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What is Co-dependency?

            It is a learned behavior that many people talk about, but few people really understand. It is a common problem in our society. It is responsible for many relationship failures. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that effects an individual’s ability to have a truly healthy, mutually respectful relationship. It has also been called “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form and maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.  It is often handed down from parent to child as part of a multi-generational dysfunction.

Who Does Co-dependency Affect?

            It is common for co-dependent behaviors to seen in people in a unhealthy relationship to another person who has an addictive personality. In fact, the term originally became popular as describing a person in a relationship with an addicted person. If the addict needed to control his/her environment, the co-dependent person was there to meet that need. Today, however, the term has taken on a broader meaning: it refers people who define their life and their value only when they are successful pleasing another. Co-dependent people are also called “pleasers.”

What is a Dysfunctional Family and How Does it Lead to Co-dependency?

            A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, resentments and core-shame. In these families members ignore (deny) the underlying issues and painful feelings that surface. Some of the problems these families deal with include the following:

  • An addictive family member (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, work, body image, and/or relationships.
  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.

            Dysfunctional families often do not discuss or acknowledge their problems. They do not talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behavior patterns that help them deny, ignore, and avoid difficult emotions. They learn to detach from reality. They talk about real issues. They often don’t touch. They become conflict avoidant. They learn to ignore their feelings. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional growth of members of a dysfunctional family are often stunted/inhibited.

            One of the difficulties in dealing with issues created in a dysfunctional family is that the family members are usually unaware of their problems. It is their family and they tend to normalize the behaviors in their environment.

            Attention and energy is focused on the family member who is the identified patient: the addict or mentally ill family member. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his/her needs to take care of the person who is sick. When this happens, the health, welfare and safety of the co-dependent is not considered and they lose contact with their own needs, desires, and their sense of self.

How Do Co-dependent People Behave?

            Co-dependents usually develop unhealthy self-esteem. They constantly seek things outside themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Many self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, or some other addictive behavior. Others develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, being a shop-aholic, gambling, or indiscriminant sexual activities. They seldom feel OK with just being. They are constantly seeking some stimulation from outside to make them feel content. It is a bit like the donkey chasing the carrot that is hung by a rope in front of him; satisfaction is extremely rare and always temporary.


                Co-dependents can be very well intentioned people. They can have good intentions. They try to take care of anyone around them who seems needy, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and self-defeating. Co-dependents often take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to and individual in need. A wife may cover for her alcoholic spouse; a mother may make excuses for her truant child; of a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from suffering the consequences of misdeeds and delinquent behavior.

            The problem here is two-fold: first, the co-dependent never finds true peace; and secondly, the one being cared for seldom learns from consequences that have been muted. Repeated rescue attempts allow the individual being cared for to continue on a destructive path. This encourages them to become even-more dependent upon the unhealthy caretaking of the “benefactor. As the reliance increases, the co-dependent develops an unhealthy sense of reward and satisfaction from being needed. When the caretaking becomes compulsive (feeling that it has to be done), the co-dependent feels helpless in the relationship. The co-dependent’s feeling that it is impossible to break away from the cycle of dysfunctional behavior exacerbates the problem. The co-dependent often comes to view himself/herself as a victim. This feels normal and they come to see being a victim is just the way things are meant to be. Believing that his/her role in life is to be a victim, the codependent goes on to create this same unhappy dynamic with friends and love relationships, over and over.

What Are Some Tendencies of Co-dependent People? They have…

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others.
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue. They are most comfortable with people they feel “need” them.
  • A tendency to do more than their share, all the time.
  • A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts.
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship and avoid feeling abandoned.
  • Lying/dishonesty (a habit to protect against feeling abandoned).
  • A tendency to be overly loyal; holding on to unhealthy relationships.
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition from others.
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves.
  • Difficulty identifying feelings (their own or the feelings of others).
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others. (Life is unfair)
  • An overwhelming fear of being abandoned or left alone.
  • Difficulty identifying feelings (their own or the feelings of others).
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others. (Life is unfair)
  • An overwhelming fear of being abandoned or left alone.
  • Difficulty identifying feelings (their own or the feelings of others).
  • A compelling need to control others.
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change.
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries.
  • Chronic generalized anger. (Life is exhausting)
  • Poor communications.
  • Difficulty making decisions.
I am a recovering people pleaser. Is that okay?!

A Questionnaire to Identify Signs of Co-dependency 

            To use this as a evaluation, it is necessary to determine the intensity of the symptoms. This is not a “yes or no” screening device.  It is best to answer each of  the questions in terms of what percentage of the time the statement is true.

_____  1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
_____ 2. Are you always worried about others’ opinion of you?
_____ 3. Have you lived with someone with an addiction problem?
_____ 4. Have you lived with someone who belittles you?
_____ 5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
_____ 6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or at home?
_____ 7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with others?
_____ 8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
_____ 9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feeling to others?
_____ 10. Do you sometimes feel inadequate?
_____ 11. Do you feel like a bad person when you make a mistake?
_____12. Do you feel uncomfortable getting compliments of gifts?
_____13. Do you feel humiliated when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
_____ 14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts to support them?
_____ 15. Do you frequently wish someone would help you get things done?
_____ 16. Do you feel uncomfortable talking to people in authority (e.g., police)?
_____ 17. Are you confused about who you are and/or where you afre going with your life?
_____ 18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
_____19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
_____ 20. Do you have so many things going on at once that you have trouble doing justice to any of these projects?

You Are Not Required to Set Yourself on Fire to Keep Other People Warm.

What Can Be Done to Help a Co-dependent?

            Co-dependency is a very treatable problem. Even if you gave yourself a high percentage mark on every question, the problem is treatable. Perhaps the biggest hurdle to helping a co-dependent become healthier is getting the person to understand that they actually have a problem. Since they have lived with this behavior from early childhood, and they may have seen it in other family members, being a co-dependent feels normal. 

            Once someone realizes that they have a problem, and that there are more effective ways for them to live life, then there are a multitude of treatment options, including the following: bibliotherapy (readings), cognitive therapy (learning more balanced thoughts), behavioral therapy (actually practicing/role playing new behaviors), inner-child work, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), experiential group work, hypnotherapy, the use of positive affirmations, and the use of Eye Movement Desensitization Repossessing (EMDR). Since co-dependency is almost always rooted in a person’s early years, treatment usually involves exploring childhood issues and their relationship to current destructive patterns. This helps the person get in touch with feelings that have been buried (forgotten/petrified). The work is not always easy, but treatment can help a co-dependent person see life from a fresh perspective and live a much fuller and more rewarding existence. At the Center we discuss all of the options and select a personalized treatment program that seems to be the best fit for the client. As an added bonus, the healing done by the co-dependent is always a gift to his/her family and friends.

             At the Center, we have found great success in treating co-dependency with EMDR. In some cases, positive change has happened amazingly quickly. If you think co-dependency might be an issue that you have been dealing with, give us a call. We would be happy to explore this topic with you and to help you reach your personal goals.

Love Spoken Here

Center For Creative Living