WHAT IS CO-DEPENDENCY?
Many of us struggle with the question: What is co-dependency? Am I co-dependent? How do we begin treating addiction and codependency? We want precise definitions and diagnostic criteria before we will decide. Co-dependents Anonymous, as stated in the Eighth Tradition, is a nonprofessional fellowship. We offer no definition or diagnostic criteria for co-dependency, respectfully allowing psychiatric and psychological professionals to accomplish that task. What we do offer from our own experience are characteristic attitudes and behaviours that describe what our co-dependent histories have been like.
We believe that treating addiction and codependency begins with an honest self-diagnosis. We came to accept our inability to maintain healthy and nurturing relationships with others and ourselves. We began to recognize that the cause lay in long-standing destructive patterns of living. We have found these patterns to fall within two general categories:
- Compliance – pleasing others
- Control – manipulating others.
Treating addiction and codependency
Since those early years of treating addiction and codependency, as research into family dynamics and dysfunctional families has extended our knowledge of these areas, the definition of the co-dependent and indeed of the co-dependent relationship itself has broadened to the extent whereby the following is considered to be applicable.
The more extreme co-dependent relies entirely on external stimuli created by NO relationship with itself. Drug addicts and alcoholics have a fragile sense of self once they leave rehab for treating addiction and codependency, hence the importance of going to fellowship meetings as part of a structured support network. Many recovering people fall into the trap of co-dependency and get involved with other needy people and lose sight of themselves. This is a common form of relapse.
Treating addiction and codependency note: It is important to remember that all dysfunctional family systems often leave the same scars. Parents do not necessarily have to be alcoholic, drug users etc. and the loss of childhood which is typical of family units where alcoholism is present, is just as real for children raised in other forms of dysfunctional families. The principles and techniques of recovery, and the transformation, is however the same process for all co-dependents.
Co-dependency is a progressive disease brought about by child abuse, which takes the form of anything “less than nurturing.” Co-dependency is epidemic (maybe all of us are co-dependent) and defines a vast array of psychological and physical symptoms. The caring manifested by co-dependents is an unconscious effort to keep repressed pain at bay, and the co-dependent actually contributes to the addictive behavior of their loved ones by enabling. Enabling keeps the loved one addicted so the co-dependent can go on caring to gain a sense of self worth. Recovery from co-dependency requires drastic attitude and lifestyle change (Detachment) and a lifelong commitment to the 12-step regime and the body, mind and spiritual way of life you are being introduced to hear in treatment.
Our dependency makes slaves out of us, especially if this dependency is a dependency of our self-esteem. If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.
The Core Problem of Co-dependency is a bruised relationship with oneself!
5 Primary Symptoms of Co-dependency
Difficulty with loving the self (self esteem)
Difficulty in protecting oneself by setting functional boundaries with others.
Difficulty in knowing one’s reality and owning it.
Difficulty with self-care.
Difficulty with expressing one’s reality in moderation.
5 more peripheral symptoms of Co-dependency:
Negative control: controlling others or allowing others to control them. Both choices cause a co-dependent to project responsibility on to others for their own inability to be internally comfortable within themselves.
Resentment: Blaming others for the inability to protect themselves with healthy boundaries.
Impaired spirituality: Makes someone else their Higher Power through hate, fear, or worship, or tries to be someone else’s Higher Power.
Addictions, mental illness or physical illness: This inability to face reality stems from lack of functional internal sense of self and sense of adequacy. There is a desire to be taken care of.
Difficulty with intimacy: When a co-dependent has difficulty knowing who s/he is, and what her reality is, s/he cannot share in a healthy way since intimacy means sharing one’s reality. When one does not share, there is no way to check out immature perceptions, so co-dependent continues to have painful problems in relationship with others. Co-dependents often try to fix or change a partner, justify themselves, argue about the other person’s reality, abuse the partner with sarcasm, ridicule, name calling, exaggeration, or so-called “honesty”.
How a Love Addict is More Than Co-dependent
What we have learned from treating addiction and codependency is that Love Addicts go beyond the standard symptoms of co-dependency. A Love Addict seeks to enmesh, to blend into another person completely. Underneath all of this are both a fear of abandonment and a fear of healthy intimacy, even if they pretend to look for it. When a co-dependent corrects their behaviour it can be quite painful yet can gradually learn to manage their lives in a more positive fashion. A Love Addict goes through severe withdrawal to the point of extreme panic and often totally unwilling to change their behaviours. Love Addiction like other addictive processes is an obsessive-compulsive process used to relieve or medicate intolerable reality. The co-dependent, in some cases may gradually embrace reality, Love Addicts avoid reality like the plague and even if there is some awareness that their behaviour is self-destructive.
