Are you living in someones addiction?

Co-Dependency – Just another term for Enabling?

During one of my first 12-step meetings, the conversation morphed into a woman describing her dysfunctional childhood.  She tearfully spoke of the shame of growing up in an alcoholic household; her embarrassment of returning from school in the afternoons and seeing her mother mixing bloody-mary’s on their outdoor patio.  The group clucked their tongues sympathetically while my friend and I looked at each other.  “I thought that was normal!”, She whispered.  “Me too!”, I whispered back, surprised by the speakers angst.

  As I was preparing my thoughts to deliver a speech to ‘help’ her become aware of just exactly what she should and should not do, I paused.  Stopped.  I knew I was pretty dysfunctional, that wasn’t any surprise.  I was beginning to understand that I, like millions of us, was very co-dependent.  I had always accepted the ‘elephant in the room’.  I had learned at an early age to not talk about the dysfunction in my family; to clean up the messes made by my loved one, to make excuses for the behavior, to bail them out of the choas created by their addiction.  I accepted the mess as my own, covered it up as best as I could, reasoned that the drinking and the drug use behaviors were acceptable becuase…(and then filled in my own skewed validations).  I was as emeshed in their addiction as they were! 


Defining Co-Dependency

Melody Beatty, one of my favorite authors, brought this condition to light following years of recovery and introspection.  She describes Co-Dependency as; “…a person who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior”.  Fits me to a tee.  She defines Co-Dependency as:

“An emotional, psychological and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individuals prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules – rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal as well as interpersonal problems.”

Broken down, this means we are shaped by the alcoholic or addictive behaviors, and respond by adapting those dysfunctional behaviors to ourselves.  We create our own world within this context of dysfunction to allow us to function in this world with the people we love and care about, without really consciously making that decision.  What we don’t realize, is that, when it comes to alcoholism or addiction, we can’t create this behavior, we can’t control this behavior, and we can’t cure this behavior.  

So why do we fight and argue, hide and make excuses, beat ourselves up over it?  Because we are human, and we love.

Whenever we have a relationship with someone, whenever we love someone, whenever we care, we invest emotionally in that person.  When they get sick, we step right in to help.  Whenever there is an injury, we are right there with a bandaid and some neosporine to ease the pain and bring comfort.  That is a gift of our humanity.

But sometimes, there are forces beyond our control, bigger than the strength of our love and our prayers, like earthquakes and hurricanes.  One of those forces is alcohlism and addiction.  When we are face to face with something so hugely monumental that is out of our control, we are filled with fear, horror and dread.  With a force of nature, we have clear definitions and boundaries.  We have supports from neighbors, from the government, we are all a part of it.   We can talk about it without shame.  We join ranks to address the force and we have outcomes that are concrete and dependable.  We can imagine a future after.  

But with addiction and alcoholism, we don’t feel this, even though these supports exist, more than you can imagine.  We view addiction and alcoholism, even today, as a moral failing, as shame.  We point blame, we own blame, even though it is not ours to own.  We search for causes, cures, we compare-“it’s not as bad as”, or “it’s worse than….”.  We try to ‘fix’ what is broken and we believe every drunken or intoxicated promise of ‘never again’.

When it is our own child we feel the extra guilt and shame of being a bad parent, a poor role model, a failure.  Whe it is our parents, we ‘become’ blame’; we think we are the cause, if we could get better grades, better in sports, live up to higher expectations.  We might blame our siblings, further splitting our souls.  We take roles as fixers, comedians, become the parent.  When it is our significant other, we become the nurse, the doctor, the caregiver.   We make excuses, enabling the use over our fears of failure, of job loss, of the whispers from others.

But in all cases, we own both successes and failures.  And neither one are not ours to own.

Signs Of Codependency:  What does codependency actually look like?

