The words ‘codependent’ and ‘codependency’ are thrown around a lot when we talk about alcoholism, especially the family surrounding an alcoholic. But what exactly is codependency and how do you know if you are codependent?
What is codependency?
If you Google “define codependency”, the result is actually fairly straightforward and to the point:
Excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner, typically a partner who requires support due to an illness or addiction.
That being said, even if someone knows what codependency is, it is often difficult to identify it, especially within themselves. More often than not, someone who is codependent on another will have justified and rationalized their behavior so much that the very thought of being codependent will be dismissed outright. It is these situations that are the most dangerous, especially concerning alcoholics.
What are signs of codependency?
Low Self-Esteem – Many codependents feel that they may not be good enough and often times compare themselves to others. Even people who think highly of themselves use it as a disguise and often feel unlovable or inadequate along with a feeling of guilt. Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
Poor Boundaries – Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. Some codependents have weak boundaries, feeling responsible for other people’s feelings or problems that they blame on themselves. Other codependents have rigid boundaries that prevent anyone from getting close to them. Both are dangerous!
People Pleasing – It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
Dysfunctional Communication – A lot of codependents have trouble when it comes down to communicating their thoughts, feelings or needs, not allowing them to own up to their truth and tell others what is really going on. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when they try to manipulate the other person out of fear.
Control – Control helps a lot of people feel safe and secure, but codependents place an unusual amount of value on having it. While everyone needs some control in their life, codependents tend to take it a little far. The downside of this is that it limits them from taking risks and sharing their feelings, which can be detrimental.
What can you do about codependency?
The same way there are 12 step programs for addicts and alcoholics, there are also 12 step programs for codependents, the most notable of which is Al-Anon. Al-Anon offers the same freedom from codependency as AA does for alcoholism. Al anon recognizes just how dangerous addiction can be not only for the addict but for their family as well.
So remember, reach out to other people! There are many people who have come to terms with their codependency, often not realizing there was a problem until it was too late. There are thousands of other people in the world who struggle with the same issues you may be suffering from. The only way to learn how to cope is to learn from others!