News Events
Mercury
Contact us

Co-dependency

What is codependency? What's the definition?

There are many definitions used to talk about codependency today. The original concept of codependency was developed to acknowledge the responses and behaviors people develop from living with an alcoholic or substance abuser. A number of attributes can be developed as a result of those conditions. 

However, over the years, codependency has expanded into a definition which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during childhood by family rules. 

One of many definitions of codependency is: a set of *maladaptive, *compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing *great emotional pain and stress. 

*maladaptive - inability for a person to develop behaviors which get needs met.
*compulsive - psychological state where a person acts against their own will or conscious desires in which to behave.

*sources of great emotional pain and stress - chemical dependency; chronic mental illness; chronic physical illness; physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; divorce; hypercritical or non-loving environment.

As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. And the codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment. 

Even when a codependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the codependent person still operates in their own system; they’re not likely to get too involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This of course creates problems that continue to recycle; if codependent people can’t get involved with people who have healthy behaviors and coping skills, then the problems continue into each new relationship.

How do I know if I’m codependent?

Generally, if you’re feeling unfulfilled consistently in relationships, you tend to be indirect, don’t assert yourself when you have a need, if you’re able to recognize you don’t play as much as others, or other people point out you could be more playful. Things like this can indicate you’re codependent. 
What are some of the symptoms?
• controlling behavior 
• distrust 
• perfectionism 
• avoidance of feelings 
• intimacy problems 
• caretaking behavior 
• hypervigilance (a heightened awareness for potential threat/danger) 
• physical illness related to stress 

Isn’t everyone codependent?

There are some natural and healthy behaviors mothers do with children that look like codependency. Are people mutually interdependent on each other? Yes. There is perhaps a continuum of codependency, that most people might fall on. Maybe this continuum exists because so many people are taught not to be assertive, or to ask directly for their needs to be met? We probably can’t say though that everyone is codependent. Many people probably don’t feel fulfilled because of other things going on in the system at large. 

Anne Wilson Schaef believes the whole society is addicted; the object of addiction isn't the important issue, but rather that the environment sets us up to be addicted to something, i.e. food, sex, drugs, power, etc.

If that is true, then all of us are either addicts or codependents. From this perspective, society produces a pattern making it hard not to be codependent. But it still doesn’t change that we’re not getting what we need and we’re not feeling fulfilled. Then the question is, how do I become more fulfilled and feel better about myself and the life I’m living? 

Why do we become codependent? What causes it?

It’s widely believed we become codependent through living in systems (families) with rules that hinder development to some degree. The system (usually parents and relatives) has been developed in response to some problem such as alcoholism, mental illness or some other secret or problem. 

General rules set-up within families that may cause codependency may include:
• It’s not okay to talk about problems 
• Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself 
• Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation 
• Be strong, good, right, perfect 
• Make us proud beyond realistic expectations 
• Don’t be selfish 
• Do as I say not as I do 
• It’s not okay to play or be playful 
• Don’t rock the boat. 

Many families have one or more of these rules in place within the family. These kinds of rules can constrict and strain the free and healthy development of people’s self-esteem, and coping. As a result, children can develop non-helpful behavior characteristics, problems solving techniques, and reactions to situations in adult life 

How can counseling help?

For people with codependency, individual counseling can teach assertiveness, listening, and communication. Counseling can help you become more aware of non-helpful actions/behaviors, and work with you on developing new, healthier coping skills. 

In the case of codependency though, counseling only helps if the counselor is aware of their own tendency towards codependence, or if the counselor has some understanding about the addictive push in our society. Counselors, in the case of codependency, need to present good boundary setting and healthy living themselves during sessions with clients. If a counselor develops a working relationship with a client that has codependent qualities, again, the pattern is repeated, and therapy may not be as helpful. Some statistics show 50-80% of counselors have not addressed their own codependency issues. So one must be careful in choosing a counselor for this kind of support. 

