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Codependency is an unhealthy relationship when one person is self-destructive or irresponsible and the other person is trying to fix them.

Key Tips to Recognize and Fix Codependent Behaviors in Your Family

We have all heard about codependency and think we understand it. But those of us who are in a codependent relationship don’t necessarily see ourselves as codependent. These relationships are unhealthy for the whole family, since everyone is skirting around the real issue of alcoholism or drug addiction and learning dysfunctional behavior that could continue into the next generation, if not recognized and dealt with as soon as possible.

What is Codependency?

The codependent relationship is one we have with an addicted or alcoholic partner, parent or child. It can also be with an abusive or irresponsible person, such as a gambler or mentally ill family member. Either way, it is one-sided, enabling and often destructive relationship, in which the codependent seeks to have their emotional and self-esteem needs to be met. In return, they continue to allow and enable the addict or alcoholic to continue in their self-destructive behavior.

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Good Character Traits Gone Bad

Codependency is characterized by empathy, helpfulness and caretaking. We want to help the addict or alcoholic get home or give them money to make rent or buy groceries. We even go so far as to take them in when they have been evicted, make excuses for them at school or their work. We want to rescue them from their situation. We care about what happens to them, we want to keep them safe. Unfortunately, if we continue to help them, we are only postponing the inevitable and, in the meantime, they learn how to manipulate us and coming back to help some more.

Our empathy is what gives us insight into how others might feel and feeds our desire to help them out of a jam or a bad situation. When this becomes a behavioral pattern with an addict or alcoholic, it becomes enabling with no end in sight. Parents of an addict or alcoholic do this a lot. They cross the line from helping to enabling and these enabling behaviors teach the addict that they can continue in their irresponsible and self-destructive ways.

Impact On The Family

The family – specifically siblings and children (in the case of an addicted parent) – learn codependent behaviors and propagate them onto each successive generation. Codependency ends up running in families, as if it were a part of their DNA. Family members learn not to talk about their feelings or the elephant in the room that is causing the dysfunction. They aren’t able to do confrontations and detach themselves emotionally, sometimes to the point they can no longer feel, talk or touch. In other words, they are no longer able to have a healthy relationship without some kind of help, usually in the form of counseling or therapy.

Within a dysfunctional family, each person takes on a specific role in order to cope with the addict or alcoholic. These family roles become so ingrained, that when the children grow up, they are lost without anyone to focus on for their role and will end up in one bad relationship after another. Understanding family roles in order to fix dysfunctional family behavior is an important first step towards healing the family and getting real help for the addict or alcoholic.

Recognizing Codependency

It can be difficult to recognize our own codependent behavior. Denial of the problem, the addiction or alcoholism is the first indication that we might be codependent. We can take stock of our behavior and that of each of our family members towards each other and the substance abuser. We should not self-diagnose, however, noticing these symptoms and these behaviors can open up a discussion with a mental health professional. There are several other symptoms of codependency that we might recognize:

  1. Low Self Esteem – Feelings of inadequacy or being not good enough, a sense of guilt for asserting ourselves, and perfectionism – we can’t do anything well enough and must try harder.
  2. Boundary Issues – Our feelings are too entwined with our loved one. We feel responsible for their feelings and blame our feelings on them or others.
  3. People-Pleasing – Not only do we try to do everything for our loved one, but we feel we have no choice. We have a hard time saying no – it causes anxiety. Some of us even have a hard time saying no to others.
  4. Reactivity – Another boundary issue, we get easily hurt when we are not recognized for our efforts or feel threatened if someone says something we don’t like and we become defensive or overreact.
  5. Caretaking – We need to fix problems, be they our loved ones or someone else’s, going over and above, we get so caught up in fixing others, we lose ourselves.
  6. Control – We feel safe when we can control the situation, so much so, that we even control our feelings and hold ourselves back from enjoying life to the point of an inability or difficulty to accept change
  7. Neediness – We become dependent on our relationship, using our loved one to feel good about ourselves and will do anything to hold on to it, even when it becomes destructive and we feel trapped. We fear abandonment on an almost visceral level.
  8. Poor Communication – We have hidden our feelings so well, we can no longer communicate our thoughts, feelings or needs. Instead, we try to manipulate our loved one, by white lies and dishonesty in order to get them to do what we want them to.

Freeing Ourselves

As long as we are enabling drug addiction and alcoholism in our home, we are allowing the substance abuse to thrive. Once we acknowledge our codependency, we have a duty to our own mental and emotional health to get ourselves out of the rut. Codependency recovery can best be achieved through counseling, family or individual therapy. The seemingly endless cycle of codependent behaviors can be stopped. It will take time and it will be difficult. Talking about the issues behind the codependency, as well as learning healthier behaviors and coping skills are key to healthier relationships for you and your family.

About The Author:

Geffen Liberman, a staff therapist at Continuum Recovery Center, has been in the field for over 20 years, and has worked in every facet of substance abuse treatment. Using his own personal experience in recovery and the education he has learned while in the field, Geffen can relate and connect with clients in a way that promotes recovery, self-love and the desire for clients to achieve the best for themselves. Geffen is licensed in Arizona as a substance abuse counselor and has an IC&RC certification, as well as a life coaching certification.

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