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What is Co-dependency?

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  • July 12, 2004 /
  • by Stonebriar Counseling Associates /
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In the mid-1980s, addiction counselors began to expand their focus from addiction to alcohol and cocaine, to addiction to activities such as sex, work, shopping, and gambling. The term “co-dependent” came to replace “co-alcoholic.” As psychotherapists began to research the behavioral patterns of codependent people, they soon realized that these people actually have their own recognizable, dysfunctional compulsions. Their psychopathology is not just a by-product of being in relationship with an addict. Nancy Groom, in her book, From Bondage to Bonding: Escaping Codependency Embracing Biblical Love, writes that codependents are “addicted,” not to a destructive substance, but to a destructive pattern of relating to other people. In other words, codependency became a description of those persons who resisted giving up their caretaker role as much as the chemically addicted person resisted staying clean. It was as if their whole identity and purpose in life were consolidated in both adjusting to and trying to manage the addict’s problem. No longer do professionals limit the term codependency to the family members of someone with a chemical addiction. They now apply the term to a much broader group of people. Codependency is used for those who struggle with overreliance and control issues—even if they are not in a relation-ship with an unhealthy person. Historically, these destructive relationship patterns can be traced back to what they learned as children growing up in dysfunctional families. While most people with codependency don’t end up in a severe state of collapse, many can identify with some or all of the following statements:

•I worry too much about a person or problem.

•I feel as if I must stay on top of everything.

•I feel responsible when others are angry or sad.

•I minimize or cover for what others do wrong.

•It seems as though I’m always apologizing for something.

•I have difficulty disagreeing with others.

•I tip-toe around those I’m afraid of.

•I’ll do anything to keep the peace.

•I tend to cling to others.

•I want others to take care of me.

•I try to fix people’s problems.

•I often feel used by those I try to help or please.

Note that people with a codependent lifestyle manifest a particular lifestyle pattern:

•Excessive dependence on things or people outside oneself

•Accepting responsibility for others’ feelings or actions

•Letting others dominate or abuse them

•Neglecting their own needs

•Having difficulty knowing their own feelings and wishes

•A weak sense of personal identity and loss of touch with their real self

•Difficulty setting realistic personal boundaries

•Excessive efforts to control or change their environment or people in it

•Frequently feeling resentful

•Being very fearful of rejection, or being left alone

From these descriptions of codependency, nearly everyone has at least a couple of these symptoms. We may occasionally struggle with our identity or with wanting to control others or with setting boundaries. Therefore, because of the universal presence of a few of these symptoms some people question the helpfulness of the label “codependent.” But codependents don’t just struggle with a couple of these occasionally. They consistentlyrely on a codependent style as their basic way ofrelating to themselves and others. The focus of a codependent person’s life may include a wide range of people—a spouse, an ex-spouse, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a parent, a teenage son or daughter, a friend, or a family. Some codependent people are in a relationship with others who have a serious drinking or gambling problem. Some are in a relationship with a spouse who is having an adulterous affair. Still others are living with someone with an unpredictable temper. Having defined codependency what are the characteristics? In other words what does codependency look like?

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