The term ‘codependent’ was first coined about ten years ago.
Codependency is often defined as a relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, irresponsibility, immaturity, poor mental health, or under-achievement. One of the core characteristics of codependency is an excessive reliance on their people for identity and approval. The term has been thrown around a lot, and many times is misused.
According to Anne Smith, who has published two books on the subject, the term has been randomly overused. “Some clients relate to it and think that it is a permanent condition. Others find it insulting and demeaning. The truth is that what had been labeled in the past as codependency is actually human beings doing what comes naturally—loving.”
Smith claims it is “normal and natural, not codependent, to seek the comfort of those we love when we are hurting and to feel anxious when we are separated or abandoned, regardless of the cause. Whether from addiction, mental illness, or chronic stress, fear changes our behavior in a way that is intended to protect and preserve out attachment to those we love.”.
When a person or family is dealing with an ongoing problem, they begin to live in survival mode, developing specific patterns of behavior in an attempt to reduce stress. In trying to become closer to the person that they love and are concerned about, the situation often becomes worse due to patterns of behavior of both parties, or all involved.
Codependency is often a learned behavior that stems from childhood.
When a person grows up depending on someone who is not dependable, they become emotionally wounded, and take this into adulthood. If this hurt is not confronted and healed, they often find themselves on the same type of relationships as an adult, seeking out people that need to be ‘saved’ or that are not dependable.
These types of relationships form when one or both people in a relationship are struggling with an addiction and the other person is trying to help. If the individuals do not know how to detach in a healthy manner, they form a relationship that can be like an emotional roller coaster for both parties. The helper enables the addict because they love them and are scared to lose them. The enabler often feels helpless and like a victim in the relationship because no matter how hard they try, they cannot help the other person. The one suffering from addiction or mental illness falls deeper into addiction or their negative behavior because they are not living up to their potential, they fell shamed, and they are not made to be responsible for their actions. People on the outside of these relationships may tell each individual to leave the other, but this does not always have to be the answer.
Labels often make people feel like they will be that way forever.
The thing to keep in mind, even if told by a professional that you are co-dependent, is that it stemmed from love, and it can be fixed. People in a codependent relationship do not have to break up or divorce. They can learn new, healthy ways to interact in their relationship. The first step toward recovery is to stop any kind of substance abuse. Once sobriety has been achieved for an extended period of time, if the unhealthy behaviors do not smooth themselves out on their own, both parties should seek counseling. A period of separation may be necessary for each party to regain their sense of self so that they can reenter the relationship healthier in body, mind, and spirit.
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Smith, A. (2015, July 6). What Codependency Is, and What It Isn’t. Retrieved February, 2016.