How To Stop Codependency
If you have a loved one who needs or is getting treatment for addiction, you probably have already learned that addiction involves more than just the addict. When one person in a family is addicted, everyone is affected. That’s why they call addiction a family disease. Other family members who have ignored, denied, justified, and enabled the addict are known as codependent. But what, exactly is codependency and how do you stop it? Here are some points to consider.
There are a number of definitions of codependency from various sources.
Some define codependency as a personality disorder, a dysfunctional relationship with the self characterized by living through or for another, attempting to control others, blaming others, a sense of victimization, of trying to fix others, as well as intense anxiety around intimacy.
Another definition of codependency is that it is habitual behaviors that are ultimately self-destructive.
Codependency is also considered by some as a psychological condition in which one person exhibits too much (and often inappropriate) caring for and about other people’s problems and issues.
Still others classify codependency as a disease, one that can be every bit as deadly as alcoholism, drug addiction, or eating disorders.
One site, WiseGEEK (http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-codependency.htm) says codependency “describes a situation in which a person literally becomes emotionally addicted to another person’s addiction.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/889897/codependency) defines codependency as “a psychological syndrome noted in partners or relatives of persons with alcohol or drug addiction. Not a formal psychiatric diagnosis, codependency has become a useful term for discussing aspects of family dysfunction, particularly among participants in recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (http://archives.drugabuse.gov/txmanuals/IDCA/IDCA11.html), “codependency occurs when another individual, perhaps the addict’s spouse or family member, is controlled by the addict’s addictive behavior.” Some codependents are adult children of alcoholics or addicts. Their codependent behavior is the result of growing up in this environment of addiction. NIDA further says that “enabling behavior occurs when another person, often a codependent, helps or encourages the addict to continue using drugs, either directly or indirectly.”
Whatever the definition, codependency is a serious and debilitating condition that wreaks havoc on the lives of the codependent person and all those around him or her.
Characteristics of Codependents
How can you tell if you are codependent? What are some of the characteristics of codependents? While the following is not an all-inclusive list, and individuals who are codependent may not display all of them at one time, it is a good place to start.
People who are codependent have certain characteristics or traits involving caretaking, low self-worth, obsession, and repression.
As codependents, they may feel that they’re responsible for another person’s (especially the addict’s) actions, feelings, thoughts, well-being or lack of it, even their destiny. Frequently, when another person has a problem, the codependent feels a sense of anxiety, pity, or guilt. They may feel compelled to help the person or to somehow fix the problem – even if it is out of their ability to do so. Codependents will get angry when their attempts to fix the problem aren’t effective. They try to anticipate what other people need and constantly wonder why the same thing doesn’t happen for them. They don’t really know what they want or need, say yes instead of no, submerge their own interests and enjoyments in order to be caretakers to another, over commit, take on too much, and ignore their own well-being. Attracted to needy people, needy people are also attracted to them. It’s like a pull of gravity. If the codependent isn’t fixing a problem or handling a crisis, they often feel bored, worthless, and empty. At the heart of all this, the codependent feels angry, victimized, underappreciated, undervalued, and used. They also blame others for the spot they’re in and say that the reason they feel the way they do is because of other people.
Low self-worth is another key characteristic of the codependent. Often, the individual comes from a troubled or dysfunctional family – one which they adamantly deny was so. They also often have been victims of sexual or emotional abuse, violence, alcoholism, abandonment, or neglect. They actually feel like victims, take things personally, fear rejection, and are afraid they can never do anything right. Filled with self-blame for everything, the codependent constantly engages in self-criticism: They don’t look, act, feel, think, or behave the way they’re supposed to. Rejecting compliments or praise, codependents nevertheless secretly yearn for admiration from others. When they don’t get it, they become depressed. Ashamed of whom they are at their core, codependents have intense guilt. Since they think their own lives aren’t worth living, they valiantly attempt to help others instead. No one can possibly really love them, so they’ll settle for being needed.
Codependents may also suffer from repression and obsession. Afraid to let themselves be who they are, they may appear rigid and controlled, pushing their own thoughts and personal feelings aside due to guilt and fear. Their obsessive traits are quite obvious to anyone who pays attention. They worry over everything, constantly check up on people, aren’t able to sleep because of worry over other people’s problems. They constantly talk about other people, find something to worry about over meaningless things, and are always anxious about other people’s problems and issues.