There are also self-help groups for codependency, called CODA groups. More information is available through local alcoholism services. If you can’t find a CODA group, there’s also ACA (adult children of alcoholics groups) that deal with similar issues CODA groups might deal with.

You are co-dependent for sure if when you die, someone else's life flashes in front of your eyes.
Codependency is a term used to describe a kind of addiction, a relationship addiction. A person is said to be suffering from codependency when they exhibit caring for a loved one who is suffering from a real addiction to drugs or alcohol. The behavior of the caring individual is said to hinder recovery of the real addict by enabling the addict to continue the addiction. Codependency makes it seem as if all caring for addicts is pathological. 

Co-dependent, or co-alcoholic, was originally defined in the late 1970s and early 1980s to help families and spouses of individuals with alcohol and drug problems. Mostly in line with family systems ideas, the model addressed the family members, especially wives, who "interfered" with the recovery. It was suggested that their behavior made it less difficult for the addict to continue drinking or using drugs. The idea was that the caring behavior manifested by family members and spouses actually "enabled" the addict to continue using.
There are many definitions used to talk about codependency today. The original concept of codependency was developed to acknowledge the responses and behaviors people develop from living with an alcoholic or substance abuser. A number of attributes can be developed as a result of those conditions. 

However, over the years, codependency has expanded into a definition, which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living, and problem solving developed during childhood by family rules.

One of many definitions of codependency is: 

• A set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing (Maladaptive - inability for a person to develop behaviors which get needs met. Compulsive - psychological state where a person acts against their own will or conscious desires in which to behave.)

• Great emotional pain and stress. (Sources of great emotional pain and stress - chemical dependency; chronic mental illness; chronic physical illness; physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; divorce; hypercritical or non-loving environment.)

As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. In addition, the codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued un-fulfillment. 

Even when a codependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the codependent person still operates in their own system; they are not likely to get too involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This of course creates problems that continue to recycle; if codependent people cannot get involved with people who have healthy behaviors and coping skills, then the problems continue into each new relationship.

Why do we become codependent? What causes it?

It is widely believed we become codependent through living in systems (families) with rules that hinder development to some degree. The system (usually parents and relatives) has been developed in response to some problem such as alcoholism, mental illness or some other secret or problem. 
General rules set-up within families that may cause codependency may include:
• It’s not okay to talk about problems 
• Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself 
• Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation 
• Be strong, good, right, perfect 
• Make us proud beyond realistic expectations 
• Don’t be selfish 
• Do as I say not as I do 
• It’s not okay to play or be playful 
• Do not rock the boat. 

Many families have one or more of these rules in place within the family. These kinds of rules can constrict and strain the free and healthy development of people’s self-esteem, and coping. As a result, children can develop non-helpful behavior characteristics, problems solving techniques, and reactions to situations in adult life

What are some of the symptoms?

• controlling behavior 
• distrust 
• perfectionism 
• avoidance of feelings 
• intimacy problems 
• caretaking behavior 
• hyper vigilance (a heightened awareness for potential threat/danger) 
• physical illness related to stress 

Characteristics of Co-dependency

Following is a commonly used list of characteristics of codependency. 
1. My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you 
2. My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you 
3. Your struggle affects my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems/relieving your pain 
4. My mental attention is focused on you 
5. My mental attention is focused on protecting you 
6. My mental attention is focused on manipulating you to do it my way 
7. My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems 
8. My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain 
9. My own hobbies/interests are put to one side. My time is spent sharing your hobbies/interests 
10. Your clothing and personal appearance are dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me 
11. Your behaviour is dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me 
12. I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel. 
13. I am not aware of what I want - I ask what you want. I am not aware - I assume 
14. The dreams I have for my future are linked to you 
15. My fear of rejection determines what I say or do 
16. My fear of your anger determines what I say or do 
17. I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship 
18. My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you 
19. I put my values aside in order to connect with you 
20. I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own 
21. The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours 

