Understanding co-dependency is the path to emotional, psychological, spiritual and social independence. If you do not understand the principles of co-dependency, chances are that you are enabling an addict to remain an addict, or are in an unhealthy relationship.
There are many definitions used to talk about co-dependency today. The original concept of co-dependency was developed to acknowledge the responses and behaviours people develop from living with an alcoholic or substance abuser. A number of
attributes can be developed as a result of those conditions.
However, over the years, co-dependency has expanded into a definition which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during childhood by family rules.
The simple definition would involve at least two people who are dependent on one another and the destructive behaviour involved in receiving whatever is needed from each other. The consequences are an inability to function independently emotionally, psychologically and even financially from each other. One of many definitions of co-dependency is: a set of maladaptive, ompulsive behaviours 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 behaviours which get needs met.
Compulsive – psychological state where a person acts against their own will or conscious desires in which to behave.
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.
As adults, co-dependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. And the co-dependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment.
Even when a co-dependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the co-dependent person still operates in their own system; they’re not likely to get too involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This of course creates problems that continue to recycle; if co-dependent people can’t get involved with people who have healthy behaviours and coping skills, then the
problems continue into each new relationship.
How do I know if I’m co-dependent?
Generally, if you’re feeling unfulfilled consistently in relationships, you tend to be indirect, don’t assert yourself when you have a need, if you’re able to recognize you don’t play as much as others, or other people point out you could be more playful. Things like this can indicate you’re co-dependent.
Characteristics of Codependency
- Controlling behaviour
- Avoidance of problems
- Intimacy problems
- Caretaking behaviour, trying to fix others – doing for others what they can or should be doing for themselves.
- Hyper vigilance (a heightened awareness for potential threat/danger), or over protective.
- Physical illness related to stress.
- My good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you.
- My good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you.
- Your struggle affects my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems/relieving your
- My mental attention is focused on you.
- My mental attention is focused on protecting you.
- My mental attention is focused on manipulating you to do it my way.
- My self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems.
- My self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain.
- My own hobbies/interests are put to one side. My time is spent sharing your hobbies/interests.
- Your clothing and personal appearance are dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me.
- Your behaviour is dictated by my desires and I feel you are a reflection of me.
- I am not aware of how I feel. I am aware of how you feel.
- I am not aware of what I want -I ask what you want. I am not aware – I assume.
- The dreams I have for my future are linked to you.
- My fear of rejection determines what I say or do.
- My fear of your anger determines what I say or do.
- I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship.
- My social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you.
- I put my values aside in order to connect with you.
- I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own.
- The quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours.
Isn’t everyone co-dependent?
There are some natural and healthy behaviours mothers do with children that look like co-dependency. Are people mutually interdependent on each other? Yes. There is perhaps a continuum of co-dependency that most people might fall on. Maybe this continuum exists because so many people are taught not to be assertive, or to ask directly for their needs to be met? We probably can’t say though that everyone is co-dependent. Many people probably don’t feel fulfilled because of other things going on in the system at large.
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, etc. If that is true, then all of us are either addicts or co-dependents. From this perspective, society produces a pattern making it hard not to be co-dependent. But it still doesn’t change that we’re not getting what we need and we’re not feeling fulfilled. Then the question is how do I become more fulfilled and feel better about myself and the life I’m living?
Why do we become co-dependent? What causes it?
It’s widely believed we become co-dependent through living in systems (families) with rules that hinder development to some degree. The system (usually parents and relatives) has been developed in response to some problem such as alcoholism,
mental illness or some other secret or problem.
General rules set-up within families that may cause co-dependency may include:
- It’s not okay to talk about problems.
- Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself.
- Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation.
- Be strong, good, right or perfect.
- Make us proud beyond realistic expectations.
- Don’t be selfish.
- Do as I say not as I do.
- It’s not okay to play or be playful.
- Don’t rock the boat.
Many families have one or more of these rules in place within the family. These kinds of rules can constrict and strain the free and healthy development of people’s self-esteem, and coping. As a result, children can develop non-helpful behaviour characteristics, problems solving techniques, and reactions to situations in adult life.
How can counselling help?
For people with co-dependency, individual counselling can teach assertiveness, listening and communication. Counselling can help you become more aware of non-helpful actions/behaviours, and work with you on developing new, healthier coping skills.
In the case of co-dependency though, counselling only helps if the counsellor is aware of their own tendency towards codependence, or if the counsellor has some understanding about the addictive push in our society. Counsellor, in the case of co-dependency, need to present good boundary setting and healthy living themselves during sessions with clients. If a counsellor develops a working relationship with a client that has co-dependent qualities, again, the pattern is repeated, and therapy may not be as helpful. Some statistics show 50-80% of counsellors have not addressed their own co-dependency issues. So one must be
careful in choosing a counsellor for this kind of support.
