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What is Co-Dependency?

Co-dependency is a pattern of habitual self-defeating coping mechanisms. This is often a result of living in a home affected by alcoholism or drug addiction. In these types of homes there are three messages:

  1. Don't talk
  2. Don't feel
  3. Don't trust
In a healthy family, members can talk, can feel, and they can tell the truth. Living in an environment where one feels as if they're constantly "walking on egg shells" and "waiting for the other shoe to drop" causes a great deal of stress and anxiety. This stress/anxiety is heightened when there are rigid, inflexible rules and belief systems imposed on people trapped in one of these families. As a result, the co-dependent develops habitual self-defeating coping mechanisms in an attempt to survive: such as - my fear of rejection determines what I say or do or, I like to avoid your anger. Further to this, these mechanisms cause the co-dependent to be out of touch with who they are because they have been in a mind altering experience.

Co-dependency is multi-generational and can be present even when there is no active drinking or drug use. Co-dependency is a disease which has, as its basis, a dysfunctional family of origin.


Who Can Become a Co-dependent?

Where do we need to look for this dysfunctional behavior of emerging patterns of co-dependency? We will find it in a person who is either alcoholic or non-alcoholic and who has been adversely influenced by one of the following types of people:

  1. Alcoholic or drug dependent parent
  2. Co-dependent parent
  3. The alcoholic or non-alcoholic who has an addicted spouse
  4. Someone who has an addicted child
  5. A co-dependent spouse
The end result is an inability to maintain functional relationships. In fact, co-dependents don't have relationships so much as they take "hostages" while feeling that they are "held hostage".

Most co-dependents have been searching for ways to overcome the dilemmas of the conflicts in their relationships and their childhood. Many were raised in families where addictions existed - some were not. Many were later influenced by an addicted or co-dependent person. In either case, the reality in  co-dependents' lives is that co-dependency is a deeply rooted compulsive behavior and that it is borne out of sometimes moderately, and sometimes extremely dysfunctional family systems.

Often, co-dependents have experienced in their own ways the painful trauma of the emptiness of their childhood and relationships throughout their lives. They attempted to use others, their mates, friends and even their children as their sole source of identity, value and well being and, as a way of trying to restore within themselves the emotional losses from their childhood. Their histories may include other powerful addictions which they have used to cope with their co-dependencies. The bottom line here is that those other addictions may possibly be symptoms of a co-dependent personality.


The Three Stages of Co-Dependency

  1. Early: In this early stage, the co-dependent learns how to cope, and here the acceptance or rationalization of their addict's behavior takes place. They constantly try to help out this sick or addicted person
  2. Middle: The co-dependent develops habitual self defeating coping mechanisms. When the coping mechanisms don't work, the co-dependent does more and takes on more responsibility. They adopt their behavior to accommodate their addicts active addiction. The co-dependent's focus is on the addict
  3. Control: The co-dependent, in frustration, tries to control more and more aspects of the addict's life. This often leads to family collapse and a crisis in personal values. Co-dependency, at this point, is reduced to continual self-defeating behavior.
The whole process is circular and rotates within the family from person to person. What we want to do in treatment is help each other break the cycle.


Dynamics of Co-Dependents

  1. Out of touch with their own experience: Co-dependents are in a "mood altered" state, leading to neglect of their needs. Co-dependents will often say things such as "I used to do that at one time", etc.
  2. Their feelings are discounted: Co-dependents do not know they have the right to feel. They show anger a great deal which protects them from exhibiting other feelings
  3. A great deal of emotional pain
  4. Learned not to ask for help: Co-dependents have overwhelming feelings of being on their own and you should never ask for help because then you really are on your own
  5. Not able to get needs met: Not only are co-dependents not able to get their needs met, they often can't even identify their needs
  6. They mistake feelings: They mistake feelings such as control for security, intensity for intimacy, and obsession for fear
  7. Tolerance: Co-dependents have an extremely high tolerance for inappropriate behavior
  8. Anger: Co-dependents often suffer continual feelings of anger that they feel compelled to suppress
  9. Health: Co-dependents do not recognize, or ignore, the injury to their own physical and mental health. They believe the alcoholic or addicts has the problem
  10. Adjustment and change: Co-dependents adjust constantly to external circumstances but never make any real changes
  11. Co-dependents are compulsive about pretending: They hide the truth, they react constantly to the alcoholic or addict, and usually put up a front that everything is OK
  12. Defensiveness: Co-dependents get very defensive about their feelings
  13. Co-dependencies are infectious: Others that are vulnerable will easily get pulled
  14. Realization: In recovery, a co-dependent will come to understand their own role in the cycle of addiction. By working the twelve steps of Nar-Anon, they will learn to change their perception and behavior to regain control over and improve their own lives

Common characteristics of co-dependency

  1. My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you
  2. My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval by you
  3. Your struggle affects my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems or relieving your pain
  4. My mental attention is focused on pleasing and protecting you
  5. My mental attention is focused on manipulating you (to do it my way)
  6. My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems and relieving your pain
  7. My own hobbies and interests are put aside. My time is spent sharing your interests or issues
  8. I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel
  9. My fear of rejection determines what I say or do
  10. My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you
  11. I put my values aside in order to connect with you
  12. The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours
Part of the recovery process is when we can see and acknowledge our behavior. Be patient, live and let God, and above all, be good to yourself.

Kilde: Nar-Anon of Northern Californias hjemmeside www.naranoncalifornia.org