Codependency crosses that fine line between wanting to offer love and support to a loved one and becoming a preoccupied and controlling force in their life. For many with a loved one battling substance use, the instinctive desire to try to save them from the devastating effects of the disease is understandable. However, the enabling behaviors that often result from these perceived good intentions only end up making things worse.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is a dysfunctional form of relationship that is based on mutual need, versus mutual love and support. Codependent people rely on each other to fulfill their needs in a kind of twisted manner. Codependency plays out in all kinds of relationships, but became associated with maladaptive relationships between an addict and a close family member, spouse, or friend through Melody Beattie’s groundbreaking 1986 book, Codependent No More.
The concept behind codependency centers around the supposed noble actions taken, often involving self-sacrifice on some level, to come to the aid of an addicted loved one. These actions are rooted in a need for approval or to gain a sense of purpose, which drive the enabling behaviors. By feeling indispensable to the loved one, the dysfunctional relationship feeds their need for being needed. The person on the receiving end sops up the benevolent acts, takes advantage of the person making the sacrifices, resulting in a reduced desire to stop the substance use. In the end, the person so wrapped up in giving financial and emotional support to a loved one is, indeed, just as ill as them.
Types of codependency include:
- Needing to rescue someone
- Having an exaggerated sense of being responsible for someone
- Needing to control others
- Having no outside interests, neglects other relationships
- Having a need for recognition and approval
- Desiring to define purpose through sacrifice
- Losing their sense of identity
- Feeling hurt when efforts made are not recognized
- Feeling guilty when saying no to a loved one’s requests
- Having problems with boundaries
- Having an intense fear of abandonment
- Having an unhealthy dependence on a relationship
- Having trouble making decisions
- Being out of touch with feelings
6 Signs of a Codependent Relationship
A codependent relationship develops when one person is invested in “saving” the other and invests emotionally in the belief that they are needed. The person they continue to help through financial support has no need to change their behaviors because they have not experienced the negative consequences of the substance use. This becomes a dysfunctional cycle that serves neither person well.
Recognizing six signs of codependency in a relationship:
- Avoiding conflict by not communicating your true feelings
- Feeling trapped in an unsatisfying one-sided relationship
- Having difficulty saying no to the person’s requests and demands
- Depending on sacrifices made to satisfy their needs for your sense of purpose
- Making excuses or lying to provide cover for the person’s problem
- Fearing that the person will die without you taking care of them
How to Offer Healthy Support and Stop Being Codependent
Stopping the cycle of codependency in a relationship is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary. In Al-Anon there is a saying, “Detach with love,” which sums up the concept of breaking free from the grip of codependency. To create a new healthy dynamic in the relationship it is necessary to relinquish control over the other and to allow them to own their choices, regardless of the consequences feared.
In practice, this means be there for the loved one, listen and offer your love, but not do the things for them that they are capable of doing themselves. Offering acceptance and compassion while resisting the urge to create solutions for the loved one is the first big step toward breaking the cycle of codependency.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders and is accredited by The Joint Commission. We offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, holistic addiction treatment, drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to heal each individual with respect and dignity, and reflects on our ongoing commitment to meet new challenges. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call (866) 313-6307.