Typical Characteristics of a Co-dependant
• I assume responsibility for other's feelings and behaviors. 
• I feel overly responsible for other's feelings and behaviors. 
• I have difficulty in identifying feelings -- Am I Angry? Lonely? Sad? Happy? Joyful? 
• I have difficulty expressing feelings -- I am feeling ... Happy, Sad, Hurt, Joyful. 
• I tend to fear and/or worry how others may respond to my feelings. 
• I have difficulty in forming and/or maintaining close relationships. 
• I am afraid of being hurt and/or rejected by others. 
• I am perfectionist and place too many expectations on myself and others. 
• I have difficulty making decisions. 
• I tend to minimize, alter or even deny the truth about how I feel. 
• Other people's actions and attitudes tend to determine how I respond/react. 
• I tend to put other people's wants and needs first. 
• My fear of other's feelings (anger) determines what I say and do. 
• I question or ignore my own values to connect with significant others. I value other's opinions more than my own. 
• My self-esteem is bolstered by outer/other influences. I cannot acknowledge good things about myself. 
• My serenity and mental attention is determined by how other's are feeling and/or behaving. 
• I tend to judge everything I do, think, or say harshly; by someone else's standards -- nothing is done, said, or thought "Good Enough". 
• I do not know or believe that being vulnerable and asking for help is both OKAY and NORMAL. 
• I do not know that it is OKAY to talk about problems outside the family; or that feelings just are -- and it is better to share them than to deny, minimize or justify them. 
• I tend to put other people's wants and needs before my own. 
• I am steadfastly loyal -- even when the loyalty is unjustified -- and personally harmful. 
• I have to be "needed" in order to have a relationship with others. 

Control Patterns

The following "control patterns" are often a large part of codependant behavior.
1. I must be "needed" in order to have a relationship with others. 
2. I value other's approval of my thinking, feelings, and behavior over my own. 
3. I agree with others so they will like me. 
4. I focus my attention on protecting others. 
5. I believe most people are incapable of taking care of themselves. 
6. I keep score of "good deeds and favors", becoming very hurt when they are not repaid. 
7. I am very skilled at guessing how other people are feeling. 
8. I can anticipate other's needs and desires, meeting them before they are asked to be met. 
9. I become resentful when others will not let me help them. 
10. I am calm and efficient in other people's crisis situations. 
11. I feel good about myself only when I am helping others. 
12. I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked. 
13. I put aside my own interests and concerns in order to do what others want. 
14. I ask for help and nurturing only when I am ill, and then reluctantly. 
15. I cannot tolerate seeing others in pain. 
16. I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about. 
17. I use sex to gain approval and acceptance. 
18. I attempt to convince others of how they "truly" think and "should" feel. 
19. I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others. 

Enabling
The positive intent of enabling is to end the dependency by "assisting" in some way. 
The end result of enabling is that family and friends "assist" in making it possible for the dependency to continue. 

Enabling Is:
• Discouraging; 
• Stealing the "power" to do something; 
• Doing for someone what they can do on their own; 
• Constantly neglecting your own needs; 
• Fosusing all the energy in my life on the life of another person; 
• Helping someone to be helpless; 
• Sending the message, "I don't think you can make it on your own."; 
• Being too concerned with being a "good" friend and doing everything for somebody else.

Enabling Behaviors:
1. Denial - The family telling itself, "He doesn't have a problem." 
o As a result: 
o Families expect the user to act right while "high". 
o Families expect the user to control the reaction to the chemical. 
o Families accept the "blame" for doing something "wrong".
2. Using with the user. ("She'll stop when I do.") 
3. Justifying the drug use. ("It calms her nerves." "It helps him sleep.") 
4. Families bottle up feelings. (Pretending I don't feel hurt.) 
5. Avoiding problems. (Pacifying to keep peace.) 
6. Minimizing. ("He only drinks beer.") 
7. Protecting. ("He might lose his job. I'd better call him in sick.") 
8. Avoiding by tranquilizing. (Buy the user drugs to keep them quiet.) 
9. Blaming, lecturing, criticizing. (Trying to control with words.) 
10. Acting superior. (Treating the user like a child.) 
11. Assuming responsibilities. (The checkbook, the car payments, the rent, etc.) 
12. Taking control. (Babysitting.) 
13. Enduring and waiting. ("God will take care of it.") 
14. Financial support. (Paying the rent, the child support, etc.) 
15. Covering up consequences. ("Let's pretend it never happened.") 
16. Rewarding "right" behavior. ("If you stay sober, I'll buy you a car.") 
17. Involvement in treatment to control the treatment. 
Enabling is always a dance, an interaction. At least two are involved, at least two people are responsible. Either one can change the dance or stop dancing.
Enabling Behaviour

