Codependency is a behavior typically learned in childhood. Codependency affects a person’s capacity to have a positive, rewarding relationship with others. A codependent person can be a mother, sister, son, grandparent, or spouse and it is not specific to any age or gender. Historically, codependency was a term used primarily in the substance abuse industry to describe the experience of the spouses and family members of alcoholics in recovery; however, over the years this has changed. Today, a codependent person is anyone who gives up their emotional needs to satisfy the wants and needs of others.
A person becomes codependent by watching others or from having low self-esteem. Children often learn to become codependent by taking care of a parent or caretaker who is not able to take care of themselves or their homes. The child learns to adapt their behavior and becomes the responsible one in the family. What happens is the child is actually learning that their needs are not important compared to the needs of their parent. It becomes more important to take care of the parent and the parent’s needs. The child begins to define themselves by the parent who is ill or addicted. This pattern is learned and can extend into adulthood. The adult can relive these childhood experiences by creating a similar environment in grown-up relationships, defining themselves by how they are needed by others.
People with low self-esteem often get into relationships as adults where their needs become secondary to the spouse or significant other. If a person does not have self-worth or value in what they do, they may become dependent on others to feel valuable or worthy. The codependent person stops being an individual and defines who they are by the other person. If the spouse is angry, the codependent takes on this anger and tries to resolve it, for example. Sometimes the codependent person will make excuses for the spouse or significant other to cover up their negative behaviors. A spouse may make phone calls to the other spouse’s work to say that their husband or wife will not be at work due to being sick, when in reality, the spouse is hungover or drunk. Over time, the codependent person gets emotionally rewarded for taking such good care of the other person; however, over time taking care of the other person becomes the priority for the codependent person. This can lead the codependent person to act compulsive in terms of taking care of the other person and all associated responsibilities.
The payoff for remaining in a codependent relationship is having someone who relies on you emotionally. You feel wanted, loved, and worthy. The problem with this is you cease to exist independently. Your existence is defined and determined by another. It can take time but the codependent can learn to live without needing others for worth or value by attending CODA meetings, working with a therapist, or going to a codependency-focused treatment program.
Codependency can be painful without intervention and treatment. Cottonwood Tucson is an international leader in treating co-occurring disorders. If you are struggling to cope with codependency by abusing drugs and alcohol, there is help available.
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