Healing from Codependency
Healing of the entire family necessitates using many different strategies, getting professional help, and developing and maintaining a strong support network.
Actually, healing from codependency is a process, just like overcoming addiction is a process. It is often painful, as the codependent person has to wade through a lot of denial and self-survival tactics and unhealthy coping mechanisms that he or she has developed over time. Sorting through all this takes time, and professional help.
One way to start the healing process is to learn all you can about codependency. Read books on the subject (see the list of titles below as a place to start).
Another suggestion is to join a 12-step group. Go online and check out 12-step groups that are affiliated with the big 12-step organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous. The affiliate family/friends group for A.A. is called Al-Anon/Alateen. There are similar 12-step family/friend groups for virtually every addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling, overeating, overwork, compulsive sex, and so on).
You may also wish to check out Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) (http://www.codependents.org/). As the website states, this is a fellowship of men and women whose common purpose is to develop healthy relationships. The only requirement for membership is a desire for healthy and loving relationships.
Why is participation in a 12-step group important or helpful? Look at it this way: It’s free, and anonymous, and these groups are comprised of people just like you who are trying to be healthy and whole and are living with a person either in recovery, in treatment, or who is dependent or addicted but not yet getting treatment.
You can’t possibly figure your way out of codependency on your own. First of all, you’re too steeped in your own habits and behaviors, processes and coping mechanisms that were years in the making. You need to stop trying to make things better, stop excusing and justifying and taking the blame for the behavior of the addict in your life. You may need to overcome your own addictions as well. Codependents often have an addiction to one or more substances or addictive behavior, things they use as a means of coping with pressures and stresses of living with an addict. As you are most likely aware, numbing yourself or trying to escape from the reality of your life only means that the problems and issues will still be there when you lose the high, wake up, or come back to reality. That’s really the beauty of allies in 12-step meetings. They’ve all been through exactly what you’re going through. They will offer you unconditional support and encouragement, and through listening to their stories about how they were able to stop being codependent, you may find the strength and strategies to figure out how to create your own path to recovery.
Counselors say that healing from codependency involves utilizing the four recovery power concepts. These are acceptance of our own powerlessness, finding and communicating with our own higher power (whether God or our own idea of a higher power), creating our own personal power, and learning how to share power by participating in healthy relationships.
Tips on Recovering from Codependency
Don’t let the idea of the process of recovery scare you. Sure, it’s a little disconcerting. After all, you’re going to be dealing with a lot of heavy baggage you’ve lugged with you for a long time. Learning to let go, to detach yourself from unhealthy thoughts and feelings may be painful at times. But the end result – stopping codependency – is worth it. Here are some tips that may help you in your journey toward recovering from codependency:
• Give yourself a new identity. Start to identify yourself as a recovering codependent. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim, acknowledge that you are codependent and are in the process of recovery.
• Ditch old coping mechanisms. Learn to see how your old coping mechanisms were self-destructive and self-defeating.
• Start to set goals. These should be goals for your own self-development and rediscovery. Do not make them goals for the good of other people. This is about your recovery, and it needs to focus on you.
• Practice detachment. Although it has already been mentioned, it’s worth repeating here. You need to learn how to detach yourself from the problems of others. Stop letting other people’s issues and problems consume your every waking thought. This will take quite a bit of practice, but things like meditation, vigorous exercise, being with others, and developing a sense of spirituality may help immensely.
• Learn new and different ways of caring for yourself – and your emotions. This means getting better at dealing with emotions like anger, guilt, shame, and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.
• Take care of your physical well-being. You’ve probably been so exhausted taking care of others, trying to figure out solutions to other people’s problems, that you’ve sorely neglected your own well-being. Get adequate sleep. Pay attention to your nutritional needs by eating a balanced diet. Engage in some form of vigorous physical exercise daily, even if it’s simply taking a walk in the neighborhood. If you have a medical condition, get it attended to. You can’t heal emotionally if you’re physically unwell.
