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Each life is a tapestry of the individual’s experiences from birth until death. At one time codependency was used to describe the spouse or significant others of people who were chemically dependent. We now know that others, such as adult children of alcoholics, people involved in relationships with the emotionally dysfunctional, and adults who suffered abuse in childhood often have codependent behaviors. It could be someone who spends more time living their lives for others, than for themselves. It could be someone who lets the feelings and actions of others affect them to the point they lose control of their own lives.

Codependence is a deeply rooted compulsive behavior and it is born out of dysfunctional family systems (sometimes moderately, sometimes extremely). As an adult one experiences the painful trauma of the emptiness of one’s childhood and one’s relationships throughout life.

Some attempt to use others (mates, friends, and their children) as their sole source of identity, value and wellbeing, and as a way of trying to restore within one’s self the emotional losses from childhood. Their histories may include other powerful addictions which at times they used to cope with their codependence.

Melody Beattie describes in her book “Codependent No More”, codependents as hostile, controlling, manipulative and crazy. She says they are hostile because they are chronically hurt: they try to control others in a misguided attempt to regain control of themselves: they use manipulation because they believe it is the only way to get things done: and they feel crazy because of living this way. Fortunately, codependency can be overcome, but it takes a strong desire to change and usually requires some kind of therapy.

If one were to try to sum up the vast behaviors it would fit into these few characteristics:

  • Excessive caretaking (with the result being: I take such good care of you, why don’t you anticipate my needs and take care of me sometimes.) BECAUSE: You have trained them to believe you do not need anything
  • Low self-esteem (with the end result being: I only feel good about me when I help others, and if something goes wrong it must be my fault.) BECAUSE: You have accepted you will never be enough and need to feel like a victim, besides I can blame others and that makes me feel better about myself.
  • Denial (codependents ignore, minimize, or rationalize problems in the relationship, believing “things will get better when…” They stay busy to avoid thinking about their feelings; beside it’s really not that bad.”) BECAUSE: If you accept your feelings, you will have to find healthy ways to cope.
  • Fear of anger (codependents are afraid of both own and their loved one’s anger.) BECAUSE: If you accept your feelings you might have the make changes in the relationship.
  • Health Problems (The stress of codependency can lead to headaches, ulcers, asthma, high blood pressure, and many other medical, physical, and emotional issues. BECAUSE: The body is trying to send a message. A quote I heard many years ago” If one does not grieve their losses the organs will.” Often trying to deal with the family of origin mandates: Don’t Talk, Don’t Feel, and Don’t Trust
  • Addictive Behaviors (Codependents may themselves develop addictions in an attempt to deal with their pain and frustration) BECAUSE: Addictions numb the psychic, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
  • If you identify with these behaviors, you can experience a new freedom from your self-defeating lifestyle. The good news is that you are changeable, valuable, loveable, and forgivable. There are many healthy steps of change, the first being able and willing to ask for help. We are all better together–especially in a journey of healing. ______________________

Bonnie Harken, NCLC, is CEO and Founder of Crossroads Programs for Women which offers intensive outpatient programs, online psychoeducational programming, life style and recovery coaching, and individual therapy for women. She serves as the Executive Director of The International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation Inc. (iaedp), an 800 member professional organization that trains and certifies professionals to treat eating disorders. She has been in the mental health field since 1987.   www.crossroadsprogramsforwomen.com 800-348-0937