependency.
The origins of codependent behavior can be traced back to childhood and family of origin issues. Perhaps there was a sick person in the family who was the sole focus of everyone’s attention and efforts or there were serious problems that tended to be “pushed under the rug” in an attempt to pretend that everything was fine. Children in such families learn to avoid feelings and emotions. They learn to define themselves through others’ behaviors, successes, or failures. In adulthood, codependents look for approval from others to feel good; they lack self-reflection, a solid concept of self and the ability to negotiate strong feelings and they seek to save others from poor choices.
Ten Characteristics of Codependency
- Feeling responsible for solving others’ problems: The codependent feels the need to solve another’s problems. The codependent believes that help is needed and that the person in need cannot manage to make the right decisions or take the right actions to solve his or her own problems. Without the codependent’s input, disaster for the other person is assured.
- Offering advice to others whether it is asked for or not: The codependent jumps at the opportunity to provide much-needed advice. The codependent offers an endless stream of good advice regardless of whether the advice has been asked for or not.
- Expecting others to do what the codependent says: Once advice has been given, the codependent expects the advice to be followed. Codependents often do not understand boundaries.
- Feeling used and unappreciated for all the codependent does: The codependent will expend enormous amounts of energy to take charge of another’s life-all under the guise of sincerely wanting to help. When the help or advice is ignored or rejected, the codependent feels angry, abused, and unappreciated.
- Trying to please people so others will like or love the codependent: Codependents will go out of their way to please another, hoping to receive love, approval, or be accepted and liked. If the approval is not given, the codependent will feel victimized.
- Taking everything personally: Because there are little to no boundaries in the codependent’s life, any remark, comment or action is a reflection back upon the codependent. This makes the need to feel in control paramount.
- Feeling like a victim: Everything that happens either to the codependent or the loved one is a reflection on the codependent. Such people usually feel victimized and powerless and do not understand their role in creating their own reality.
- Using manipulation, shame, or guilt to control others’ behavior: To get their way codependents will respond in a fashion that will force compliance by others. These tactics may be unconscious. Since everyone else’s behavior is a reflection on the codependent, it is important that the codependent feel in control.
- Lying to themselves and making excuses for others’ bad behavior: Because codependents do not deal directly with their feelings, they develop techniques to lie to themselves about others’ behaviors. Because they feel responsible for others’ behaviors, they will rationalize and blame others for their loved one’s poor behavior or blame themselves for another’s poor behavior, seeking to maintain control.
- Fearing rejection and being unlovable: The codependent fears that if he or she is not successful at everything, or indeed expresses his/her feelings or needs, they will be rejected. In a codependent’s way of thinking, he or she will be unlovable. A codependent does not trust others easily or share openly because he or she will be exposed.
Top Ten Questions to Ask About Codependent Behavior
- Do you avoid confrontation?
- Do you neglect your needs to attend to another’s first?
- Do you accept verbal or physical abuse by others?
- Do take responsibility for the actions of others?
- Do you feel shame when others make mistakes?
- Do you do more than your share at work, at home or in organizations?
- Do you ask for help?
- Do you need others’ validation to feel good about yourself?
- Do you think everyone’s feelings are more important than your own?
- Do you suffer from low self esteem?
Many times, codependents will turn to addictive behaviors themselves to negotiate their unresolved feelings by using substances such as alcohol, drugs, or food to stuff their emotions. Or, they will engage in risky behaviors. When a codependent gets tangled in the web of drug addiction or alcoholism, he or she can quickly lose control. Not only will the addict’s disease progress, but the codependent’s disorder will worsen. Mental and physical well-being becomes impossible. Drug and alcohol rehab will address these issues and teach you what to look for in codependent behavior.
Looking for a treatment facility that offers a family program can help. These programs often incorporate a multi-day therapy program for the individual seeking recovery, as well as their family or loved ones.
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