Co-dependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships. Co-dependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns. Narcissists are considered to be natural magnets for the co-dependent.
Co-dependency does not refer to all caring behaviour or feelings, but only those that are excessive to an unhealthy degree.
WHAT IS CO-DEPENDENCY?
Charles L. Whitfield wrote in Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition:
“Co-dependence is the most common of all addictions: the addiction to looking elsewhere. We believe that something outside of ourselves – that is, outside of our True Self – can give us happiness and fulfillment. The ‘elsewhere’ may be people, places, things, or behaviours or experiences. Whatever it is, we may neglect our own selves for it (4).”
Co-dependents grow up never having learned how to be themselves, or even what their true identity really is. In adulthood this causes them to become over-identified with other people, particular roles, jobs or professions. They basically focus on others problems to avoid having to look at their own stuff. They try to change others – they are those who are heard saying: “I’d be all right if only everybody else would change.”
Co-dependence has also been called a process addiction. It is any compulsive-like behaviour that can interfere with living a balanced normal life and the behaviour of the person causes significant negative consequences.
It has also been called an addiction to suffering, people pleasing and adrenalin. It is a gateway to chemical addictions, as the behaviours associated with co-dependency usually occur prior to using chemicals. Thus the shame and guilt often felt by co-dependents, is often numbed and covered up with chemical and other addictions.
According to Whitfield (1991: pg 5), Co-dependence is not only the most common addiction, but it is the base from which all other addictions and compulsions emerge. It is an attempt to escape the pain of everyday life by having learned a habitual conditioned response pattern and using maladaptive copying mechanism to survive.
WHAT CAUSES IT?
The wounding of our true selves to such an extent, that in order for us to have a survived, we developed a pseudo false self, which now runs our lives. It is thus a disease of lost self-hood. A co-dependent person has little or no sense of self. Their whole lives are spent in extreme acts to meet others’ expectations. How you think and feel about yourself is determined by the behaviour of those around you. So the belief is: “if you nice to me then I am a good person but if you disagree with me then I am a bad person.” You have trust issues, seek fulfillment in pleasing or controlling other people and often feel it’s never enough and you are not enough.
Introspect Coaching helps you to understand Co-dependency. This approach frees people from the stifling and self-esteem damaging idea that they are somehow inferior or defective – bad, sick, stupid or crazy. The condition is treatable. In recovery you learn that you are simply wounded and wounding is learned, mostly experientially and to some extend cognitively. Thus new behaviours assist you in recovery – new perspectives are developed and explored.
HOW DOES IT PRESENT ITSELF?
The Three Faces:
- Romanticizes/Need to be Needed
- Over Responsible/Controlling
Consequences of unresolved Co-dependency:
With the constant amount of energy required to consistently fill the insatiable void inside us from the outside, we often head for burnout. The following stress related medical conditions often accompany codependency:
- Depression, anxiety and related disorders
- Chemical and alcohol dependence
- Eating disorders
- Relationship addiction
- Stress-related illness – cancer, irritable bowel, hypertension, chronic fatigue
- Compulsive behaviour
Co-dependency comes in many forms:
- The young girl who believes she needs a knight in shining armor to save her from a life of single hood is codependent.
- The young boy who believes he cannot express his feelings because he will not be accepted by society is codependent.
- The mother who defines herself by her children’s successes or failures is codependent.
- The father who always has to be strong and good to hold up the family is codependent.
- The person who constantly takes care of other people without their consent is codependent.
- The person who compulsively tries to control others, even if it’s in the name of their best interests, is codependent.
- The person who cannot leave an abusive relationship is codependent.
- The person who cannot set healthy boundaries is codependent.
- The person who cannot leave a relationship whereby the other person is mentally, emotionally, or physically unavailable is codependent.
SOME OF THE BEHAVIOURS OF CO-DEPENDENTS:
- Distorted thinking
- Emotional immaturity
- Adrenalin addiction
The root of these behaviours is an absence of intimacy with ourselves and others.
Patterns and characteristics:
Co-dependency describes behaviours, thoughts and feelings that go beyond normal kinds of self-sacrifice or caretaking People who are codependent often take on the role as a martyr; they constantly put others’ needs before their own and in doing so forget to take care of themselves. This creates a sense that they are “needed” they cannot stand the thought of being alone and no one needing them. Codependent people are constantly in search of acceptance. When it comes to arguments, codependent people also tend to set themselves up as the “victim”. When they do stand up for themselves, they feel guilty.
PATTERNS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF CO-DEPENDENCY.
- I have difficulty in 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 behaviour over my own
- I do not perceive myself as lovable or worthwhile person
- 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
- 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
(From the Co-Dependents Anonymous Big Book)
WHAT DOES RECOVERY MEAN?
Recovery is a multiple step process in learning to uncover our true selves.
Experts in the field generally agree on the 5 stages in the recovery process:
- Survivor Stage – feeling of discomfort and pain, simply surviving at this point – you need change but not sure what that means
- Re-Identification Stage – shift in the way you view yourself – light bulb moment – you become more aware of a pattern and that you do not have some much control over others as you though you did.
- Core Issues Stage – learning to admit there is a problem with trust, self-esteem and control. Trying out new behaviours. You emotional life is starting to return as you are more in touch with your inside world.
- Integration – You are ready and willing to establish new beliefs and attitudes – these contribute to a heightened sense of true self emerging. You are better able to express yourself and your needs and you allow others to react to you with out becoming attached – you let go.
- Genesis – you explore a new spiritual path and connection and may be gaining a better sense if inner peace, one day at a time and moment by moment.
- We reach out for help when we need it.
- We speak up for ourselves.
- We see others and ourselves realistically.
- We stop using others or expecting others to meet all our needs.
- We use tools such as journaling to identify avoidant behaviours.
- We use mindfulness meditations to activate a new perspective.
- We set boundaries that ensure our well-being.
- We work a Programme of recovery.
- We live one moment at a time, with grace and awareness.