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It was recently suggested that I include some Q&A type posts of some of the questions I get asked regularly. One that has great frequency working with addicts and their loved ones is…

What is codependency?

I am by no means an expert on the subject, but will point you to some that are and try to open the conversation here today. If you really want to investigate the topic and how it relates to your life and relationships, consider reading these books ::

  1. Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Melody and Andrea Miller
  2. Love Is a Choice: Recovery for Codependent Relationtionships by Drs Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth Paul Meier
  3. Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Codependency was originally constructed to explain the responses and behaviors of those living with alcoholics and substance abusers. It has expanded since then and now describes a broader definition of dysfunctional behavioral and relational patterns. It also speaks into problem solving skills developed or undeveloped in childhood family systems.

The reality is that we all exhibit some elements of codependency in relationships.  Anne Wilson Schaef has stated

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, love, anger, possessions, etc.

For many, the environment that shaped us set us up for addiciton and codependent relationships. Some of us find ourselves repeatedly in “toxic” relationships, with people who are unreliable, needy, unavailable, and untrustworthy. For many who struggle with codependent tendencies, healthy boundaries are unheard of and can sometimes seem impossible to implement.

A clinical definition of codependency goes something like this:: 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.
  • *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.

If any of those things sound familiar or may apply to you, it might be worth further investigation. For a bit of personal evaluation, look over the following questions and answer them honestly.

On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the least and 5 being the most, answer the following:
  • I have difficulty saying “no” when people ask me to do something, even when I know I should not do it.
  • I feel I need cover up for irresponsible people in my life because I don’t want them to suffer. I’d rather “fill in and help them” then see them get consequences. It’s my job to assist them.
  • I understand that it is my job to fix, manage and hold my family/relationship together.
  • I work hard to be thoughtful and nice to others and get angry when they don’t respond or reciprocate my efforts.
  • I like to be around people who need my help. I avoid situations where I would not have a task or a “duty” to perform for others.
  • I worry about how I make people feel. It directly affects my own feelings.
  • When I get in close relationships, I change to try that please that person. I often “read” people to figure out how I should act.
  • I don’t like being alone. I need to be around others all the time.
  • I am afraid of people. I need to isolate.
  • Being “good to myself” is equivalent to selfishness
  • Other people’s needs always come before mine, even if it I have urgent needs and they do not
  • In the areas of my life where I experience approval, I often become over-involved. In the areas of failure, I detach and withdraw.
  • If something is not perfect I see it as a failure
  • I become defensive when others point out my imperfections
  • I often measure myself in accordance with other people. It leaves me feeling as if I’m “better” than others sometimes, and “worse” than others at other times.
  • I’d rather hang out with people who I perceive as “less” than myself so I can be in a role of helping, solving or fixing their problems.
  • I feel very inadequate when people seem to “have it all together.” I tend to avoid friendships with those type of people.
  • Deep down inside, I don’t really like myself and don’t want people to know the “real me”
  • I tend to blame and criticize people and circumstances for my feelings.
  • I have a hard time leaving relationships, even if they are unhealthy
  • I have a difficult time asking people for  help, even when it’s necessary.
  • I feel sometimes that if I don’t do it myself, it will never get done right
  • I find it difficult to speak what I truly feel or ask for what I need.
  • I have secret addictions in my life that I cannot not let others know about because it would ruin my image of being the “strong one” (i.e., alcohol, drugs, food addiction, sex, pornography, etc.)

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