The Patterns and Characteristics of Codependent Behavior
This is Part 2 of our codependency series. If you missed Part 1, check it out here.
One of the major problems seen in the families of addicts is codependency. Codependency is a set of dysfunctional behaviors that family members adopt in order to survive the emotional pain and stress caused by living with an addicted family member. Do you believe that love, acceptance, security and approval are dependent upon taking care of your addicted family member? While such actions may temporarily ease conflict and tension within the family, in the end they protect the addict from the negative consequences of his/her addiction allowing the addict to continue drinking or abusing chemical substances.
Codependency does not refer to all caring behavior. In a healthy relationship, showing compassion by attending to another’s needs strengthens the relationship and leads to mutual appreciation, good communication, deeper intimacy and trust. However, the compassionate person never loses sight of who they are and recognizes that their own needs are of equal importance.
In the case of the codependent person, their identity rests upon their ability to rescue others. Often they are dependent on another’s inability to function and are unconsciously drawn to troubled, needy and dependent people. Obsessive care taking becomes a way of fulfilling their emotional needs. While intentions are well meant, these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual, in this case the addict, to continue on a destructive path.
The Cost of Codependency
Unlike compassion, codependency is associated with an overwhelming feeling of guilt; guilt is often the motivating factor for decisions and behaviors within the relationship, even though they don’t make any logical sense.
There are many definitions of co-dependency. In his book Co-dependence, Healing the Human Condition, Charles L. Whitfield, M.D. defines codependence as “A disease of lost selfhood.” Often, codependency is rooted in a person’s childhood. Exploration into early childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive behavioral patterns need to be examined. Treatment includes education, experiential and individual group therapy. Feelings that have been buried need to be examined in order for the codependent to retrace and identify self-defeating behavioral patterns.
Does someone you love abuse drugs and alcohol? Are you filled with despair and worry about this person constantly? Has your life become controlled by the addict’s addictive behavior? If you answer yes to these questions, know that help is at hand. The first step is acknowledging that you need help. Joining a 12-Step program such as Codependents Anonymous, Al-Anon and Nar-Anon is a good beginning. Seeking the help of a professional therapist is also highly recommended.
Characteristics of Codependent Behavior
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you so absorbed in trying to stop your loved one’s dependence on alcohol or chemical substances to the point that your own life has now become unmanageable?
- Does every moment of your waking day revolve around attempts to rescue, to control, to take on responsibilities that in reality are not yours to take on?
- Do you find yourself, ranting and raging, complaining, policing, nagging the alcoholic/drug addicted family member?
- Have you felt overwhelming fatigue?
- Do you feel victimized?
- Do you feel depressed?
- Do you feel helpless and hopeless?
- Are you experiencing a wide range of emotions that have begun to disturb you to the point that obtaining a good night’s sleep is nigh impossible?
- Are you neglecting your own life and in so doing have stopped taking care of yourself?
- Do you constantly feel responsible for others behavior?
- Do you feel excessive guilt whenever you spend time on your own projects believing that your role is to take care of others needs?
- Do you have difficulty expressing your own wants? Do you find yourself becoming angry when your own needs are unmet?
- Do you seek approval and validation?
- Have you become totally absorbed to the point of obsession with watching over and covering up for someone who is abusing drugs and alcohol?
- Do you have difficulty setting boundaries – saying NO?
- Are you driven by fear of failure and the need to avoid being wrong or making any mistakes?
- Are you losing your own identity in trying to rescue and fix others?
- Do you pretend that circumstances aren’t as bad as they are?
- Are you in a constant state of anxiety?
Could you be Codependent?
In her book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie describes codependency as follows: “A person who has let someone else’s behavior affect him or her, and is obsessed with controlling other people’s behavior” (Beattie 1987). My question to you is “Have you allowed someone else’s behavior to take control of your life?” If so, it is possible to learn to enjoy life again, to learn to detach with love. Make a plan to embark on your own recovery journey — you will find it to be an exciting and empowering voyage of discovery.
By Judi Jenett
Judi Jenett is the Family Program Coordinator for The Treatment Center.