Do you know what codependency means? Are you aware of how prevalent a condition it is?
Most people are not aware of how many families there are these days that are dysfunctional —
do as I say, not as I do
protect family secrets at all costs
always be strong, good and perfect
don’t show how you really feel
Sadly there are many Americans who have grown up under these types of constraints, and they are considered codependent. In fact, the condition is so common that every January is named National Codependency Awareness Month.
Just like interdependency, which is being mutually reliant on each other, codependency is learned behavior often passed down from one generation to another and it affects an individual’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships. People with codependency most often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive verbally or physically. Does this sound like you or someone you know?
What are some behaviors that can determine whether you are codependent?
Excessive caretaking. Codependents feel an exaggerated responsibility for others’ actions, feelings, choices and emotional well-being. They try to anticipate every need and often are hurt because others don’t do the same for them. There is also a tendency to confuse love and pity with their desire to “love” people they pity and can rescue.
Low self-esteem. Codependents have an extreme need to be needed and recognized and only feel important and valuable when they are helping others. If anything goes wrong in any situation, they always blame themselves whether it was anything they had something to do with or not.
Denial. Codependents minimize, ignore or rationalize problems in a relationship, always believing that things “will get better when or if…”. Because of this, they also have a history of lying and other dishonest behaviors to keep the relationship going, no matter what.
Fear of anger. Codependents are afraid of their own and their loved one’s anger because they expect that it will end up destroying the relationship. Their anger is a chronic problem stemming from their lack of trust in themselves and those with whom they surround themselves.
Health problems. Because they don’t take care of themselves, codependents often suffer from ulcers, headaches, asthma, high blood pressure, sometimes suffer from eating disorders, and oftentimes from chemical abuse and addiction.
Poor boundaries. Codependents have blurry or weak boundaries with friends and family members, feeling responsible for everyone’s feelings and problems. At other times, they will maintain rigid boundaries and appear closed off or withdrawn, making it hard for others to get close to them.
Addictive behavior. Codependents may develop addictions in an attempt to deal with their pain and frustration at being taken advantage of, instead of loved and appreciated, or because they are not being allowed to control things.
Dysfunctional communication. Codependents find it hard to communicate their own thoughts, feelings and needs mainly because they are usually unable to indentify how they feel. Instead of admitting they don’t like something, they pretend it’s okay so they don’t upset someone. In general, they will say whatever it takes to manipulate the situation and keep the peace.
Problems with intimacy. Codependents have a hard time being close and open with someone in an intimate relationship, many times because of their fear of judgment or rejection. Others deny the need for closeness for fear of losing their autonomy or fear of their partner wanting too much of their time.
Dependency. Codependents need people to like them to feel good about themselves and need to be in a relationship, even if it is painful or abusive. They have difficulty making decisions and adjusting to change, so it is more comfortable to feel trapped in an unhealthy relationship, than to be alone.
Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members, so when the symptoms are recognized, it is important to explore the past to see whose life was being cared for, whose behaviors were being hidden and whose anger was being avoided to cause this condition. Most often it would have been a close family member or friend suffering from alcohol or drug dependence.
But if there was no addiction to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex or gambling in past family history, look for the presence of physical or emotional abuse or a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.
Families dealing with prolonged addiction, abuse or illness develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore or avoid difficult emotions: They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust.
Because of all of these “don’ts”, the identity and emotional development of the dysfunctional family members can be severely inhibited. The majority of the attention and energy is focused on whoever is addicted or ill and codependent people will typically sacrifice their own needs in order to take care of the sick ones. When codependents put other people’s health, safety and welfare above their own, they lose contact with their own needs, desires and sense of self.
How can codependency be treated?
Since codependency is rooted in childhood experiences, treatment most often involves exploring early childhood issues and their relationship to the current destructive behavior patterns. Education, experiential groups plus individual and group therapy can help codependents rediscover themselves and indentify their self-defeating behavior patterns. Treatment goals should include helping patients get in touch with emotions that were buried during childhood, reconstructing family dynamics and being allowed to experience their full range of feelings once again.
To learn more about Enterhealth’s residential addiction treatment center or Outpatient rehabilitation programs, call 1.855.393.8656 or contact us using this form to talk to your trusted advisor, today!