What is Codependency?

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Codependency is also known as “relationship addiction” as it refers to people who have developed unhealthy relationships in response to a close family member’s struggle with addiction. Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to the next. People tend to form relationships that are emotionally abusive and destructive because this is what they have been exposed to. The cycle of codependency is hard to break, especially because it should be treated but is often overlooked.

What Types of People Does Codependency Affect?

Codependency affects the spouse, child, parent, sibling or friend of an individual struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. It’s not surprising to see how these relationships begin to unravel. When a person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, they become selfish because the addiction starts to dictate their lives. They’re not afraid to lie, steal or engage in reckless behaviors. The people around the addict begin to sacrifice their own needs to try to help their loved one, and the focus and attention is placed on the addict. In the process, the needs of everyone else are put on hold or forgotten altogether.

How Do Codependents Act?

Addiction is such an ugly disease, it doesn’t take long for it to take its toll on families and relationships. Codependents often learn to detach themselves from others and deny or ignore their needs and emotions. Many have low self-esteem, and they’re not afraid to keep suffering at the hands of the addict. They may have a people-pleasing nature by heart, which means saying “no” or leaving the relationships brings them a great deal of anxiety. Codependents struggle with setting and enforcing boundaries, and because of this, they become protective of their addicted loved one. Anyone who questions the relationship makes the codependent instantly defensive.

Codependents have a need to take care of others, and they often assume the role of a martyr, caring for someone else while neglecting their own needs. They can’t stand the thought of being alone or losing their loved one, no matter how toxic the relationship may be. The reward for the codependent is that they feel needed and truly accepted by another person.

My Loved One is an Addict. Does that Make Me a Codependent?

Not everyone who lives or associates with an addict is a codependent. Although this term is used somewhat loosely, we use it to define individuals who are manipulated and controlled by the addict. There are some people who are able to walk away without being affected by their addicted loved one. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. We are shaped and molded by our childhoods and the people we surround ourselves with, so to say that people are unaffected by addiction is not realistic in most cases. While you may not be a codependent today, these behaviors can be learned over time and then passed down to children.

How is Codependency Recognized and Treated?

It’s easy to get caught up in the downward spiral of addiction. For many people, addiction was not present at the beginning of the relationship, so it’s difficult to walk away from a parent or spouse who is developing a dependency when there is a strong history holding everyone together. Nevertheless, it’s important that codependency is understood so that it can be identified and treated. Education is key, so if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction either personally or with a family member, it’s time to get educated on addiction.

Through education, families can see how addiction extends into other relationships. Educational materials can be obtained from the library, the Internet, mental health centers and addiction treatment centers. What is most difficult to come to terms with is that codependency needs to be treated just as addiction does. Family members need their own professional support and counseling so that they learn how to build healthy relationships and increase their self esteem. By denying the problem, it will only make things worse because family members may not know how to form healthy, mutually rewarding relationships with others.

Since codependency is something that is ingrained into a person’s childhood, treatment involves psychotherapy, such as by looking back into the past and working through childhood problems. Codependents will need to get in touch with their inner feelings and acknowledge troubles that have been bottled up for years. Through counseling, support groups, education and Al-Anon meetings, codependents are able to experience their feelings, gain self esteem and take part in healthy, meaningful relationships.

Only a qualified professional can make a diagnosis of codependency. Reach out to a professional for support, advice and guidance in dealing with the behavior. The sooner it is treated, the sooner a full recovery can be made.