What is codependency?
Codependency is “the pain in adulthood that comes from being wounded in childhood that leads to a higher probability of relationship problems and addictive disorders in later life.”
Families of addicts and alcoholics often believe that if the addict would get well then the family would be just fine again. This is not necessarily true. There are some people that believe addiction is genetic and that some people just have it and others just don’t.
Then there is a model that suggests that impaired parenting can create a painful sense of shame in a child and this leads to that person seeking out chemicals to medicate and avoid that shame. Parents are never handed the instruction booklet to parenting so most do the best that they can so there is no blaming here however …Pia Melody who was one of the original founders of the framework that identifies codependent thinking emotions and behaviour states ” I have noted that virtually all trauma results from either ‘disempowering’ or falsely empowering” abuse. Whether a child is disempowered or falsely empowered the end result is that the child loses contact with their authentic self.
In a family where codependency exists it can kill as swiftly as the addicts or alcoholics chemical of choice except that the cause of death will more commonly be suicide, “accidents,’ cardiovascular problems, self neglect, stress and repressed anger in the form of accompanying depression.
The five main characteristics of the disease are that the person has poor boundaries or has “walls” instead of boundaries, in terms of self esteem the family member has no self esteem or at best low self esteem which manifests with them either feeling completely “less than” others or at the other end of the spectrum – better than – grandiose. The third area is with self identity – in simplest terms being able to state who and how we are at any given moment – knowing ourselves and trusting ourselves. Co-dependents don’t trust or know themselves and don’t express themselves authentically. The fourth area is being able to own our basic needs and wants – so a person is either too dependent on others or at the other end of the polarity is ant-dependent or they get confused in knowing what their needs and wants are. Finally there is moderation. This area includes a person that has trouble moderating their feelings, their thoughts or their bodies.
Some indicators of low self esteem and codependency might include people pleasing behaviours, being reactive in discussions rather than responsive, care taking another person, controlling another person, communicating abusively or with silence, developing obsessions, becoming over dependent on a person, place or thing, denial, problems with intimacy – this does not mean sex -this means simply how you are in terms of openness or closeness with another human being and in your capacity to communicate. Codependents also experience emotions as very painful and often struggle with thoughts of abandonment, depression, fear of rejection, fear of being judged as well as hopelessness and despair.
In terms of how these symptoms manifest when the family member is dealing with the addicted person – because they do not deal with the situation knowing about their codependency they may well deny there is a problem, minimise the problem, avoid discussing problems, blame others, lash out in anger, justify the addicts situation. They may take over the addicts responsibilities for them, give them money in fear that if they don’t something “bad’ will happen. They may also help the addict with their legal problems, promise rewards for abstinence, threaten them and set boundaries and then not stick to the boundaries, provoke arguments, nag and most of all avoid getting help themselves.
You have to learn to detach from the addict or alcoholic but not abandon them. Getting support for yourself is of the utmost importance. You can empower yourself by reading books:
Facing Codependence – Pia Melody
When Someone You Love is Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol – Jim Maclaine
Codependent No More – Melodie Beattie
Until Today – Iyanla Vanzant
Also it is important to join a NAR- ANON group, Al- ANON group or CODA group which all exist in Melbourne or by seeing a therapist who understands the concept of codependency so that they can support you in the decisions you make around your addicted loved one. You must also do your own work around your codependency so that you can find freedom from the confusion pain and despair you find yourself in.