It’s common for addicts to have codependent relationships with their relatives. Many times, families may enable the addiction or behavior of a loved one. They could be supporting a family member’s drug, alcohol, or gambling addiction. Poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement may also be encouraged. Sometimes, this could be on purpose. Others, it’s because the family doesn’t know any better.
What Is Codependency?
Codependency is often known as a “relationship addiction”. It is a condition that affects emotion and behavior. Those who have it usually form very unhealthy attachments to people. Many times, they seek constant approval from others. It’s also common for them to rely on others for a sense of identity. They tend to have difficulty with creating functional relationships. These relationships are often one-sided. In many cases, they are physically or emotionally abusive.
Experts consider codependency to be a learned behavior. It’s often passed down from generation to generation. Watching and imitating codependent family members can cause this. To put it simply, the traits can “rub off”. This disorder has been on doctor’s radars for the last forty years. Originally, it applied to the spouses of alcoholics. However, further research showed that codependency is everywhere. It can be found in many members of the population. Most agree that this is likely if you were raised in a dysfunctional family.
Am I Codependent?
There are many symptoms of codependency. You don’t need to display all of them to have this condition. Keep in mind, there’s no reason to feel bad if you do. Experts agree that codependency symptoms appear in stages. If recognized early enough, they can be treated. Many times, they may be reversed completely. Here is what codependent behavior looks like:
- Shame and low self-esteem: Low self-esteem is very common in today’s world. This can cause feelings of not being good enough. It also sees people constantly comparing themselves to others. However, it can be difficult to spot in some people. Many hide behind a mask of confidence. Sometimes, to the point of being unkind. People who feel bad about themselves might behave this way. In reality, they’re ashamed of who they are. Perfectionists often struggle with this. They need perfection in order to feel worthy.
- Being a people pleaser: There’s nothing wrong with wanting the people you love to be happy. However, codependents take this much further. In their mind, they feel they don’t have a choice. Having to tell someone “no” gives them anxiety. They will agree to things even when they don’t want to. It’s common for them to go far out of their way for others. Many times they have very little time to themselves. Unfortunately, people pleasers are often taken advantage of. Abusers will catch on to the fact that they can’t say no. In the long run, this behavior is very unhealthy. It can result in mental and physical damage.
- Having poor boundaries: Boundaries are important to self-respect and respecting others. They draw a line between what’s yours and someone else’s. That line can apply to physical and emotional things. These include your body, money, belongings, feelings, thoughts, needs, etc. Codependents have many issues with setting boundaries. Usually, they have a hard time drawing the line. Still, in some cases it’s the opposite. Some boundaries are meant to keep people away. They are used by closed-off and withdrawn people.
- Reacting irrationally: Some people with poor boundaries are easily affected by the actions of others. They may be quick to anger. It’s common for them to take things too personally. Often, they cause unnecessary arguments. Usually, they become very defensive. This is all the result of a lack of boundaries. Opinions of others are seen as threats because they are taken to heart.
- Caretaking: Constantly taking on other people’s burdens is another effect of poor boundaries. Codependents often feel unnecessary guilt about needing to help people. They feel an unhealthy amount of empathy of sympathy. This leads to them putting others ahead of themselves. Sometimes they get upset if a person doesn’t take their help. In some cases their self-esteem depends on being needed.
- A need for control: Control is very important to codependents. It makes them feel safe. Many people might relate to this, but codependents can be obsessed with control. It makes it hard for them to live full, happy lives. Sometimes they will use alcohol or other substances to feel less inhibited. They also may feel the need to control others. This can lead to manipulation and abuse.
- Poor communication: Trouble with sharing thoughts, feelings and needs is another symptom of codependency. Often, codependent people rely on others to tell them what to think. Sometimes, they don’t tell the truth to avoid upsetting people. They might feel pressured to be okay with something they aren’t. Unfortunately, many aren’t comfortable expressing those feelings.
- Issues with obsession: Codependents tend to get hung up on other people. Certain relationships may become unhealthy obsessions. These attachments can be very toxic. Often, people with codependency will spend a lot of time thinking about others. They may feel they have “inside knowledge” on another’s thoughts of feelings. The words and actions of others are picked apart. Usually, the root of this behavior is a fear of rejection. Sometimes, obsessions are an escape from reality.
- Depending on approval: Codependent people need to feel accepted in order to accept themselves. Many suffer from a fear of rejection or abandonment. Individuals of any age can struggle with this. Some only feel fulfilled while in a relationship. When alone, they quickly become depressed and lonely. Often, their sense of identity revolves around others. This can lead people to become trapped in abusive relationships.
