Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects a persons’ ability to have healthy and mutually satisfying relationships. Co-dependent relationships are degrading, destructive and often abusive. Many people who are partners, children, parents or close friends of people with substance abuse issues have codependent relationships that are damaging and manipulative. These relationships can lead to long term dysfunction and other issues which can cause pain, heartache and financial ruin.
Evidence suggests that codependents come from troubled, dysfunctional or broken families, although they may not accept or recognize this as fact. Blaming themselves for the dysfunction or relationship breakdowns is common – they may see that they haven’t tried hard enough, aren’t attractive enough, don’t deserve anything more. Many codependent people subconsciously seek out relationships with others that are doomed to be dysfunctional, troubled and harmful.
Codependency is characterized by feelings of inadequacy, low self esteem, low self worth, self-defeating and self deprecating behaviors People who are codependent often believe that they are not worthy of happiness and success, they are victims of their own self loathing and they often are overbearing and compulsively try to help others, despite being rejected. Many codependent people will have relationships with others who take advantage of their low self esteem and make abuse their position of power. Alcoholics and drug addicts often have relationships with a codependent person because they are able to use them to their advantage and the codependent will cover their problems for them.
A person who suffers from codependency will feel that they will only be happy or content or find peace with themselves through someone else. They will seek out relationships and marriage with people who will give them happiness, even if it is not real happiness. They will potentially become abused, victimized, degraded, belittled, and hurt. Yet they may continue to remain in the unhealthy relationship. In many cases, codependents will skip from one relationship straight into another without having time to consider their own needs. A codependent believes that they are not worthy of being happy and in a loving relationship and that pain and suffering is what they are destined for. This unhealthy attitude sets them up to fail at having meaningful and caring relationships and may in fact go to lengths to push people away so that they are hurt.
Codependency is often associated with a strong desire to be responsible for another person. Feelings of anxiety, fear, guilt and helplessness are often associated with this desire and many co-dependent individuals will believe they have to offer help and support, even if it is not needed. A co-dependent person may believe that the other person does not have the capacity to take care of themselves, cannot do things, cannot respond to questions or live their life without their intervention. However, this behavioral and emotional support is often self-defeating and the other person may take advantage of them, abuse them or manipulate them to satisfy their own needs. This contributes to the codependents lowered self worth.
In a substance abuse situation, care taking can go beyond normal levels of care that would be acceptable. A codependent may enable a person to continue to take drugs by allowing them to take drugs at home, provide money, needles or other drug equipment. These things may occur because they believe that it is ‘safer’ for the individual to use drugs at home where they can see them. But this does very little to reduce risks or reduce consumption levels of an addict. In some cases it may contribute significantly to the severity of the addiction.
For people who are in a codependent relationship, their level of self worth and self esteem are often quite low. This may come as a result of an abusive and belittling partner who criticizes and degrades the codependent or from their own background and history. They feel that they are worth less than others and do not deserve to be happy, calm or peaceful and should have to carry stresses and burdens. They may in fact seek out destructive relationships where they can be the victim without even realizing.
A codependent relationship with a person who suffers from a substance abuse problem can add to a lack of self confidence and self-esteem. The substance abuser may live a life that revolves around taking drugs or drinking alcohol and everything and everyone else fits in around the drug abuse. For a codependent, this means that they will never be the priority in an addicts life and they will find the relationship dysfunctional, destructive and harmful to them. A codependent will use this relationship as a way to prove that they are not worth anything, that they don’t deserve more and that they are a victim. They will martyr themselves and be self deprecating for attention but will push away genuine offers for help or support.
Denying problems and pretending they don’t exist or that they are not serious or will go away, is a common symptom of a codependent relationship. This is particularly the case for people who also have a substance abuse problem in a relationship. The codependent may take significant steps to hide the abuse and the addiction going as far as to lie to friends and family about the extent of the problem. Parents may use their finances or influence to get a child out of trouble with the law if their child is a drug addict, spouses may cover up their partners drinking, friends will brush off criticisms of their alcoholic friend. This denial contributes to the problem that the addict is going through and may actually magnify the problem. Enabling a person to engage in drug taking behavior without criticism or retribution does not help the situation nor does it reduce the risks associated with the abuse.
Codependents may also lie to themselves about their personal issues and the extent of the problems they may be facing. Their dysfunctional relationships with others may not even be acknowledged by them and they may pretend that they have a partner that is loving, caring and supportive when the opposite is true. They will blame themselves if there are public concerns about the relationship and take on the role of a martyr if others criticize their family member or friend.
Various forms of psychotherapy, motivational enhancement or cognitive behavioral therapy can be useful in helping rehabilitate codependency.