When someone suffers from addiction, it can affect themselves and other people around them. Addicts often lie, cheat, and steal from their loved ones to support their uncontrollable addiction. This behavior can seem crazy to their family and loved ones who do not understand addiction. Those closest to an addict often think they can reason, negotiate, or otherwise encourage them to quit their harmful behavior. Confused and not knowing what to do, friends and loved ones can often spend countless hours trying to find an answer. In doing so, they are likely to become what’s known as “codependent” in their relationship with the addict.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is when one person plays an overly passive, controlling, or caring role in a relationship with another person. A codependent person spends a lot of time monitoring, controlling, and trying to amplify or improve the other person’s feelings.
An unhealthy imbalance occurs when a person is in an interdependent relationship and is detrimental or destructive to the self-esteem and self-worth of the other person, often for the other person’s needs.
Codependency doesn’t always involve a relationship with an addict; it can exist in any dysfunctional relationship. Some family members can separate the person from the addiction and not engage in codependent behavior. However, codependent and addict relationships can be commonplace in families suffering from a loved one’s addiction.
Codependency and Enmeshment
Suffice it to say, codependency occurs when you are tasked with solving a problem that someone else is supposed to solve on their own. Your identity is intertwined with theirs, and you lose your sense of who you are. This is known as “enmeshment.”
The self-esteem of codependent people comes from the affirmation that they are doing good and helping those in need. They don’t have a solid concept of who they are unless they care about the other person and meet all that person’s needs.
Generally, the codependent person is a hard worker, dependable, and an excellent caregiver. But these things are overshadowed by an unhealthy need that prevents them from setting proper boundaries or even realizing that they should be thinking of themself.
Codependent people may eventually lose all sense of self. They are disconnected from their feelings and live only to make each other happy. When the other person doesn’t change, they start to feel guilty because they feel that the person would be better off if they did more. They end up doing more harm than good.
Dysfunctional people cannot learn from their mistakes. Codependent people become enablers by not allowing bad behavior to continue without consequences. If they don’t see a reason to change and always know someone will cover for them or clean up their mess, they don’t grow as human beings. Instead, they continue their harmful behavior until they eventually destroy themselves and anyone they think they’re helping.
What Causes Codependency?
Codependency commonly begins in childhood and is considered a generational disorder. Conditions that can cause a person to become codependent in adulthood include:
- They suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
- A parent or caregiver suffered from an addiction, mental disorder, or debilitating physical illness, causing the roles of parent and child to reverse.
- They had a controlling or overprotective parent or a parent who put their own needs above their children.
- They were abandoned by one or both parents.
Are You Codependent?
Codependent people often have specific personality traits. If you identify with any of the codependent traits but are still unsure, here are some characteristics to consider:
- Feeling responsible for solving other people’s problems
- Offer advice even when not asked
- Poor communication about feelings, needs, or wants
- Difficulty adapting to change
- Expect others to do what you say
- Difficulty making decisions
- Chronic anger
- Feels used and undervalued
- People like to be liked or loved
- Lack of confidence in yourself or others
- Fear of being rejected or unlovable
- Feeling like a victim
- Make everything personal
- Lying to yourself and making excuses for other people’s bad behavior
- A general feeling of helplessness, anxiety, or depression
If you answered yes to any or all these questions, you are probably codependent and should consider seeking help.
It is possible to get rid of codependency. In many cases, you should contact a professional to help you. This is especially true if you tend to be attracted to or are currently in an abusive situation. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do yourself to start your journey:
- Start being alone, away from people you co-depend on. You may have cut many ties with friends and family, but now is the time to seek their support.
- You can also start doing things that appeal to you. For example, you can sign up for a relaxation meditation class or try a hobby you may have always wanted to try.
- Practice spending more time thinking about yourself and worrying less about others. Now is the time to get in touch with your emotions.
Emotional independence is hard to learn unless you are self-aware. You may not be able to control the circumstances that led to your interdependence in childhood, but as an adult, you can control it now. If you are committed to improving yourself, it can be done. And you may never want to look back. Believe in yourself, and you can only move forward.
Professional Treatment and Recovery
Ideally, both the codependent and the addict will seek treatment simultaneously. Unfortunately, this is not always possible. Seek help if you find yourself supportive of the addict in your life. It’s not easy to give up control (even if it’s just perceived to be) over a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol. There are support groups for family members of addicts that can teach how to stop codependent behavior lovingly.
Asking for help is the first step in breaking free from codependency. Then, seeking counseling or treatment. It may help pinpoint the problems and show you new ways to deal with them. It’s important to remember that your happiness and sanity don’t have to depend on what other people in your life, including drug addicts, say or do. No matter what, you have the potential to live a happy and fulfilling life.