What is codependency and how does it affect addiction? The concept of codependency was first defined in the 1950s by therapists working with alcoholics and their partners. They noticed a pattern of enabling, where one person, the “caretaker”, would consistently place the needs of the addict before their own needs. Codependency and addiction reinforce each other. Caring for people is healthy, but not if it prevents you from caring for yourself. Codependent people protect relationships unconditionally. They want to be loved and they can’t stand the thought of rejection, so they will suffer through anything and do whatever they can to maintain the relationship.
The concept of codependency has evolved somewhat since the 50s. In the context of addiction, we think of a codependent relationship as one where one person assumes excessive control over the life of another person, with the benign intention of helping them. But because they take too much control, they end up hindering the growth of the person they care about and enabling them to fail to make good choices by shielding them from consequences. In some codependent relationships, the controlling person may also be an addict. Unable to control their addiction, addicts may seek to shake the feeling of being out of control by controlling others. Mutually codependent addicts can prop each other up on the path to self-destruction. And while it can feel good to give and receive support, unconditional support for self-destructive behavior is clearly not a good thing.
Signs of Codependency
You can use several indicators to assess whether you or someone you care about might have codependency issues. Be on the lookout for controlling behavior, desire for perfection and accompanying feelings of guilt for being less than perfect, compulsively matching another person’s moods, overwhelming desire to please others, limited sense of personal boundaries, excessive sense of responsibility for another person and their actions and choices, low self esteem and a lack of trust in yourself. If several of these descriptions apply, there is a good chance you are looking at a relationship where codependency is a cause for concern.
Codependency: Learned Aberrant Behavior Or Natural Response?
Some therapists and sociologists believe that codependency is merely a natural response to watching someone you care about fall into addiction that starts from a perfectly sensible place but progresses to a very unhealthy state. Someone watches a person they care about making terrible choices that impact everyone else too and they step in and take over. But it does not work. You can’t control an addict, ultimately. They must realize that they want to regain control themselves. Then you can help them by encouraging them to go to rehab and supporting their ongoing recovery effort.
Others observe a link between families where one of the parents is an addict and codependent behavior. Children who grow up in households with an alcoholic parent often marry partners who are suffering from some kind of substance addiction. Some theorize that growing up with an alcoholic parent forces children to accept mature roles too soon in life. And perhaps they are imitating a codependent parent married to an addicted parent, so they don’t have a good model of taking care of someone else without giving up personal boundaries and failing to take care of themselves too.
Codependency Harms The Caretaker And The Addict
By definition, the caretaker in codependent relationship is giving too much, making sacrifices that they should not make, and failing to set good boundaries. Caretakers may suffer financially, socially, emotionally, or quite likely all three as a result of their efforts to clean up after the addict that they enable. By placing too much emphasis on taking care of symptoms and way too little emphasis on holding the addict accountable and addressing the cause of the problem, caretakers make it easy for addicts to continue on the path of addiction. Caretakers want to help, but they end up doing the greatest possible harm.
It takes time to fully understand one’s own role in a codependent relationship. Please be honest with yourself. Are you making this tragic mistake? Ask yourself “am I sincerely well-intentioned?” Perhaps the answer is simply “yes,” but… you are beginning to realize you are not really helping. Or perhaps you will realize, when you look in your heart, you knew already that you are not really helping, but you are just afraid of rejection. Or maybe you are just not sure. Don’t you think it is time to get some help and take a closer look at what you are doing and why? Open your heart. You need to allow yourself some vulnerability. You are here because you know it is time for a change. It is ok. You can fix it, and there are people who want to help who will support you.
How To Break Free From Codependency
It is going to sound crazy at first. You have to stop working to try and remove all the consequences of addiction. “But..if I don’t take care of him/her, who will?” Here is the thing: those problems you keep solving for your addict are solutions in disguise. No one but an addict can change an addict. They will need help, but their personal commitment to change is the single most important element for successful recovery from addiction. By cleaning up all the problems your addict is creating, you deny them the impetus to get clean. The problems you are cleaning up are just the tip of the iceberg of damage that addiction will do. Stop helping!
You will need to learn to monitor and analyze your thoughts and actions carefully. Accept that you cannot control or fix your addict. Once you realize you can’t control the addict, you realize that you are not responsible for their actions; they are.
Codependent behaviors are often learned at an early age. Even if you pick them up later in life, they begin to seem so normal and entirely rational that they are very hard to combat alone. Al-anon is a non-profit volunteer organization that offers free confidential support to anyone who is affected by another person’s addiction. That can be a great place to start. Many people working to escape codependency reach out for professional help. It is difficult, emotionally challenging work, but there is good news. Compassionate, non-judgemental, trained and experienced guides are waiting to help you on your journey to freedom. It is the best thing you can do for yourself, and for the person that you care about.
Take The First Step Towards Freedom From Codependency
You know it is time to learn to truly help the addict you care about gets better instead of just helping them continue getting worse. In the process, you will learn to set boundaries and take better care of yourself. It is a big, difficult project, but it is very much worth the effort. Many other people have gone through the process of becoming free from codependency. Seasons Bali has a comprehensive family therapy program that will help you understand and break the cycle of codependency. You can learn more about our family therapy program here.
If you or someone you care about has a problem with drugs or alcohol or any other form of addiction, call one of our experts today on (toll free Australia) 1800 288 348 or +61 398045757 or email us at [email protected] and we will call you.