Codependents may:

  • Think that they are responsible for the feelings of the other person. (This sense of liability emerges in various shapes and sizes through thoughts, actions, wants, deeds, you name it.)
  • Feel overwhelming anxiety and stir up self-pity when the problem lies within the other person.
  • Anticipate the wants and desires of their close circle
  • Wonder why other people don’t do likewise
  • Attempt to prefer the well-being of others over themselves.
  • Feel no hesitation to vent their anger and rage about injustices done to others but shy away from applying that same logic in circumstances that cause disturbance to them.
  • Feel safe and secure when they are giving rather than receiving.
  • Feel shaky when someone takes care of them.
  • Feel disappointed because people don’t act with the same passion toward them.
  • Find themselves attracted to a needy group of individuals.
  • Go through boredom and a sense of worthiness which induces a personal crisis.
  • Leave behind something they love to do in order to satisfy others.

Codependents tend to:

  • Have a dysfunctional, aggressive family background.
  • Deny any collective responsibility for their emotional and mental status.
  • Put the blame onto themselves regardless of whether that’s true or not.
  • Be hard on themselves with regards to their physical, mental, emotional appearance.
  • Fly off the handle every once in a while, and take a defensive stance when others believe that codependents should embrace a different standpoint.
  • Double-check or completely disregard compliments lavished upon them.
  • Slump in deep dejection due to lack of praise.
  • Feel no connection to the world.
  • Think that they are not worthy of anything, and merit no praise whatsoever.
  • Feel insecure and often guilty when it comes to spending money on their basic needs or doing some other stuff for their Intrinsic pleasure.
  • Dread the possibility of rejection.
  • Take life too personally and everything flowing in it.
  • Have the victimhood ingrained in them as they are an easy mark for any form of abuse?
  • Act and portray themselves as victims.
  • Don’t believe in their ability.
  • Be skeptical about their prowess and are afraid to take risks.

Melody Beattie writes:

“After learning about codependency and the behaviors involved with it, and then working on choosing different behavioral options such as detaching, letting go, feeling my emotions and setting and enforcing boundaries – including saying no – I began to feel …ashamed for having been so blatantly codependent.

I’d been the poster girl for the hand-wringing, anxiety-ridden, people-pleasing, controlling and obsessive stereotype often associated with people identifying themselves as “codependent”

It (being codependent) wasn’t glamorous. It wasn’t something I was proud of.

Then I began to understand: There is no shame in being codependent or having been that way.

The real root of the word “codependent” and the original definition came from the legal use of the word in contracts and documents. It (codependent) meant that an action was mutually dependent on or influenced by something else – someone or something besides the original factor or persons involved.

Codependent defined certain legal terms in agreements, contracts or decisions.

Then, in the 80’s, when codependency came out as a word used to describe (mostly) dysfunctional relationships, it took on a new meaning for us – but not a completely new one.

When making decisions and choices, we all take into consideration various factors: Our choices impact on people we love, the results of that choice on our (and other people’s lives), and other considerations.

Being “Codependent No More” (or at least “Not As Much”) doesn’t mean we’re crazy. And isn’t a cause for embarrassment.

It means we’re now consciously considering the motivations for our decisions. For many of us, it means that instead of making our choices solely to please others – or to try to control them – we’re considering all our options, and finally (for many of us), understanding the impact of our decisions and behaviors on ourselves. We learned that we matter too.

There’s no need to be embarrassed to be (and stay) Codependent No More.

No Need to be ashamed to have gone through the process of allowing codependency (in a negative way) to impact our lives, and then learning to stop trying to do what’s impossible (control others) and start focusing on the possible: taking good care of ourselves. Consciously and in a way that takes others and (at last) ourselves into consideration when making decisions.

Feeling embarrassed about different stages of life we experience on the way to becoming who we are now is no different than cringing when we see pictures of how we wore our hair 25 years ago. We can feel that way, but it isn’t necessary. We were doing what we thought best – at that time.

We weren’t crazy – even at the height of our obsessing and controlling. We were codependent on unhealthy factors in our decisions and our behaviors.

To many millions of us, that revelation was and still is a huge relief. We set ourselves free to live our lives in a way that was and still is in our best interests.

No Shame in that.
From the desk of Melody Beattie

There’s No Shame in Being CoDependent

Read More: Books by Melody Beattie                                                                   

Codependent No More-How to Stop Controlling Others & Start Caring For Yourself
The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations for Codependents
Beyond Codependency: And Getting Better All of the Time
The New Codependency: Help & Guidance for Today’s Generation

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