What does codependency mean?
Are you wondering, “Am I codependent in a relationship?” Simply put, codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that results in unhealthy relationships. Some of the negative patterns that develop include enabling, denial, low self-esteem, and control issues. Codependency is also sometimes called “relationship addiction.”
In families that are dealing with an addicted member, codependency is a common problem. It is difficult to be in a relationship with an addict and not fall into codependent behaviors. While these patterns don’t happen overnight, most people who live with an addict for a sustained period of time eventually take on codependent tendencies. How to stop a codependent relationship takes time, awareness, and effort.
What are codependent behaviors?
So what do codependents do? What typically happens is, as the addict gets worse, the family members become mentally and physically unhealthy as well. They spend sleepless nights worrying, suffer from stress-related illness, lie to avoid shame or embarrassment, become financially strained, and grow increasingly resentful toward the addict. This is why addiction is often called a family disease.
While there are many destructive patterns involved with codependency, two of the most common are enabling and denial. Let’s take a closer look at these two behaviors:
1. What are enabling behaviors?
When somebody you care about is suffering with an illness or a disease you naturally want to help. As a result, loved ones often step in to save the addict from the devastating consequences of their actions. This is called enabling. It is difficult to be in a relationship with an addict and not get sucked into enabling behavior.
Family members believe they are doing the right things when they help to save the addict’s job, help him or her to stay out of jail, help to pay their overdue bills, or save them from whatever horrific thing is getting ready to happen. But, in most cases, it’s not helping. Instead it is making it easier for the addict to continue drinking or using drugs because the consequences aren’t bad enough to convince him or her to stop.
If loved ones can learn to let the crisis happen for the addict, the consequences could be enough to convince the addict to accept help. So how can somebody love an addict without stepping in and enabling the addiction? You do this by treating the addict with respect (expecting him or her to handle their own responsibilities), getting educated to understand addiction, and offering hope and words of encouragement.
2. How is denial a drug?
Along with enabling comes the behavior of denial. The addict denies his or her problem, the family denies how bad things have gotten, and emotional or psychological abuse is often denied as well.
When family members refuse to admit that the addiction is causing serious health, relationship, and financial problems – this is called denial. Denial is a defense mechanism. Sometimes we are faced with something that is too uncomfortable to accept, so we reject it, insisting that it is not true despite evidence.
As addiction becomes more severe, the family’s denial may get worse as well, until the problems become so obvious that denial is no longer possible.
Help getting over codependency
If you have a loved one struggling with addiction, and you have fallen into these codependent patterns, now is the time to reach out for help. If you can’t find the courage to do that, then how can you expect the addict in your life to find the courage? Set the example and lead the way to positive change.
Family support groups, such as Al-Anon, are one of the best forms of support available. Through these groups you will learn how to handle the challenges of living with an addict, learn to set healthy boundaries, and discover how to create an environment that encourages recovery.