Codependency is an addiction,
an addiction to dangerously self-gratifying behaviors that inevitably trap the codependent individual in unhealthy situations. Codependents are people who are addicted to “helping” others without regard for their own desires and needs.
Classic codependent relationships usually exist between an alcoholic or substance abuser and someone who “enables” the addict to continue indulging in his or her addiction. Abandonment issues also complicate the essence of the codependent personality, which usually developed during childhood when the codependent may have felt abandoned by parents or guardians.
An Example of Codependent Behavior
A classic codependent scenario
may involve a heroin addict with a girlfriend who does not take the drug herself but who consistently gives the addict money to buy heroin, drives him to his dealer or cares for him when he is sick. Unfortunately, the codependent in this situation does not realize her behavior is directly contributing to feelings of anger, low self-esteem and hopelessness. In all cases, a codependent is sadly his or her own worst enemy by contributing to the perpetuation of a loved one’s bad behaviors.
Other characteristics of individuals suffering from codependent tendencies include always feeling responsible for the well-being of others. They will experience extreme guilt and shame if others have problems and often become overly committed to the point of being obsessively attentive. Deep down the codependent feels victimized and unappreciated but does not recognize these feelings due to being in denial about the situation.
The Background of Codependency
Most codependents coming to Serenity Now, CMHC for help have troubled backgrounds involving dysfunctional families and a sad trail of failed, often abusive relationships with addicts or other codependents. Instead of blaming unstable family members for creating familial chaos and unhappiness, codependents blame themselves by engaging in baseless self-criticism—they are not smart enough, pretty enough, assertive enough or just not good enough to “save” everyone who suffers from serious mental or physical issues.
Codependents consider themselves victims without understanding that it is their own, enabling behaviors which make them victims. By repressing their own needs, unwanted thoughts and guilt feelings, codependents remain trapped in a netherworld invisible to themselves but glaringly obvious to others who can objectively observe the situation.
When anger and resentment accumulate as unarticulated emotions, codependents become even more attached to their behaviors in an effort to compensate for feeling depressed, guilty, victimized and confused. Being control-oriented individuals, codependents attempt to create situational outcomes that they think will bring the high rates of approval they yearn for from friends as well as complete strangers.
As a codependent, you may also be addicted to shopping, eating, spending too much time on the computer or gambling in an effort to self-medicate. Avoiding the onslaught of raw, painful feelings by indulging in sensory overload prevents you from perceiving your situation objectively, thus allowing you to seek temporary, often misinterpreted feedback from others who are perpetuating your self-defeating behaviors.
Treatment for Codependency
Serenity Now counselors and therapists treat codependency as an addiction. Treatment consists of psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step programs and using a variety of counseling techniques to discover the roots of the codependent behavior. Similar to substance abuse, codependency is extremely difficult to heal without professional help from caring and understanding therapists who have experience providing instruction to codependent clients about learning to accept the ineffectiveness of trying to control lovers, family members, friends or current events that seem to be spiraling out of control.
Codependent clients working with Serenity Now, CMHC therapists will discover what it means to start taking responsibility for their own actions and behaviors instead of relenting to the psychologically damaging needs of others that prevent them from experiencing the freedom of taking care of the most important person in the world–themselves.