Monday, June 04, 2007

Overview of Codependency
“ A ‘no’ uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a ‘yes’ merely uttered to please, or what is worse, to avoid trouble. ~Mahatma Gandhi
What is codependency? What's the definition?
How do I know if I’m codependent?
Isn’t everyone codependent?
Why do we become codependent? What causes it?
Melody Beattie writes that codependency is unique in that recovery can be fun and liberating. What does she mean?
How can counseling help?

What is codependency? What's the definition?

There are many definitions used to talk about codependency today. The original concept of codependency was developed to acknowledge the responses and behaviors people develop from living with an alcoholic or substance abuser. A number of attributes can be developed as a result of those conditions.

However, over the years, codependency has expanded into a definition which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during childhood by family rules.

One of many definitions of codependency is: a set of *maladaptive, *compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing *great emotional pain and stress.

*maladaptive - inability for a person to develop behaviors which get needs met.

*compulsive - psychological state where a person acts against their own will or conscious desires in which to behave.

*sources of great emotional pain and stress - chemical dependency; chronic mental illness; chronic physical illness; physical abuse; sexual abuse; emotional abuse; divorce; hypercritical or non-loving environment.

As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. And the codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment.

Even when a codependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the codependent person still operates in their own system; they’re not likely to get too involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This of course creates problems that continue to recycle; if codependent people can’t get involved with people who have healthy behaviors and coping skills, then the problems continue into each new relationship.

How do I know if I’m codependent?

Generally, if you’re feeling unfulfilled consistently in relationships, you tend to be indirect, don’t assert yourself when you have a need, if you’re able to recognize you don’t play as much as others, or other people point out you could be more playful. Things like this can indicate you’re codependent.

What are some of the symptoms?

* controlling behavior
* distrust
* perfectionism
* avoidance of feelings
* intimacy problems
* caretaking behavior
* hypervigilance (a heightened awareness for potential threat/danger)
* physical illness related to stress

Isn’t everyone codependent?

There are some natural and healthy behaviors mothers do with children that look like codependency.

Are people mutually interdependent on each other?

Yes. There is perhaps a continuum of codependency, that most people might fall on. Maybe this continuum exists because so many people are taught not to be assertive, or to ask directly for their needs to be met? We probably can’t say though that everyone is codependent. Many people probably don’t feel fulfilled because of other things going on in the system at large.

Anne Wilson Schaef believes the whole society is addicted; the object of addiction isn't the important issue, but rather that the environment sets us up to be addicted to something, i.e. food, sex, drugs, power, etc.

If that is true, then all of us are either addicts or codependents. From this perspective, society produces a pattern making it hard not to be codependent. But it still doesn’t change that we’re not getting what we need and we’re not feeling fulfilled. Then the question is, how do I become more fulfilled and feel better about myself and the life I’m living?

Why do we become codependent? What causes it?

It’s widely believed we become codependent through living in systems (families) with rules that hinder development to some degree. The system (usually parents and relatives) has been developed in response to some problem such as alcoholism, mental illness or some other secret or problem.

General rules set-up within families that may cause codependency may include:

It’s not okay to talk about problems
Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself
Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation
Be strong, good, right, perfect
Make us proud beyond realistic expectations
Don’t be selfish
Do as I say not as I do
It’s not okay to play or be playful
Don’t rock the boat.
Many families have one or more of these rules in place within the family. These kinds of rules can constrict and strain the free and healthy development of people’s self-esteem, and coping. As a result, children can develop non-helpful behavior characteristics, problems solving techniques, and reactions to situations in adult life

Melody Beattie writes that codependency is unique in that recovery can be fun and liberating. What does she mean?
“You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don't try.” ~Beverly Sills
Oftentimes, a part of being codependent is a resistance to being able to HAVE FUN AND PLAY! ;) So part of recovery from codependency is learning how to let go and have fun. Therefore it’s bound to be liberating, and fun as we learn how to let go and play.

How can counseling help?

For people with codependency, individual counseling can teach assertiveness, listening, and communication. Counseling can help you become more aware of non-helpful actions/behaviors, and work with you on developing new, healthier coping skills.

In the case of codependency though, counseling only helps if the counselor is aware of their own tendency towards codependence, or if the counselor has some understanding about the addictive push in our society. Counselors, in the case of codependency, need to present good boundary setting and healthy living themselves during sessions with clients.

If a counselor develops a working relationship with a client that has codependent qualities, again, the pattern is repeated, and therapy may not be as helpful. Some statistics show 50-80% of counselors have not addressed their own codependency issues. So one must be careful in choosing a counselor for this kind of support.

There are also self-help groups for codependency, called CODA groups. More information is available through local alcoholism services. If you can’t find a CODA group, there’s also ACA (adult children of alcoholics groups) that deal with similar issues CODA groups might deal with.

LINK: Co-Dependents Anonymous

Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence
These patterns and characteristics are offered as a tool to aid in self-evaluation. They may be particularly helpful to newcomers.

Denial Patterns:
I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.
I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others.

Low Self Esteem Patterns:
I have difficulty making decisions.
I judge everything I think, say or do harshly, as never "good enough."
I am embarrassed to receive recognition and praise or gifts.
I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
I value others' approval of my thinking, feelings and behavior over my own.
I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.

Compliance Patterns:
I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others' anger.
I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
I value others' opinions and feelings more than my own and am afraid to express differing opinions and feelings of my own.
I put aside my own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.
I accept sex when I want love.

Control Patterns:
I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
I attempt to convince others of what they "should" think and how they "truly" feel.
I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.
I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
I have to be "needed" in order to have a relationship with others.


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