What is enabling?
Dictionary: Make able, give power or strength.
In the context of addiction: Helping to preserve, protect and maintain addictive behaviour.

When does enabling occur?
Following are some common patterns of enabling behaviour: 
--When you put up a brave front
-- When you work hard to keep a peaceful and stable home
-- When you try to protect everyone around you from pain and suffering. 

Addiction is a progressive disease that can only get worse without proper help. An Addict will try maneuvering you into helping him or her maintain the substance abuse. Co-dependents are motivated to ‘enable’ this substance abuse for various compelling social and personal reasons. These reasons can often appear to be ‘good’ and ‘generous’, but in the presence of addiction, they become twisted and misused.

Here are some examples of common enabling behaviour seen amongst Co-dependents. Let us see how each one of them effects both you and the addict.

• Peace at any price
Wives are often seen shushing the children when the addict makes unreasonable demands. She would not support the child’s reasonable position because of the threat of anger of the addict. The wife ends up fulfilling all those ‘wrong’ demands of the addict, negating the reality. Thus, she is often found dropping all the good things she actually liked doing because she doesn’t want the husband ‘loosing his temper’ over such ‘small’ things. 
But what is it that is actually happening here? The wife actually betrayed her own standards and accepted the unacceptable as a trade –off for a ‘little peace and quiet’. 

This sort of constant tension damages you in many subtle ways. It keeps you from paying attention to your own life, pleasures and needs. In the long run, it also results in physical/psychological morbidity. And finally, if you keep dancing in his/her tune, you are making him/her believe things are just fine, as a result of which (s)he becomes more unreasonable.

• Conspiracy of silence
One has always been told not to wash the dirty linen in public. No matter how hurtful, crude, intimidating and violent the addict is, no matter how ‘embarrassing’ you find his/her behaviour, you want to keep quiet about it. The message that is passed on through this silence is ‘It’s okay to behave this way’.
Example: Husband gets drunk in a party, creates a ruckus, and drives back home. Wife keeps her mouth shut through out the evening, trying to ‘ignore’ the embarrassment. 

The underlying message:
-- He is not drunk enough to be out of control
-- I would rather be dead than be embarrassed, so I let him drive the car in this state
-- Allowed him to maintain the comfortable delusion that he is in control of himself.

 Getting you in your guilt
All our lives we have learnt to be ‘good’. A good child, a good spouse, a good parent, and so on. An addict is known to manipulate this feeling that we have in us. (S)he might make statements like:
-- If you really love me
-- If you were not a nagging wife
-- If you were a good mother
The real message is:
You have to behave ‘my’ way. YOU are the problem, not me.
(S)he has harnessed your guilt to maintain and protect his/her habit. However, your guilt does not have to lead you by the nose. 

 Your sense of duty/responsibility
It is not upto you to be the ‘perfect’ one in the family. The need to be responsible and dutiful can backfire just like the feeling of guilt. You need to realize that your kindness and sympathy are misplaced. You are again giving the messages like:
-- (S)he does not have to suffer any consequences for his/her addictive behaviour
-- It is okay to be incompetent and irresponsible, because I will do it for you.
This enabling behaviour has some negative consequences on the addict as well. (S)he has an already low self esteem, which goes down further, making the substance even more necessary and attractive. Lack of actual responsibility also makes drinking more comfortable.

