What is Co-Dependency? Co-Dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed on from one generation to the next. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that can affect an individual’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with co-dependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive, and/or abusive.
Who does Co-Dependency effect? Co-Dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, siblings, friends, and even co-workers of a person who is dependent on alcohol or substances. Originally the term co-dependent was used to describe partners in chemical dependency, people living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person. Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals. The term has broadened.
What is a Dysfunctional Family and how can it lead to Co-Dependency? A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. Underlying problems may include any of the following:
- An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, work, food, or relationships
- The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- A family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness
Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They do not talk about them inside or outside of the family, they do not confront them, as a result family members learn how to repress emotions and disregard their own needs, they become “survivors” as opposed to “livers” of life. They develop language and behaviors that help them ignore, deny, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves from each other and the problems in order to avoid talking, touching, confronting, feeling, and trusting the identity and emotional development of the members of the dysfunctional family are often inhibited. The attention and energy of the family is focused on the member who is “sick” or addicted. The co-dependent person(s) typically sacrifices his/her needs to take care of a person who is “sick”. This typically results in loss of a sense of self.
How do Co-Dependent people behave? Typically co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves”. Some try to feel better through alcohol, nicotine, food, or drugs and become addicted themselves. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholics, gambling, or acting out sexually.
With very good intentions they try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the care-taking becomes compulsive and defeating. Some co-dependents take on the role of Martyrs and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep a child from suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior.
The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the addict to continue on a destructive course and become even more dependent on the unhealthy care taking of the “benefactor”. As this reliance increases, the co-dependent gets the “pay off” of feeling needed. When the care taking becomes compulsive, the co-dependent feels helpless in the relationship; they begin to see themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in their love and friendship relationships.
Characteristics of Co-Dependent People (may include):
An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others.
A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” those they can pity and rescue
A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
An extreme need for approval, recognition
A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
A compelling need to control others
Lack of trust in self and/or others
Fear of being alone
Difficulty identifying feelings
Rigidity/ difficulty adjusting to change
Problems with intimacy/boundaries
Difficulty making decisions
How is Co-Dependency Treated? Because co-dependency is usually rooted in a person’s childhood, treatment often involves exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavior patterns. Treatment includes education, experiential groups, and individual and group therapy through this co-dependents rediscover themselves and identify self-defeating behavior patterns. Treatment also focuses on changing the co-dependents view of self in relation to the addict and the addiction, while helping them get in touch with emotions that have been buried during childhood and on reconstructing family dynamics. The goal is to help them identify and allow them to experience their full range of emotions and develop a thought life that supports this process.
Questionnaire to identify signs of Co-Dependency
Co-Dependency occurs in varying degrees, whereby the intensity of symptoms are on a spectrum of severity, as opposed to an all or nothing scale.
Please be advised that only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of co-dependency; not everyone experiencing these symptoms suffers from co-dependency.
- Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
- Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
- Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
- Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
- Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
- Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
- Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
- Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
- Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
- Have you frequently felt inadequate?
- Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
- Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
- Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
- Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
- Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
- Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
- Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
- Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
- Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them.
The addict is addicted to the substance/behavior, the co-dependent is addicted to the addict.
God’s word says: Is this not the fast which I choose, to loose the bonds of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke. Isaiah 58:6NAS
Be Blessed and LIVE FREE