It was initially believed that codependency was a result of living with an addicted person.The intensity of anger, fear, shame and pain in family members of addicts was viewed as reactions to a very sick man or woman. As addicts got clean and sober often times the codependent behaviors of the family members continued or even worsened. Mental health professionals began to realize that there very well may be a separate condition operating in the family members that pre-dated the relationship with the addict.
Further investigation revealed many spouses of addicts had one or two parents that were alcoholic/ addicts and that he/she was unconsciously re-creating their own childhood experience. Over the years, The mental health field has recognized that a person suffering from codependency does not have to have a chemically dependent person in their life at all, either as an adult or child. The common thread is having a dysfunctional or abusive caregiver as a child.
A dysfunctional family environment creates dysfunctional behaviors and impedes the healthy development of a child.These behaviors do not just go away as adults, they become the patterns of life and problem solving that cause distress in adult relationships.
Codependent behaviors are categorized in many ways but all relate to the following Core Symptoms.
Codependency : The 5 Core Symptoms
Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem (feeling of less than or feeling better than)
Difficulty setting functional boundaries (no protection or walls)
Difficulty owning one’s own reality (not knowing how one feels/thinks or operating under the illusion of perfectionism)
Difficulty acknowledging and meeting one’s own needs and wants (too dependent on others or needless/wantless/ anti-dependent)
Difficulty with moderation ( over controlling of self/others or out of control of self)
As you can see above, these core symptoms operate in the extreme and create problems with oneself and others, including intimate partners, children, friends and work relations.
Learning about the core issues and your own childhood – how your childhood environment impacted your development and how to change these patterns is the basis of codependency treatment and healing.
Helping with Codependency
Change is not easy. It takes time and involves the following four steps:
Abstinence or sobriety is necessary to recover from codependency. The goal is to bring your attention back to yourself, to have an internal, rather than external, “locus of control.” This means that your actions are primarily motivated by yourvalues, needs, and feelings, not someone else’s. You learn to meet those needs in healthy ways.Perfect abstinence or sobriety isn’t necessary for progress, and it’s impossible with respect to codependency with people. You need and depend upon others and therefore give and compromise in relationships. Instead of abstinence, you learn to detach and not control, people-please, or obsess about others. You become more self-directed and autonomous.
If you’re involved with an abuser or addict or grew up as the child of one, you may be afraid to displease your partner, and it can require great courage to break that pattern of conceding our power to someone else.
It’s said that denial is the hallmark of addiction. This is true whether you’re an alcoholic or in love with one. Not only do codependents deny their own addiction – whether to a drug, activity, or person – they deny their feelings, and especially their needs, particularly emotional needs for nurturing and real intimacy.You may have grown up in a family where you weren’t nurtured, your opinions and feelings weren’t respected, and your emotional needs weren’t adequately met. Over time, rather than risk rejection or criticism, you learned to ignore your needs and feelings and believed that you were wrong. Some decided to become self-sufficient or find comfort in sex, food, drugs, or work.
All this leads to low self-esteem. To reverse these destructive habits, you first must become aware of them. The most damaging obstacle to self-esteem is negative self-talk. Most people aren’t aware of their internal voices that push and criticize them — their “Pusher,” “Perfectionist,” and “Critic.”
Healing essentially involves self-acceptance. This is not only a step, but a life-long journey. People come to therapy to change themselves, not realizing that the work is about accepting themselves. Ironically, before you can change, you have to accept the situation. As they say, “What you resist, persists.”In recovery, more about yourself is revealed that requires acceptance, and life itself presents limitations and losses to accept. This is maturity. Accepting reality opens the doors of possibility. Change then happens. New ideas and energy emerge that previously stagnated from self-blame and fighting reality. For example, when you feel sad, lonely, or guilty, instead of making yourself feel worse, you have self-compassion, soothe yourself, and take steps to feel better.
Self-acceptance means that you don’t have to please everyone for fear that they won’t like you. You honor your needs and unpleasant feelings and are forgiving of yourself and others. This goodwill toward yourself allows you to be self-reflective without being self-critical. Your self-esteem and confidence grow, and consequently, you don’t allow others to abuse you or tell you what to do. Instead of manipulating, you become more authentic and assertive, and are capable of greater intimacy.
Insight without action only gets you so far. In order to grow, self-awareness and self-acceptance must be accompanied by new behavior. This involves taking risks and venturing outside your comfort zone. It may involve speaking up, trying something new, going somewhere alone, or setting a boundary. It also means setting internal boundaries by keeping commitments to yourself, or saying “no” to your Critic or other old habits you want to change. Instead of expecting others to meet all your needs and make you happy, you learn to take actions to meet them, and do things that give you fulfillment and satisfaction in your life. Each time you try out new behavior or take a risk, you learn something new about yourself and your feelings and needs. You’re creating a stronger sense of yourself, as well as self-confidence and self-esteem. This builds upon itself in a positive feedback loop vs. the downward spiral of codependency, which creates more fear, depression, and low self-esteem.
Words are actions. They have power and reflect your self-esteem. Becoming assertive is a learning process and is perhaps the most powerful tool in recovery. Assertiveness requires that you know yourself and risk making that public. It entails setting limits. This is respecting and honoring yourself. You get to be the author of your life – what you’ll do and not do and how people will treat you