Successful substance use recovery depends to a large degree on the health of the family unit. During treatment, you likely addressed problematic family dynamics, such as codependency. Now that you are in recovery, it is essential that you take steps to manage codependent family members. Read on to learn how.
What is a codependent family member?
Codependency can develop between an individual who struggles with substance use and a close family member, such as a spouse, sibling or parent. The dysfunctional behavior begins in response to the family member experiencing fear or panic as they witness the effects of their loved one’s substance use. Their knee jerk response is an impulse to rescue the loved one, and this leads to controlling, manipulative behaviors.
The codependent family member becomes deeply entwined in the loved one’s every action, behavior and thought. There is no separation of identity or respect for natural boundaries. Over time, the codependent family member loses all sense of self, and basically lives for the sole purpose of saving the loved one at all costs.
Why is codependency a problem in recovery?
In recovery, codependency feels like a vise grip. It sends a constant message that you cannot be trusted and must be micro-managed by the codependent family member in order to succeed in recovery. Even though you are now sober and in active recovery, they are totally invested in your journey. This is because their identity and purpose now depend on their role as savior. And since the codependent person is accustomed to having a relationship without boundaries, they infuse themselves into all aspects of your life.
5 tips to manage codependent family members
A codependent family member can cause anger and resentment to rise to the surface causing unneeded stress for the individual in recovery. Consider these helpful tips for breaking free of codependency:
- Exercise compassion: Understand that you enjoyed some benefits from the family member’s codependency and enabling behaviors while in active addiction. By playing along, many of your needs were met. Keep this in mind as you begin to pull away from this toxic relationship. Be firm, but compassionate.
- Set healthy boundaries: Now that you are in recovery, you have a good idea of the actions you must take to protect your sobriety and mental health. Review the toxic habits of the codependent family member and establish new boundaries. Communicate the boundaries as a matter of fact (no need to justify them to the individual), and then be consistent in enforcing them.
- Participate in family therapy: Codependency is a mental health condition that is difficult to untangle without the objective guidance of a mental health professional. Weekly family therapy sessions can help you both in achieving a healthier family dynamic in recovery.
- Learn how to say no: When you establish new boundaries, it can come as a shock to the codependent family member. They are used to having full access to your life 24/7, so expect some pushback. Learn how to say no to their demands and requests with both kindness and conviction.
- Detach in love: If the codependent family member is unwilling to work on their behavior and accept your boundaries, you will need to consider putting some space into the relationship. This is generally a temporary solution to put an end to the manipulation and intrusive behaviors, with the hope that positive changes will result.
Prioritizing recovery depends on being proactive when something or someone threatens it. Learning how to manage codependent family members is absolutely essential to recovery success.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.