Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
Codependency is a behavioral pattern that has been identified as existing in pathological relationships. These behaviors can develop in childhood and are a response to living in a dysfunctional family or relationship. Typically these families have “rules” that prohibit dealing with family issues and feelings in a direct way. These families usually have an alcoholic, drug-addicted, mentally ill, or chronically ill member. Family members focus their attention on this troubled member to the exclusion of other family members. Family members are taught to care for the “ill” member and to do what is necessary to keep this person content. They learn to repress their feelings, to try to be perfect, and to ignore their own needs. The family attempts to keep the problems of the “ill” member a secret.
Codependent people tend to be caretakers of others and typically ignore their own needs and feelings. They have difficulty trusting other people and attempt to control others by their behavior, often by trying to be perfect or by taking over the care of the other person. Codependents are attracted to people who cannot be counted on to meet their needs and who are inconsistent and unreliable. Typically, codependent people are unable to nurture and care for their own emotional needs. Codependency tends to be passed on from one generation to the next.
Codependent behavior is based on a need to control others and to change...
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Possible Causes (Psychology and Mental Health)
Codependency behaviors were initially identified in the families of alcoholics and drug addicts. These same behaviors have more recently been identified in pathological family situations, including families in which spousal or child abuse is occurring, families with poor communication patterns, and families with a mentally or chronically ill member. Codependency does not develop in all families with mentally or chronically ill members; rather it will develop only in those families in which the sick person is controlling the family and in which the parents exhibit codependent behaviors. It is possible for families to function normally in this situation. However, in homes with alcoholics, drug addicts, or abusers, it is much harder to avoid codependency.
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Diagnosing (Psychology and Mental Health)
Codependent behavior is diagnosed by the identification of codependent behavior patterns. Codependent people often experience anxiety, depression, or both. The symptoms that are seen in the codependent person are controlling behavior, distrust of others, perfectionism, repression of feelings, problems with intimacy, caretaking, hypervigilance, stress-related illnesses, insomnia, low self-esteem, dependency, denial, weak boundaries, anger, sexual problems, and poor communication skills. Once people learn codependent patterns, they are likely to apply these behaviors to other relationships, even though the new relationships are unlike the one that spawned these behaviors. They may establish codependent relationships with their counselor, physicians, friends, bosses, and other authority figures. Codependency becomes the only way they know to establish relationships with other people.
People of all ages can demonstrate symptoms of codependency, although typically the symptoms appear in childhood. This behavioral pattern usually continues for the rest of people’s lives unless they have long-term counseling to identify their behaviors and assist them in changing these behaviors.
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Treatment Options (Psychology and Mental Health)
The treatments for codependency include long-term counseling and support groups. In counseling, codependent people are taught to identify their own needs, to deal with their feelings, to be assertive, to refuse when they do not want to do something, to communicate their needs to others, and to care for and nurture themselves. Sometimes during treatment, a person forms a codependent relationship with his or her counselor and tries to appear perfect to this person. At this point, counseling ceases to be effective because the patient has stopped working on problem behaviors. This negates the purpose of counseling, which is to learn to change codependent behavior patterns. Consequently, it may be helpful for codependents to periodically change counselors.
Codependency support groups such as Co-Dependents Anonymous, based on the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, have developed. The twelve steps involve accepting that one’s life is out of control and asking a higher power for assistance, but some people are repelled by references to a higher power. Some codependency groups are geared toward specific codependency issues, such as living with an alcoholic or in a dysfunctional family. Usually they deal with general issues of codependency without consideration of the attractive behavior. Groups vary in their effectiveness, so codependents may have to try several groups before they find one that is helpful to them....
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The History of Treatment (Psychology and Mental Health)
Codependency was first discussed in the late 1970’s. At this time, it was noticed that people addicted to drugs or alcohol tended to have relationships with people with a particular set of behaviors. However, as early as the 1940’s, spouses, particularly wives, of alcoholics met and formed support groups to deal with the behavior of their spouses. At first, these groups were called Al-Anon, in reference to the Alcoholics Anonymous groups for alcoholics. As mental health professionals became more familiar with these behavior patterns, they realized that the behaviors occurred not only in people in relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts but also in people in relationships with people with other compulsive behaviors such as gambling, overeating, and some sexual behaviors. These same behavior patterns were discovered in adult children of alcoholics, people in relationships with emotionally disturbed or chronically ill people, and in professionals in helping professions, such as nurses and social workers.
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Babcock, Marguerite, and Christine McKay, eds. Challenging Codependency: A Feminist Critique. Toronto, Ont.: University of Toronto Press, 1995. This collection of essays criticizes the label of codependency as damaging to women and challenges some of codependency’s tenets.
Beattie, Melody. Beyond Codependency: And Getting Better All the Time. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. Beattie focuses on recovery from codependency in this book. She uses frequent examples of codependents to demonstrate her points.
_______. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. Center City, Minn.: Hazelton, 1992. This classic work defines codependent behavior and gives examples of codependents and their lives. The main focus of the book is to assist readers in identifying their codependent behaviors and changing their lives.
_______. The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. In this self-help book, Beattie clears up misconceptions about codependency and provides self-assessments regarding various codependent behaviors.
Lewis, Rebekah. Doormats and Control Freaks: How to Recognize, Heal, or End Codependent Relationships. Far Hills, N.J.: New Horizon, 2005. Lewis provides a twelve-step plan for increasing self-esteem and creating healthy relationships.
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