Codependency is a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behavior
and on approval seeking, in an attempt to gain safety, identity and self worth.
Codependency is a condition or state of being, that results from adapting
to dysfunction (possibly addiction) in a significant other. It is a learned response
to stress which, over a person’s lifetime, can worsen.
Perceptions of the term codependency were that it was caused by association
with someone who was an addict or abusive. It was seen as an abnormal,
dysfunctional response to a stressful situation. Identifying with the label had
a negative connotation implying that there was something wrong with you
if you were codependent. Codependents were (and still are) called peoplepleasers,
controllers, compulsive caretakers and enablers. They were
described as being incapable of minding their own business. Loving too
much was seen as a bad thing that may even cause addiction and mental
illness to worsen.
The spouse or partner of an addict that denies or minimizes the problem,
are often trying to keep their relationship from imploding. They hope that love
and commitment will heal what is wrong. When addicts are in their addiction,
they are not immune to the problems other family members are experiencing.
They too are trying to preserve loving attachments while at the same time facing
guilt and shame. The diagnosis of codependency appeared to exclude the addict
and instead of viewing them as a member of the family, would blame him or her
for making everyone around them sick. An addict does not intentionally harm
their family and deserves the same respect and compassion as any member of
the family. They need help to rebuild loving relationships, not only to maintain
When a family is dealing with ongoing problems of any kind, negative stress
increases and they begin to live in a survival mode. They develop patterns
that are an attempt to decrease anxiety and increase attachment. Although
they may appear to be dysfunctional, these patterns of attachment are
meant to protect the emotional well being of each person and the family unit.
Of course, if continued for too long, they become a painful way of living.
Patterns of attachment are individual and varied depending on innate tendencies,
birth order and the degree of stress in the family. A sensitive child
who is an extravert may use his or her gifts in academics or sports to feel
better and gain love and approval. A child who is compassionate,
may start to help parents and guide younger siblings. Another
with a feisty nature may become a “truth teller” proudly informing others of
the error of their ways in an attempt to make things better. This may rock the
boat but it does get the attention they seek. A quiet introvert may withdraw
or choose to engage with peers away from home.
If family stress continues, these patterns, especially in children, will be
overused out of necessity and may become a permanent way of coping with
attachment anxiety in adult life. Those who use withdrawal to cope will have
trouble handling intimacy or conflict and may have superficial relationships.
Those who are prone to caretaking may see everyone as a problem and
spend their lives trying to fix what is wrong in hopes of someday feeling ok
Recovery from the anxiety of broken relationships is multi-faceted. At times
it is an individual experience of getting to know oneself, acknowledging that
the desperate actions we took in the past may have been all wrong. At the
same time, we may also notice that when we are not taking care of ourselves,
we resort to those actions again and again.
We use our gifts and our weaknesses to try to gain stability and may fall
back repeatedly until we learn how to pause…. And look inward at our fears.
While we work on recognizing our attachment patterns, we need to also
work at connecting with our loved ones. This does not involving asking them
to change or trying to fix them. It is simply a time of accepting what is and
learning to manage our own responses to them. Relationships need attention
and cannot wait while we mend ourselves alone.
Many individuals, couples and families find needed solutions by adding
professional counseling to their recovery plan. With a skilled counselor
you may be able to shorten the process and lessen the pain. Since guilt,
shame and fear are a major part of the pain we feel during a relationship
crisis, we need to be conscious of the impact of the words we speak to
others and to ourselves. When we realize that love is behind much of the
behavior that looks irrational or crazy, we begin to have compassion
and love for ourselves and those we care about.