Good communication involves listening, assertiveness, and responsibility. Communication is about getting our needs met through and with others.
A primary problem in our society is people don’t understand each other because:
1) We don’t communicate our personal needs and dislikes in an assertive way.
2) We don’t understand what someone else is trying to convey to us.
Expressing our needs and dislikes (setting boundaries”) involves:
2) Use of “I” messages instead of “you” messages.
Understanding others involves:
1) Good listening – The importance of “just” listening. Listening involves asking questions.
2) Empathic responses – restating what was said without solutions, embellishment, or talking about ourselves. The focus stays on the other person.
Counselling professionals can help us evaluate our communication. Communication becomes an unconscious, automatic pattern that is difficult to change and involves practice and not just learning but un-learning the old familiar ways.
Communication is the healthy way of getting our needs met and stating our dislikes.
When effective communication is not used or learned, people learn unhealthy tactics to cope and meet their needs, such as:
- acting out
- verbal aggression
- numbing – “I don’t care”
Getting our needs met either by other avenues can have personal and social consequences:
Can damage current relationships and prevent new ones.
Can create unhealthy patterned relationships: co-dependent, enmeshed, distant.
Can become a part of our identity – who we believe we are: depressed, passive, numb, angry, aggressive, etc.
Basically, it can prevent healthy growth
Co-dependency is a vast subject. One that cannot be understood easily or quickly. It is one of the main reasons why families and addicts suffer for years without action. It must be understood in its entirety when counselling an addict, and their family, as it is the main reason why substance abusers leave recovery early. If a family is co-dependent, the addict, who has become a professional manipulator, will use the principles of co-dependency unconsciously to remain in active addiction and defer responsibility in becoming independent emotionally, financially, mentally and spiritually.
Recommended books on the subject
Escape from Co-dependent Christianity by Dr. James B. Richards is highly recommended.
Co-dependent No More by Melodie Beatie is an extensive look at the subject.
Boundaries, Boundaries for kids & Boundaries for adult children by Dr. John Townsend and Dr Henry Cloud.
Module 1 – Day 1
- Definition of addiction.
- The difference between Dependency and Addiction.
- The Cycle of Addiction – Figure 1. 7
- Toxic State.
- Cycle of Addiction.
- Acting Out.
- Long Term Contributors.
- The Cycle of Addiction – Figure 2. 8
- Baseline Experience.
Module 2 – Day 1
- The “Dis-ease” of Addiction.
- Man is a 3 part BEing.
- Sub-conscious mind.
- Conscious mind.
Module 3 – Day 1
- What do I believe and why do I believe it?.
- Created to choose, changing beliefs.
- How a belief is formed (in children 0 – 4 years old).
- The process changes from about 4 years old onwards.
- Changing a belief.
Module 4 – Day 2
- Addiction lntervention Drugs and Alcohol
- What is intervention?.
- Does it work?.
- Some risks involved.
- Intervention can produce some undesirable consequences.
- Ask for information.
- Here’s how..
Module 5 – Day 2
- Identifying drug users.
- How can I tell if my child or my friend is using drugs?.
- Physical signs.
- Changes in behaviour.
- Items to look out for.
Module 6 – Day 2
- Treatment Types.
- Tertiary (Halfway House).
- The Minnesota Model
Module 7 – Day 3
- The 12 Steps of AA, NA, GA, OA, CA, MA, SLAA etc.
- History of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps
- Dr. Bob & Bill W.
- Acceptance of a Higher Power.
- Relation to religion.
Module 8 – Day 3
- Progression of powerlessness.
- That leads to relapse.
- That leads to recovery.
- Substance powerlessness self test.
Module 9 – Day 3
- Dual Diagnosis.
- Getting Help.
- What Is a Dual Diagnosis program?.
- Epilepsy and addiction.
- HIV / AIDS and Addiction.
- What Are HIV and AIDS?.
- How are Drug Abuse and HIV Related?.
- Injection drug use.
- Poor judgement and risky behaviour.
- Biological effects of drugs.
- Drug abuse treatment.
- Mixing anti-retro-viral medication & drugs.
- Cross Addiction.
Module 10 – Day 4
- How do I know if I’m co-dependent?
- What are some of the symptoms?
- Isn’t everyone co-dependent?
- Why do we become co-dependent? What causes it?
- General rules set-up within families that may cause co-dependency may include:
- How can counselling help?
- Characteristics of Co-dependency.
Module 11 -Day 4
- Addiction Drug Alcohol Statistics South Africa.
- Cigarettes | Tobacco Statistics.
- Alcohol Statistics.
- Methamphetamine (Tik, Crystal Meth, Meth).
- Drug syndicates.
- Related Statistics.
- South African Crime Stats.
Module 12 – Day 4
- Principles / Ethics of Harm Reduction.
- Levels of Accountability.
- State Accountability.
- Corporate Accountability.
- Personal Accountability.