Codependency is defined as, “excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support to due an illness or addiction.” According to Mental Health America, Codependency is often a learned behavior pattern that is often passed down through generations and can affect spouses, parents, siblings, friends, and other family members.
In the past, codependency was mostly likened to partners who cared for someone struggling with alcoholism or addiction. Today, that group remains the largest population of people who are living with codependent patterns, although it can affect people who are not in a chemically dependent relationship.
What has also been called, “relationship addiction”, people who engage in codependent behaviors are often a part of what some people would call a one-sided relationship. In other words, people gravitate toward relationships that are manipulative, filled with distrust and control and can also be emotionally or physically abusive.
These patterns can be learned or picked up through many different characteristics of relationships such as:
- Having an abusive parent
- Having an alcoholic or addict parent
- Being in a relationship with someone who struggles from addiction, a mental disorder or a dysfunctional family system
- Growing up with a sibling who struggled with addiction or a mental disorder
- Abandonment trauma
Codependency is largely characterized by a person’s inability to form healthy relationships that consist of trust, loving connection, compassion, boundaries, and support.
How Family Trauma can Create Codependency
Professionals often say that addiction is a family disease, and codependency is similar in that regard. Primarily, people who struggle with codependent behaviors learn them from a parent or from living in a “dysfunctional” family system, but what exactly does dysfunctional mean?
“Dysfunction” simply means, not operating normally or properly, deviating from the norm. Families that are considered “dysfunctional”, like we see on TV shows such as Shameless or This is Us, are characterized by some element of anger, fear, pain, or shame that is largely denied by one family member and effects the rest.
These “family impairments” most often refer to a specific family member who experiences:
- An addiction, either to work, food, drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or relationships
- Any presence of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
- A chronic mental ill disorder or chronic physical illness
In a “healthy” family unit, these situations would create an open dialogue and a space for understanding and healing. The “dysfunctional” family unit would be characterized by sweeping these things under the rug, pretending nothing is wrong, and no one really talking about it. For the children in these situations, they learn to see that sort of behavior as the norm and bring it with them into their future relationships until they are able to undergo therapy of some sort.
Disregarding the Problem
This behavior pattern has come to characterize a large number of Americans in some way or another. In other words, our society has been founded on people working long hours to make ends meet, and not complaining but just doing. We can think about many of our grandparents or the elders of our country that have experienced poverty, war, and chaotic times, that just “don’t talk about that stuff.”
For people who struggle with codependency, these traits are often increased tenfold. This is because when they were growing up and experiencing these traumatic events happen at home, and without a healthy family unit to discuss them with, their emotions, concerns, and needs were often just pushed to the side so they could survive. Codependents often carry traits of:
- Over-exaggerated feeling of responsibility for another
- Avoiding difficult emotions
- Downplaying their own needs
- Ignoring problems or their own health, emotional safety, need for comfort
- Difficulty “being themselves”
- Lack of Trust
- Rescuing patterns
- Need to control
- Difficulty setting healthy boundaries
- Fear of abandonment
- Need for validation, recognition, or approval
- Difficulty making decisions
- A feeling of guilt when they stand up for themselves
- Staying in unhealthy relationships
Instead, they invest a majority or all of their time and emotions into caring for the person in their life that is sick, or needs help. The codependent becomes the caretaker, which often leaves no room, time, or emotional space for themselves to find a way to heal.
How to Stop
A book was written a little more than 25 years ago called Codependent No More for people who struggled with codependent behavior patterns. Since then, there has been a wild influx of access to therapies, healing, and self-help guides for people with codependent patterns.
If you are wondering if you are codependent or still not sure, there are great little quizzes online that could give you some perspective on where you would lie.
There is a fellowship created for Codependents that is based on the same 12 step principles that the AA recovery program is based around. The organization is called CoDA, or, Codependents Anonymous. It is a place where people who struggle with codependency can go to meet others like them, work through the 12 steps of recovery based on codependency, and find solace in a community of people that wish to heal from their destructive behaviors.
In the end, the most helpful tool for codependent people is to seek professional therapy or counseling. There is often a level of trauma or unresolved emotions from the past that can conflict with learning new coping mechanisms or boundary setting.
It is so important for people who struggle with codependent behavior patterns to address and heal from their wounds if they wish to ever live a fulfilled life with a partner, children, or friends. This inability to create validation in oneself can lead to a lifetime of unmet expectations, resentments, and heartbreak.
If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol and if you’ve tried but failed to kick the habit, you may need professional help. Addiction is tough to beat by itself due to the pain of withdrawal and a lack of support, but you can find both at Stout Street’s reputable treatment center. Call us today and begin your journey to sobriety.