How to start actually treating addiction and codependency
The Truth shall make you free – but first it shall make you miserable – proverb
This is the most important part of it. The bit that no one really allows you to know. Here we dive into the meat of it and understand how to actually treat life long codependency.
It’s hard to let go. We hang onto habits, relationships and defences long after they stop being good for us. It’s natural to ignore what we know, hoping that if we don’t notice it, we won’t lose what we thought we had. But as Freud commented, “Much is won if we succeed in transforming hysterical misery into common unhappiness”. It is very sad to face the reality of our powerlessness over someone else and the uselessness of obsessive behaviour, but it will release us from hysterical misery! The First Step, as Al-Anon states, is to admit the situation to yourself: you are powerless over alcohol and your life is unmanageable. Your thinking and feelings have become obsessive. The alcoholism is not the problem you can solve; it is the problem that lies before you. The chemically dependent person needs help, but so do you. To admit powerlessness is to surrender to a new way of looking at your life. Many people equate surrender with defeat and humiliation. They are like the alcoholic who chooses death over admitting the self-destructiveness of his or her lifestyle. Yet those who have made the choice to let go of a drug or another person have found that surrender was liberation. You can’t stand guard over someone else without losing your own freedom.
You can make a decision for acceptance, and live through that pain until it is finished, rather than staying in pain for a lifetime. Today you can decide to learn how to feel better, by changing your own thinking and actions. This sounds like a very large job, and it is. But it is to be done slowly, in small steps, and at your own pace. There are many people who have gone ahead of you, and they can be there for you as a sponsor, a counsellor or in their writing. Use all those resources when you need them. You will discover change brings anxiety and that is normal. The fear will diminish as you get used to new patterns in your life. It’s important to be gentle and non-blaming with yourself. Remember, your goal was good and reasonable – to help someone else and to feel better yourself. The problem was that it didn’t work. You are now beginning a process that will work and it will be accomplished in small steps, a day at a time. You begin with the basic philosophy of allowing the alcoholic the right to be wrong, the right to hurt, and the right to get well or not. You will begin today to concentrate on your own thinking, behaviour and needs. Remember, when you begin to become obsessed about anything, your thoughts circling around and around, it is simply a process you’ve used to solve a problem, but it doesn’t work. Whether you are scheming about methods to control someone else, rehearsing what you will say next time, or going over painful events from your past, you are wasting valuable time. You could be productive instead, by doing something that feels better, or organising your own day. Be aware also, that though it may feel to you that the alcoholic is the source of your feelings, actually you generate them yourself by your own thoughts and actions. When you notice your feelings come from you and are not put into you by another person, you begin to take charge of yourself. This will do a great deal to lessen your feelings of helplessness. Then you can begin to change non-productive bad moods.
For example, when feelings of panic take hold, it helps to remember that every mood passes. This one will too. Switch these thoughts by a firm message to yourself to stop it. You may have to repeat it several times. Next, follow with whatever aids you in switching these thoughts. It may be strenuous exercise, an Al-Anon meeting, or talking it out with a friend. Other helpful devices include reading Al-Anon or other literature written for family members. It may help to immerse yourself in mental work; something challenging that absorbs all your attention. Others do better with physical chores. Remember to be gentle with yourself, and that all growth and change means a certain amount of temporary dislocation. These are immediate first aid tactics for obsessive thoughts and actions, or feelings of anxiety and helplessness. They all work by breaking the cyclical patterns and giving you a sense of control.
A woman with many alcoholic relatives looks at her recovery programme like this: “I decided to look at it like a project. I was so overwhelmed with problems, most of them belonging to other people that for me the easiest way was to deliberately be my own helper. I slowly improved my life by asking myself every day what a caring friend would recommend. Today I enjoy most days and accomplish a lot because I think about what I need for the first time. I can allow myself to get help from other people”.
For the longer view, think about how you would live your life if you were not involved with an addicted person. What would you be thinking about if you were not thinking about this person and the problem? There lies the clue for what you could be doing with your life, and it deserves careful thought. Al-Anon suggests we ‘act as if’, and to live our way into healthy thinking. While you are at work on attitudes, examine what ideas are upsetting, such as the belief that anyone can control someone else’s drinking. You can behave as though you did not secretly believe you had enormous power over others. The new behaviour – putting challenge, pleasure, and accomplishment into your life – will make it more rewarding to continue the efforts with your emotional growth. As you make these outward and inward changes in things you do have power over, you will feel much more comfortable about surrendering to lack of power over someone else, even if that person is greatly loved by you, and is getting very sick. In spite of all your good intentions and insight, you may still find yourself devoting time each day to circular thinking, or yet one more attempt to control the uncontrollable. Pay attention to the pain it gives you because its message is, you need more help. Many have found a spiritual counsellor is a helpful guide. Health professionals who understand alcoholism have helped many. You deserve as many allies as you can find to help you on your journey.