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CoDA: Understanding Codependency

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Definition of Codependency:Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction.

Addiction To Codependency

The term codependency, or codependent, was originally used to describe the unhealthy behaviors of a loved one’s actions towards those suffering from substance abuse issues. Historically, the notion of codependency behaviors comes directly out of the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous, part of a newly found realization that the problem was not solely the addict or alcoholic’s, but also the family and friends who enable and engage with the addict or alcoholic. In other words, codependency is simply an unhealthy relationship between two or more people.  People suffering from codependency feel the desperate need to be needed, they are obsessed with helping or fixing people, and feel they need that person in their life to be OK.  They suffer from the delusion that they can save and fix people.  Codependency can be an addiction in itself, and is just as detrimental as substance abuse.

Codependency can take on many different forms.  Let’s look at a few examples of codependency to better understand codependent behaviors:

Enabling – An addiction may be present but ignored and the enabler may try to cover for the addict or alcoholic. Some codependents will even prevent their loved ones from going to 12 step support meetings or from seeking addiction treatment because the enabler minimizes the impact of the disease.

Messiah Complex – this codependent person sees the addiction and feels they are the only one who can help.  This kind of person tells people what to do and feels the need to fix others.  The Messiah Complex codependent tries to change others even when there is nothing wrong with them.  They may create chaos just so they can feel they are a necessary part of the person’s life.

What Causes Codependency?

Similar to any addiction, codependency is caused by feelings of low self-esteem, past traumas, and the need to belong.  Codependents use other people to cover these feelings and make them feel complete.  Like drug addicts or alcoholics, codependent people can be in a state of denial for a long period of time.  They may use the excuse that they are not codependent; they just love the person and they can’t stand to watch them suffer because they love them so much.

Codependents also have the tendency to blame others, and not take responsibility for their own actions, making this kind of relationship very common in addicted families.  The person suffering from the addiction is an easy scapegoat for any problems the codependent person may have, or for any family dynamics issues that may be present.  The codependent family member may even be the reason the drug addict cannot recover.  If the sick person (addict/alcoholic) got better, then the codependent person feels they wouldn’t be needed anymore.

Treating Codependency

The most effective methods for treating codependency are by treating the problem. Many codependents recover by attending support groups like CoDa (Codependents Anonymous), seeking therapy, and by building self-esteem and self-worth.  The general idea to help rebuild self-esteem is by replacing negative thinking with healthy positive thoughts. Repeating positive thinking and behaviors will help rebuild a healthier self-image and outlook on behaviors. It took time to build low self-esteem; it will also take time to build up self-worth. When it comes to recovery, many codependent relationships are brought to a halt when the person suffering from the drug addiction goes into treatment and gets clean and sober.  This can be painful and frightening for the codependent person, but it is obviously for the best.  Hopefully, the codependent person will take advantage of this time to work on themselves and get healthy for when their loved one comes home.  They should try to find activities that are free of needy people, and avoid putting themselves in situations where they have the potential to take on the role of a parent or care taker.

There are a number of support groups available for individuals suffering from codependency. Connecting with other people who understand what you are going through is a crucial step for those wanting to recover from codependency.

Written By: Watershed Ashling

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