• Begin to learn how to have fun. This may seem difficult at first, since you’ve ignored your own wants and needs for so long you’ve probably forgotten what it feels like to have fun. How do you learn how to have fun? Start by experimenting. You must remember some things that you once liked to do. Try doing them again. Maybe it’s a hobby that you once enjoyed like quilt making or cabinetry. Perhaps you loved to ski or play basketball or read or go to the movies. You may have loved to create extravagant desserts or had a yen for gardening. Whatever it was, give it another try. If you don’t find any of your previous interests exciting or to your liking, let your mind grasp the possibility of getting involved in something entirely new. Then investigate what it will take (instruction, equipment, time, etc.), and go for it. Learning how to have fun is really all about doing something you enjoy – and immersing yourself in it.
• Practice meeting new people and your conversational skills. You’re probably pretty rusty in this department. After all, you’ve spent so much time watching and being critical of others instead of listening to what others have to say and offering positive feedback. Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it. If you find yourself starting to be a savior to another person’s problems or issues, stop yourself. Concentrate instead on widening your circle of acquaintances and beginning to develop friendships based on mutual interests. For example, in your pursuit of activities that you find to be fun, you’ll meet many different people. This is an excellent place to start building new friendships.
• End relationships that have proven self-destructive or draining. This may not always need to happen, but there may come a time in your recovery when you realize that the relationship you’ve clung to for so long really isn’t working any longer. The other person, who may or may not be an addict, isn’t committed to growth and your recovery. When it’s time to move on, don’t allow another person to guilt you into staying. This also applies to so-called friends. The old saying of “Misery loves company” is certainly apropos here. When you are in recovery, the last thing you need is to surround yourself with people who are stuck in self-destructive and negative paths.
• Start to dream and hope again. This is all about your journey of self-discovery. For some, it is a rediscovering of hopes and dreams long buried. For others, who have come from such a dysfunctional and unhappy family background, it may mean creating dreams and a future never thought possible. Remember, however, that this is your personal and private journey. It isn’t about someone else’s hopes and dreams. Forget about what someone else says you should do or what’s good for you. This is something that you need to determine for yourself. Sure, it may be scary and confusing at first. But you will only succeed if you listen to what’s really right for you. And, over time, that will become more and more apparent.
Stopping codependency, finding and maintaining your own recovery, is not a fixed or time-limited process. It’s a fluid process, a journey that will continue the rest of your life. Some days, especially in early recovery, may be filled with ups and downs. You may frequently be confused, fearful that you may not make the right decisions. Rely on your support network, your counselors and 12-step allies, strong and caring family members and friends.
You will be able to overcome the initial difficulties, fears and confusion if you genuinely commit to the process. Recognize that healing takes time. Attend 12-step meetings. Get all the education you can by reading books, going online, attending seminars and workshops. Remain honest, open, and willing to try something new to change your life for the better. Work through your frustrations and discomfort at the thought of embracing change. Accept the new you, the person you are becoming, and continue to work on creating the kind of future you want and need for yourself. Believe in yourself and that you can find the happiness that you deserve. Start today.
Books and other resources can provide valuable insights on the subject of codependency and how to overcome it. Most are written by individuals who have, themselves, been codependent and have learned how to stop the destructive behavior. Others are written by professional addiction counselors and provide tips that may help you or another family member to stop being codependent.
Check out the following publication titles, most of which are available through Amazon or local bookstores and libraries:
• Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring For Yourself, by Melody Beattie. The author says this book is about stopping the pain and gaining control of your lives.
• Beyond Codependency: And Getting Better All the Time, by Melody Beattie. This book is about continuing on the path of recovery and delves into the core issues of recovery for the codependent individual.
• The Language of Letting Go (Hazelden Meditation Series), by Melody Beattie.
• The New Codependency, by Melody Beattie.
• Breaking Free of the Codependency Trap, by Janae B. Weinhold and Barry K. Weinhold.
• Love is a Choice: Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships, by Dr. Robert Hemfelt.
• Confessions of a Codependent: How to Identify and Eliminate Unhealthy Relationships, by Jacqueline Williams.
• Please Don’t Say You Need Me, by Jan Silvious.
• Break Free From Boomerang Love Relationships, by Lynne Melville.
• Breaking Free: A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence, by Pia Mellody, Andrea Wells Miller.
For a list of more titles on recovery from codependence, see Recovery Web’s Codependency Bookstore (http://www.recovery-man.com/books/codependency.htm).