- Difficulty with intimacy: Some codependents withdraw from relationships. They have a hard time opening up to others. A fear of being judged could be the cause of this. Many want to avoid rejection as well. In some cases, they simply don’t want to have someone to answer to. It’s common for codependents to keep people from getting close.
- Living in denial: Many struggling with codependency don’t want to recognize they have a problem. In some situations they blame others instead of facing their own issues. They might leave a trail of toxic relationships behind without admitting it. For whatever reason, they can’t own up to having a problem. They may also deny their own needs. This is common when they put others before themselves. Denying your own personal boundaries is very unhealthy. It can lead to feeling unable to accept help from others.
All of these codependent behaviors may lead to a painful emotional state. Codependency can make people feel like failures. They often feel trapped and alone. It can lead to anger, resentment, depression, loneliness, and despair. It’s important to remember that feeling numb is not a healthy way to cope. With the right help, symptoms can be treated correctly.
Who Is Affected By Codependency?
In most cases, codependency is found in spouses, parents, siblings, friends and co-workers of addicts. In broad terms, it describes people from dysfunctional families who show the symptoms. However, it most commonly applies to the relationships that addicts have with others.
This is especially true in families with addicted relatives. If you look back, there is usually a pattern. Codependent people often had codependent parents, and so on. It can be a very difficult cycle to break. The condition can affect people of every kind. Wealth, social standing, and age do not make a difference.
How Is Addiction Connected To Codependence?
In dysfunctional families, feelings are often ignored or denied. This can result in fear, anger, pain and shame. It is common for such families to pretend problems don’t exist. Confrontation is often avoided at all costs. As a result, emotions are not properly dealt with. Some will begin to stop caring about their own needs. They become masters at acting like everything is okay. In reality, they are completely detached.
Many will turn to drugs or alcohol or a sense of peace. Unfortunately, this is how a lot of people choose to cope. Sometimes, family members who abuse substances become the center of attention They are the focus of everyone’s energy and thoughts. Giving them the wrong attention can be considered enabling. Supporting them indirectly or directly will only make the problem worse. There are different kinds of enabling. In extreme cases, a family member might be funding another’s addiction. Other families may simply be turning a blind eye.
Factors that can lead to a dysfunctional family include:
- A family member who is addicted to something. This could be drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
- A history of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
- Someone in the family who is physically or mentally ill.
Codependent and Interdependent Relationships
Codependent relationships are usually completely out of balance. On the other hand, interdependent relationships show the opposite. Here is why they are so different:
- Codependent people are often intensely possessive. They change their behavior in order to keep a relationship together. Interdependent relationships offer freedom of choice. They encourage growth and individuality. Both people act in each other’s best interest.
- Codependent partners tend to identify strongly with one another. Often, individual feelings can become blurred. They feel threatened if the other disagrees with them. Interdependent partners are comfortable having separate identities. Differences are appreciated and welcome. This is mostly a result of good self-esteem.
- Codependent relationships show severe ups and downs. In some cases, behavior can become violent. Those involved may be a victim, abuser, or rescuer. Sometimes, it changes from day to day. Interdependent relationships are predictable and consistent. Proper boundaries and respect are maintained. Partners can trust each other for support.
- Codependent relationships don’t encourage a healthy support system. Many times one partner may feel pressured to isolate themselves. This could even be from other family. Interdependent partners allow each other a broad support system. Trust is the basis for making this work.
- Codependency often leads to people pleasing. This causes one person to act a certain way because of the other. They may also begin to mimic the other person’s feelings. Interdependent partners don’t rely on each other’s approval. It’s possible for them to feel empathy without any guilt.
- Codependent people often live in denial. Many times, they refuse to admit to mistakes. This can lead to an unhealthy cycle of behavior. It’s common for them to lie to themselves. They have a hard time recognizing their faults. Interdependency allows people to see clearly. When in the wrong, they apologize from the heart. Their motives are honest and trustworthy.
How Is Codependency Treated?
The causes of codependency usually go back to a person’s childhood. This is the area that treatment will likely focus on. Childhood issues and behavior patterns are often looked at. Proper treatment can offer education, individual counseling, and group therapy. These programs should help patients address their problems.
Qualified professionals can teach how to identify and reverse codependent symptoms. Treatment should also provide a chance to confront buried feelings. It’s important to choose an environment that feels safe. Family dynamics may be explored as well. Patients should leave with the tools to cope with their emotions in a healthy way.