• Explaining it all the way
Family members, especially co-dependents are often found giving ‘reasons’ that would explain the substance abuse. One often hears statements like 
 “ The job is stressful”
 “ How else do you deal with the death of your own child”
 “ The friend circle is responsible for this”
 “ His marriage is rotten”
One need not discount these circumstances as they might have acted as triggering factors for addiction. However, they may also be the ‘results’ of addictive behaviour. 

How to stop?
One must keep in mind one important thing, enabling behaviour of co-dependents and family members actually denies the addict a chance of recovery. You really cannot stop the enabling behaviour all at once. Before trying to stop the action, you can try acting on your thoughts. There are three thoughts that may help you stop before you plunge into one more of those behaviours. They are:

1. Is it really helping?
Rethink everything you have learnt till now. All your life you have ‘learnt’ to behave in a particular manner. Can you stop and examine each one of them? Before acting, can you consider the consequences for you as well as the addict? You can try ‘THOUGHT STOPPERS’ like “WAIT”, “STOP” as time out each time such delinquent thoughts come to your mind.

2. Whose responsibility is it?
You need to re-examine the actions that do not allow the addict to experience the full consequences of his/her actions. You need to ask yourself repeatedly who is responsible for the things going wrong in his/her life. 

3. What are my motives?
You need to relook into the ‘real’ motives behind your enabling behaviour. 
 Are you doing it because you like the praise you get for ‘taking care’ of the ‘poor soul’?
 Is it going back to the misery driven by the ‘need’ to be ‘good’?

It is not an easy job to examine one’s own self, one’s own motives behind the apparent ‘caring’ and ‘responsible’ behaviour. You would probably find yourself all alone in this new path. However, the self –help groups like AA for family members may be able to provide you with the much-needed guidance and support in this path of self-discovery. 

Symptoms of Co-dependency: 
• Inability to know what "normal" is. 
• Difficulty in following a project through. 
• Difficulty having fun. 
• Judging self, others without mercy. 
• Low self esteem, often projected onto others. (eg: Why don't they get their act together!) 
• Difficulty in developing or sustaining meaningful relationships. 
• Belief that others cause or are responsible for the codependent's emotions. 
(Codependents often use language like "you make me feel ______", or "I was made to feel like____") 
• Overreacting to change. (or intense fear of / inability to deal with change.) 
• Inability to see alternatives to situations, thus responding very impulsively. 
• Constantly seeking approval and affirmation, yet having compromised sense of self. 
• Feelings of being different. 
• Confusion and sense of inadequacy. 
• Being either super responsible or super irresponsible. (Or alternating between these.) 
• Lack of self confidence in making decisions, no sense of power in making choices. 
• Feeling of fear, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, hurt, and shame which are denied. 
• Isolation and fear of people, resentment of authority figures. 
• Fear of anger or bottling anger up till it explodes. 
• Hypersensitivity to criticism. 
• Being addicted to excitement / drama. (Chaos making.) 
• Dependency upon others and fear of abandonment. 
• Avoidance of relationships to guard against abandonment fears. 
• Confusion between love and pity. 
• Tendency to look for "victims" to help. 
• Rigidity and need to control. 
• Lies, when it would be just as easy to tell the truth. 

Are you codependent? 
• Do you feel responsible for other people--their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being and destiny? 
• Do you feel compelled to help people solve their problems or by trying to take care of their feelings? 
• Do you find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others than about injustices done to you? 
• Do you feel safest and most comfortable when you are giving to others? 
• Do you feel insecure and guilty when someone gives to you? 
• Do you feel empty, bored and worthless if you don't have someone else to take care of, a problem to solve, or a crisis to deal with? 
• Are you often unable to stop talking, thinking and worrying about other people and their problems? 
• Do you lose interest in your own life when you are in love? 
• Do you stay in relationships that don't work and tolerate abuse in order to keep people loving you? 
• Do you leave bad relationships only to form new ones that don't work, either?