Codependency is a particular behavioral condition that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. This condition is often an obstacle that is faced by many individuals who struggle with a substance use disorder. Despite this obstacle, we know that people who go through recovery are resilient and can also recover from codependency.
To give yourself tools to support your recovery, we believe that learning about and understanding codependency will provide you with a firmer grasp of the issue and ultimately support a change to a healthier relationship.
Defining and Identifying Codependency
In order to begin moving past codependency, you first need to be able to identify it and understand what it is.
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According to Psych Central, the definition of codependency is:
“characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.”
In the addiction recovery sphere, codependent relationships are fairly commonplace. Codependency is a behavior that is acquired through observation and imitation. This is what is known as a learned behavior. A son can witness his father behaving in a codependent manner and learn through that observation. Later on, the son can behave in that same way since he has learned and internalized that behavior.
Codependency doesn’t just affect the individual with an addiction, but it can also affect the codependent partner and other family members and friends. A codependent relationship is an unhealthy, one-sided relationship. The effects of codependency can delay addiction recovery, increase the risk of relapse, and take numerous tolls on mental health.
In a codependent relationship, the codependent partner is the one who will make excuses for or try to prevent any kind of reprimanding from taking place against the partner with an addiction. The codependent will feel responsible for taking care of an addicted individual and will excessively prioritize others’ needs over their own. This type of behavior can be an enabling force in the life of the addicted partner. By acting as a buffer, the codependent partner makes it more difficult for the addicted individual to receive the proper treatment they need for an addiction habit.
In order to better identify if you or someone you know is in a codependent relationship, we need to take a closer look at identifiable symptoms. Codependency is more than simply being “obsessed” with a person and their needs. As you will see, codependency encompasses a wide variety of actions and emotion-based symptoms.
Symptoms of codependency:
- Low self-esteem, especially due to feeling inadequate or guilty
- Poor communication
- Desiring to please other people, even when it’s detrimental
- Finding it difficult to create healthy boundaries
- Difficulty saying “no” or turning down people’s requests
- Fear of intimacy
- Obsessively thinking of other people and especially focusing on one individual
- Negative emotions like depression and resentment
- Feeling a need to be a caretaker for others
- Suppression of feelings
The Effects of Codependency
A codependent partner often has good intentions. However, the overbearing assistance that can cross the line into enabling does the opposite of the intended effect.
Codependent relationships gradually accustom the addicted party to constantly rely on the codependent for support. This support could take the form of unhealthy, enabling actions like having the codependent give excuses for the addicted individual at work or provide money that will be earmarked for purchasing substances.
Because a codependent individual has such low self-esteem and relies on the praise of others, they may subconsciously worry about no longer being needed if the addicted individual is treated. The need and obsession to be in a relationship with others as a caretaker figure is a key contributing factor to this mindset.
While this mindset may seem strange from an external perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that codependency is a particular behavioral condition. Many times, a codependent feels compelled to go through with particular overbearing or unhelpful actions.
The codependent partner’s life outside of this relationship will suffer. It’s common to see increasingly strained relationships between the codependent and any outside relations. There is also a higher risk of a codependent developing an addiction. This addiction could mirror the addicted individual in terms of substance use, or it could take the form of unhealthy behaviors such as binge eating or excessive gambling.
For the individual with an addiction, a codependent partner can serve as a force that makes seeking treatment difficult. If an individual constantly has someone to count on for making excuses or supporting their habit, there is no reason for any help to take place. If completion of a treatment program is successful, the relationship still puts an individual at a higher risk of relapse.
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If an addicted individual is able to enter into an addiction treatment program, it’s recommended that codependency be discussed and addressed during treatment. Recovery is tough, but those who seek recovery and treatment are also tough. Bringing up the challenges of codependent relationships is just another hurdle to overcome, but those who have made it this far can surely make it over one more bump.
As a behavioral condition, a codependent can seek professional help to treat their codependent tendencies. This kind of treatment will focus on addressing issues and symptoms of codependency like low self-esteem and the difficulties of maintaining healthy boundaries. Through therapy, codependents have the opportunity to improve their mental well-being and live a healthier lifestyle.
Healthy boundaries are important for both an addicted individual and a codependent partner. Some of the tips for setting healthy boundaries include:
- Taking the time to assess personal feelings
- Being direct and communicating clearly
- Naming personal limits
- Giving oneself permission
- Practicing self-awareness
- Seeking and getting support from others
- Starting small and making progress gradually
Similar to a codependent, an addicted individual can receive counseling assistance through addiction treatment programs. Because of how common codependency is in the addiction world, many programs offer support and are well equipped to handle this condition. Don’t be afraid to bring up discussions around codependency. Treatment should be as well-rounded as possible to ensure that you get the care you need.
Practicing Healthy Support
Depending on the organization and advice you consult, practicing tough love is sometimes recommended, so as to not fall into codependency. However, tough love has some ramifications that may not benefit the addicted individual.
Tough love involves completely backing out of the life of an addicted loved one. The relationship is nearly severed and any sign or relation to substance use results in further dividing the rift between both parties. The idea behind tough love is to avoid any enabling behavior, but this practice can inadvertently hurt the chances of recovery.
Those who have positive, healthy support from close family and friends have more successful recoveries than those who lack support. The risk of relapse may also decrease when an individual is around people who support living a healthy, substance-free life.
Therefore, it’s important to discover a way to support an addicted loved one without engaging in an enabler role. A healthy rewards system is an avenue to explore in supporting your addicted loved one.
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Within this rewards system, you can support the individual with proactive opportunities like driving them to a job interview or to a therapy appointment. It’s also beneficial to have open, honest communication and to spend quality time together. Again, setting healthy boundaries is important in this system. If it’s your rule, don’t tolerate substance use in your home.
Finding ways to support a loved one in a healthy and proactive way can benefit everyone and improve emotional well-being all around.
What are the signs of a codependent person?
A codependent person will often feel a compulsion to be a caretaker to someone who has extreme emotional or physical needs. For this reason, though not always, codependency is a well-known and common phenomenon in the addiction sphere.
This individual may also experience low self-esteem and seek praise and validation from others.
What is a codependent behavior?
Codependents feel as if it is their responsibility to care for the other person. Therefore, they will often make excuses or try their hardest to prevent any negative consequences or criticisms that are directed toward the addicted individual.
What causes codependency?
Codependency is learned by observing others who exhibit this behavior. If a son witnesses his father acting codependent, the son may later act in a similar manner.
What is an example of codependency?
If a child misbehaves at school, a mother might try and pull some strings to prevent any punishment from taking place.
Here at The Bluffs, we’re ready to provide the strong support you need to make a successful recovery. We look forward to supporting all of our courageous, resilient patients in their journey to recovery. Give us a call at 888-481-7821 to get started.