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.