There are many definitions used to talk about co-dependency today. The original concept of co-dependency was developed to acknowledge the responses and behaviors people develop from being in a close relationship with an alcoholic or drug abuser. The alcoholic or drug abuser was the dependent person, and the person involved with the dependent person in any intimate way (spouse, lover, child, sibling, etc.) was the co-dependent person.
Whatever problem the other person has, co-dependency involves a habitual system of thinking, feeling, and behaving toward ourselves and others that can cause us pain. Co-dependent behaviors or habits are as self-destructive as those of the addicted person. As adults, co-dependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. The co-dependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued disappointment. Co-dependent habits can lead them into, or keep them in, destructive relationships, relationships that don't work.
Co-dependent behaviors can sabotage relationships that may otherwise have worked. Even when a codependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the co-dependent person still operates in their own system; they’re not likely to get too involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This, of course, creates problems that continue to recycle; if co-dependent people can’t get involved with people who have healthy behaviors and coping skills, then the problems continue into each new relationship.
There are some key feelings and behaviors associated with co-dependency. Generally, they can be seen in the relationships that co-dependents have.
Some of them include:
- Consistently not feeling fulfilled in relationships.
- Not dealing with issues in relationships directly.
- The tendency to be passive about your needs in a relationship.
- Being the caretaker in relationships.
- Avoiding feelings and having problems being intimate in relationships.
- Frequently trying to control the behavior of the addicted person in you or life by threatening to leave or trying to prevent them from drinking.
- A strong desire to be perfect in order to please others.
- Basing how you feel about yourself on pleasing others.
- Physical illnesses related to stress.
The focus of recovering from co-dependency is on learning to pay attention to your own needs and feelings, rather than investing so much on the needs of the addicted person. Recovery is about learning to take responsibility for your own feelings, thought and actions. Letting go of the need to control and care for the addicted person allows you to focus on your own needs. There are several options to help in the recovery process.
For people with co-dependency, counseling can teach assertiveness, listening, and communication. Counseling can help you become more aware of non-helpful actions and behaviors, and work with you on developing new, healthier coping skills that meet your needs.
There are also self-help groups and support groups that can be very effective. Al-Anon and Ala-teen can help one get free of the pain associated with living with an alcoholic. One self-help group, Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), focuses on getting free of the pain associated with any relationship, past or present.