Co-dependency is a pattern of relationship in which one partner is supporting the other in any way they can without paying attention to their own needs. Co-dependency was first discovered in the 1950s when a counselor was helping an alcoholic recover from addiction and noticed that the alcoholic’s wife displayed many enabling behaviors. It was originally called co-alcoholism but was later changed to encompass a wider spectrum of behaviors and activities.
What is Co-dependency?
To get a clear picture, here is an example of a co-dependent relationship. Let’s say we have the married couple from above. The husband is an alcoholic. The wife is our co-dependent. The wife comes to rely on the addictive behavior of her husband and vice versa. It gets to the point where the husband no longer is making his own decisions and really is having a hard time thinking for himself because the wife is always in control. The wife is in control to the point where she may even be helping the addictive behavior. By cleaning up after her husband, covering for him in some way or maybe even buying his alcohol, she is contributing to the addiction while keeping herself in charge of the whole situation.
This is a co-dependent relationship and shows how when paired with addiction, it can become a very high hurdle to overcome.
A co-dependent person compulsively takes control. They tell others what to do, how to do it and when to do it. They will even make important decisions for the other person, telling them what to think. This eventually leads to a person being unable to think or act for themselves. A co-dependent person appears to be strong and in control on the outside, but on the inside, they are confused and controlled by the behaviors of others around them that they have come to rely on.
Signs and Symptoms of Co-dependency
The addict can be the co-dependent as well. He may set personal expectations for people that are unrealistically high so that when those expectations are broken, they have the perfect excuse to continue with their addictive behaviors. They also may try to please everyone in an effort to control a situation.
Here are some symptoms of co-dependency in addicts:
- Low self-esteem due to guilt, feeling inadequate or having a need for perfection
- Poor communication skills
- Feeling like they need to make others happy
- Difficulty saying “no“
- A need to control people, situations, and their own feelings
- Being overly dependent on other people
- Obsessively thinking about other people and personal fears and anxieties
- Lack of personal boundaries
These symptoms vary from person to person. It is common, however, that co-dependency is learned in childhood as a result of neglect abuse and/or abandonment.
Co-dependency and Addiction
The discovery of co-dependency was first found in the wives of alcoholics. There is an ever-present link between the two. Addictive behavior can breed co-dependency because it leaves an empty place in a relationship. This causes a partner or loved one to try to fill in the gaps by making the decisions and making things seem like they are OK for the alcoholic. This, of course, creates a harmful, downward spiraling co-dependent relationship. There is also the common occurrence that both addiction and co-dependent disorders stem from the trauma of some kind at a young age. Substances are abused to try to cope with negative thoughts and feelings one has as a result of some long gone harmful experience. Well, the same goes for co-dependency. Being neglected or abandoned as a child can lead to people feeling like they need something to cling to as they grow up and become adults. Many cling to drugs and alcohol while some cling to people and situations. They feel the need to be needed and so, create a situation in which they are calling all of the shots and are very much needed by someone.
Co-dependency can cause a very difficult situation for recovering drug and alcohol addicts as well. An addict who is in recovery may find himself in a co-dependent situation by simply transferring his addiction to drugs over to an addiction to people. The same frantic, dispersed climate is created inadvertently to reenact a part of the addictive whole. By switching their addiction, it can be seen, that they are not actually recovered from addiction. If the addictive behavior persists, it becomes all the more likely for a relapse to occur.
For recovering addicts, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of co-dependency so that they may be able to stop before it becomes an innate, and unintentional problem. There are programs that specifically focus on building up self-esteem and helping a person to realize that they are strong enough and can get through their trials and tribulations. Once this realization has occurred, a person can fully move past their addiction.
Treatment of Co-dependency
Treatment for co-dependency and addiction usually occurs at drug rehab centers. They usually only occur after an event of enough proportion to cause the addicted person to take action and make life changes. Some ways this may happen are: going to rehab for substance abuse, going to legal or court proceedings, relationship turbulences, and work problems.
Treatment of co-dependency is difficult because the co-dependent person cannot usually see what it is they are doing to harmfully affect the situation or person. They feel their actions are helpful and given out of love for the addict. It is a good idea to treat addiction and co-dependency simultaneously. This way both ends are covered, and by doing so together a couple or co-dependent group have a better chance of seeing things as they actually are in reality.
Treatments are given on an individual or couples basis, depending on what is needed in each particular case. The goal is to get them to understand how co-dependent behavior affects the people around them and their relationships. By making lifestyle and relationship changes they can begin to improve communication and make lasting progress in their lives.
While co-dependency and addiction are treated together in a rehabilitation center, there are also many steps one can take on their own to break co-dependent habits and become free from this tendency.
Here are a few steps that can be implemented to take charge of life:
- Abstinence. Both the addict and dependent must remain sober. The necessary changes that need to be made cannot take place while substances are being abused. Yes, this is a challenging thing to accomplish as usually the co-dependent situation is the one that is spawning and maintaining the substance abuse.
- Education. Understanding what a co-dependency disorder is can go a long way to handling the problem. Once more information is learned, one can become cause over the situation and thereby start on the changes that need to be made.
- Action. One must be willing to make changes. Without changes in behaviors, there will be no room for positive growth in the relationship or the patterns with which one lives their daily life. Communication and beneficial behaviors must increase. Harmful behaviors must end.
There are many codependency groups out there whose sole purpose is connecting people together to give support and help. There, one can share experiences and regain confidence and self-worth. Without these stable building blocks, it can become quite easy for a person to become extremely dependent again. This is where support groups are vital. With co-dependency especially, having the support, back up and reassurance that there are other people dealing with this self-abasing condition can be the turning point on which one starts the rest of their life.