In church a few weeks ago one of the sermon points was about how codependency can negatively impact both individuals and relationships. I realized that we throw that term around a lot, but we may not really know what it means. Co-dependency is a term that comes from research and treatment of families in which there is a drug addict or alcoholic. In these families there are often people who protect the addict (and the family) against the consequences of the addition- this person is called the Enabler. The Enabler can be a child, spouse, parent, or sibling. They often act in ways that they feel are helping the person- perhaps lending them money, covering up the ill effects of poor decisions, lying about the addictive behavior to other family members, the list goes on. Well, co-dependency is not just regulated to folks with addictions- it happens every day in many of our families and friendships. Perhaps we know a friend is acting in self-destructive ways in their relationships, but we keep feeding into their ideas that they are right and everyone else is wrong. Perhaps we see a sibling misusing their money on frivolous things, but we lend them money whenever they ask, pulling out the “it’s none of my business” card.
The truth is, the people we love ARE our business. We are to care about them, love them, support them, AND challenge them when necessary. But it is not our responsibility to protect people from the natural consequences of their actions. Doing so prolongs the time that they continue to engage in destructive behaviors, and leads to stress and frustration for the people around them. A lot of Enablers do so because they feel an exaggerated responsibility to make sure that everyone around them is alright, often to the detriment of their own wants and needs. They are more likely to push things under the carpet in an effort to not cause conflict or “suck it up” even in situations where they are deeply hurt or disappointed. They may have even been told explicitly or implicitly (without words) that this is their role in the family. Co-dependency leads to people staying in destructive relationships longer than is necessary and can often lead to shame, guilt, and self-criticism. These relationships can be intense, and sometimes even exciting, but they are not healthy, and not sustainable.
Wondering if this is you? Answer these questions from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/co-dependency
1. Do you keep quiet to avoid arguments?
2. Are you always worried about others’ opinions of you?
3. Have you ever lived with someone with an alcohol or drug problem?
4. Have you ever lived with someone who hits or belittles you?
5. Are the opinions of others more important than your own?
6. Do you have difficulty adjusting to changes at work or home?
7. Do you feel rejected when significant others spend time with friends?
8. Do you doubt your ability to be who you want to be?
9. Are you uncomfortable expressing your true feelings to others?
10. Have you ever felt inadequate?
11. Do you feel like a “bad person” when you make a mistake?
12. Do you have difficulty taking compliments or gifts?
13. Do you feel humiliation when your child or spouse makes a mistake?
14. Do you think people in your life would go downhill without your constant efforts?
15. Do you frequently wish someone could help you get things done?
16. Do you have difficulty talking to people in authority, such as the police or your boss?
17. Are you confused about who you are or where you are going with your life?
18. Do you have trouble saying “no” when asked for help?
19. Do you have trouble asking for help?
20. Do you have so many things going at once that you can’t do justice to any of them?
If you answered yes to several of these questions, you may struggle with co-dependency. It’s worth checking it out with someone you trust, even a mental health professional. Co-dependency is a difficult interpersonal dynamic but it is not impossible to overcome. The first step is vigilantly valuing your needs and and the validity of your experience. The second step is understanding that you are not solely responsible for the behavior, opinions, or needs of others. You get the final say in your own life, and you do not have authority over someone else’s.
What are ways you can combat co-dependency?
- Pay attention to yourself. Often, people who are co-dependent are so intent on other people that they pay little attention to themselves. Set aside some time on a daily basis to self-evaluate, tune in to yourself, and take a break.
- Practice using your “no” muscle. Before you agree to do something, truly ask yourself if you have the time, energy, and/or desire to accomplish it. Prioritizing yourself does not automatically make you a selfish person.
- Let go of some control. Sometimes people become co-dependent because they are trying to control every aspect of their family or relationship. It’s just not possible. Ask yourself: are there some things I can let go?
- Prepare for backlash. Many folks don’t respond well to change. Sometimes, when you are in the process of getting healthier, people don’t like that you’ve changed your ways. It’s ok. As you become responsible for you and only you, the people around you are given the opportunity to do so for themselves.
- Remind yourself of ways co-dependency can be harmful to the people you love- it keeps them stuck, it helps them maintain a stance of denial, it prevents them from maturing.
Thanks for reading and make Well Choices!
Other Resources on Codependence:
Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Battle
Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody, Andrea Miller, and Keith Miller
Codependence and the Power of Detachment: How to Set Boundaries and Make Your Life Your Own by Karen Kasey