By: Kelsey Brown
What is Codependency?
According to Mental Health America, codependency is a behavioral and emotional condition that affects an individual’s ability to have healthy, mutually satisfying relationships. It is also a term used to describe relationships in which one person unintentionally enables the destructive behaviors of another by constantly rescuing them, cleaning up after them, or making excuses for them.
The disorder was originally identified in studying the relationships of the spouses of alcoholics and most often involved loved ones or friends of those who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. Today, the term is used to describe any codependent person in a variety of dysfunctional relationships.
Codependency is more common than you might think, but before a person can change codependent behaviors, he or she must be able to identify the unhealthy patterns in his or her life. Fortunately, there are many clear signs and indicators of codependency and there are ways to modify the unhealthy behavior with therapeutic services and drug and alcohol rehab programs
Codependency: To Heal – Unlearn and Relearn
Codependency is a learned behavior. This means that a person is not born codependent, rather, they observe the codependent behavior from a parent or loved one and adopt it as their own. Codependent people tend to develop and maintain unhealthy relationships that are dysfunctional, destructive, and very one-sided.
In many cases, one person is unable to find happiness or satisfaction outside of another person and they choose to support our rescue that person at the cost of their own mental and physical well being.
Codependent people tend to find their worth in another person, whether it be a spouse, child, parent, or friend. They are unable to assert their own needs and sacrifice their own wellness, needs, and wants to fulfill the needs of someone else. They often find themselves involved with individuals who suffer from addiction or are emotionally or physically abusive and their self-esteem is fully dependent on the validation of others.
Symptoms of Codependency
Codependent people may not always come across as dependent. Many times, they seem to be independent, well-functioning individuals that are in control of their lives and their relationships. But looks can be deceiving. The following symptoms are typical characteristics of codependent people and relationships:
- Extremely blurry or rigid boundaries. Codependent people frequently feel responsible for another person’s problem and have a difficult time creating healthy boundaries for themselves, which can lead to them being manipulated and abused. Conversely, some codependent people may have very rigid boundaries that keep others at a distance and reduce their ability to develop meaningful, lasting relationships.
- Low self-esteem. This is often a result of feelings of inadequacy, shame, or guilt. Codependent people often compare themselves to others, lack the confidence to express their feelings, needs, and wants, and often feel guilty when they do.
- Rescuer mentality. Codependent people tend to develop relationships with people they believe they can rescue. What they understand to be love may actually be pity, which causes them to take responsibility for the behaviors of another person, even if they recognize those behaviors are irresponsible or wrong.
- Unhealthy need for the approval of others. Even when a codependent person realizes a relationship is unhealthy, they will hold onto it because they fear being alone, rejected, or unloved. They need to have the approval and recognition of others to feel good about themselves and feel depressed or lonely when they don’t get that approval. Often this leads to feelings of being trapped in a bad or abusive relationship.
- Poor communication skills. Codependent people typically have difficulty identifying and communicating their feelings or may lie or intentionally mislead others to protect a loved one or avoid disapproval. They may also avoid expressing their thoughts and emotions out of fear of causing a disagreement.
The Connection Between Codependency and Addiction
Codependency and addiction often go together because the lives of an addict’s family often revolve around the family member’s substance abuse, which causes additional psychological problems such as enabling.The family members and loved ones of addicted individuals often take on the role of the caretaker by cleaning up after the addicted person, fixing their mistakes, or making excuses for their behavior. Although others on the outside may find this behavior perplexing, these people truly believe they are being a good spouse, child, or parent by doing this. Unfortunately, they are unintentionally enabling their loved one’s addictive behaviors as a result.
It’s also not uncommon for loved ones to feel responsible for their loved one’s addiction and therefore, continually rescue them from the consequences of their own behavior. Unfortunately, often the addicted person will take advantage of this and manipulate their family members into providing these things to fuel their addiction.
Recognizing Codependency and Seeking Help
Codependent and enabling behavior is not only psychologically harmful to the family members and loved ones, but it also contributes to the addicted person’s avoidance of intervention and treatment. Seeking help for codependency and addiction is scary, both for the addicted person and their loved ones because it will require change, hard work, and emotional effort. Plus, positive results are never guaranteed.
If you recognize the symptoms of codependency mentioned above within your own family, you may need to seek out a drug and alcohol rehab program as well as psychological assistance from a therapist or counselor. Many high-quality rehab centers will provide clinical counseling in addition to family interventions and therapy to address enabling and codependent behaviors that have contributed to the addicted person’s drug or alcohol dependence.
Healing from Codependency: For the Family
The most important thing to realize is that drug rehab is not just for the addicted person—it’s for the entire family. Although the addicted person must address many behavioral and emotional issues while in rehab, the recovery process should include all those affected by the substance abuse, which typically includes spouses, parents, children, or other close loved ones.
Many relational problems related to addiction stem from pathological dependency on both sides, and these issues need to be addressed in a therapeutic setting.
Additionally, there are many benefits to participating in family therapy while a loved one is enrolled in alcohol and drug rehab, such as:
- Improving communication
- Identifying and modifying enabling behavior
- Discussing family roles
- Addressing unresolved conflict
- Beginning the healing process
Finding a rehab center that prioritizes the health and recovery of the entire family unit is the first step to breaking the cycle of addiction and codependency
Kelsey received her Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism from Missouri State University. Since then, she has become an active member of the substance abuse treatment industry, writing articles on a variety of subjects related to substance abuse, including detox, rehab, sober living, and mental health issues geared toward individuals who are seeking treatment or are in recovery.
Kelsey is currently a copywriter at Nova Recovery Center. In her spare time, Kelsey enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and kayaking.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.