Codependency is a term not as widely discussed as addiction. In fact, most people who are not familiar with the family dynamics of addiction have yet to hear the term. Even more, those who have experienced the behaviors associated with codependency likely know nothing about it—what it is or how it develops—other than how it feels to be on the receiving end.
However, codependency and addiction are typically a package deal. For instance, any operational relationships remaining in the life of an individual struggling with active addiction are codependent ones. In that way, they are enabling.
That is why individuals who enter recovery usually learn about codependency and the destructive nature of codependent relationships. This information alone, however, is not typically enough to prevent the furthering of pre-existing or future codependent relationships. Consequently, these individuals are often vulnerable to substitute addictions and relapse.
So, what do recovering individuals really need to know about codependency? Well, for starters, it’s important to know what it is, how it develops, why it has such a tight grip on you and how to prevent, intervene, avoid and heal from codependent relationships and codependency itself. Here are a few key things you have to know about this unhealthy cycle.
What is Codependency?
The dictionary defines codependency as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (such as an addiction to alcohol or heroin).” A broader definition is simply “the dependence on the needs of or control by another.”
How Does Codependency Develop?
Codependency typically develops in childhood or early stages of life and initiates in a dysfunctional family of origin. More often than not, individuals who struggle with codependency were raised by individuals who exhibited classic signs as well. In other words, it is a learned behavior.
Additionally, codependency presents in individuals who align with being an Adult Child of Alcoholics/Addicts (ACoA). After all, the family dynamics of addiction almost always breed codependency.
Why Does Codependency Have Such a Tight Grip?
Codependency typically has a tight grip because of the nature and origin of the condition. By nature, codependency implies an element of control. With that, there is a powerful hold. And because the condition typically originates in childhood or early stages of development and results from dysfunctional patterns of behavior within the family of origin, there is a strong emotional, psychological and even spiritual effect.
For example, individuals who identify as ACoA may have experienced varying degrees and categories of abuse, as well as neglect and abandonment (emotional and/or physical). So when they enter a relationship, especially one where substance abuse or addiction is present, the dysfunctional behaviors and feelings that result surface those experienced in childhood. They then attempt to change or control the significant other in an attempt to resolve these past emotional, physical, psychological and/or spiritual traumas.
And, as with any powerful emotional or psychological reaction, physical symptoms present themselves as well. These individuals may show a high degree of anxiety marked by loss of appetite, overeating, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, insomnia, and more.
In other words, the holistic self is involved and therefore (as with addiction), the individuals with codependency cannot simply stop being codependent. It requires professional assistance and a holistic approach to recovery.
How Can You Prevent Codependency?
Codependency is best prevented in childhood. That is to say it is pertinent to the overall health and wellbeing of a child (and one-day adult) to resolve or remove any toxic or dysfunctional relationships, while practicing and teaching self-love and self-care.
For those who have already been exposed to dysfunctional families of origin or who were raised by codependent individuals, intervention (in the form of professional help) is necessary. However, with counseling, prevention with regard to steering clear of codependent relationships is still possible.
What If a Codependent Relationship Already Exists?
If a codependent relationship already exists, it is truly best to seek individual and (if the other party agrees) couples counseling. However, if the latter is not desired by the other person, respect that boundary and begin working on oneself. After all, that’s where change begins.
How Do You Avoid Codependent Relationships?
Avoiding codependent relationships is truly only possible if the relationship with the self is a healthy and prioritized one. Therefore, the best way to avoid them is to prioritize the relationship with you and strive to stay in holistic balance. Constantly evolving and healing the self from past traumas while incorporating a healthy lifestyle and nurturing the holistic self (physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual) is the best way to prevent yourself from entering into codependent relationships.
How Can I Stop Being Codependent?
Healing from a codependent relationships takes work and time. Professional help is typically required, depending on the duration and origin. As with the disease of addiction, codependency requires holistic recovery. Simply being single won’t heal the codependent condition any more than being sober heals addiction. As such, efforts to heal past emotional and psychological traumas are needed, as well as those which work to mend the broken or non-existent relationship with the self.
Additionally, spiritual components are required to connect you to your Higher Self and/or Higher Power. Of course, physical healing is also needed to recover the body from the high levels of stress and anxiety that accompany codependency.
Remember, codependency is akin to addiction. The grip can feel just as tight (sometimes more so) with similar cravings and “itches” that merely involve people, rather than substances. Therefore, those who are recovering from addiction can certainly be or become codependent in an effort to substitute a relationship for their drug of choice.
This is why it’s necessary for recovering individuals to take an honest look at current relationships—especially romantic ones—and determine the nature of each one. If codependency is present, it needs to be addressed.
And, for those struggling with codependency, whether you’re recovering from addiction or not, know that there is help. Counselors, spiritual life coaches, specialists in ACoA issues and other health professionals are potential avenues to discover the help that’s right for you. Find a fit and begin the process of recovering from codependency—a lifelong path focused on personal healing, growth and empowerment.