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Posted: February 25, 2009
Last Updated: February 25, 2009

“Codependency is seeing to someone else’s needs and wants while yours go unanswered, and it is allowing someone else to stay dysfunctional while you care for their needs at expense to your own welfare,” according to Marsha Bowman, Division Manager and counselor at Border Area Mental Health Services.


Codependency was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Many family members, especially spouses, of alcoholics hinder the recovery of the real addict by enabling the addict to continue their addiction. This hindering behavior is a form of addiction in itself, a relationship addiction called codependency.


This kind of relationship is learned behavioral response from the family member, or caregiver, when trying to deal with a loved one's unmanageable behavior or an addict’s use of anxiety and anger to gain control and manipulate the relationship.


Codependents exhibit behaviors that can seem as negative as the addict they are caring for:

controlling behavior, distrust, perfectionism, avoidance of feelings, intimacy problems, care taking behavior, hyper vigilance (a heightened awareness for potential threat/danger), and physical illness related to stress.


Over the last decade, codependency has expanded into a definition which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living.  “We found that not just families of alcoholics display codependency, but children of dysfunctional families display them as well. That is what an alcoholic family is at the core, a dysfunctional family,” says Bowman. One of the newer definitions of codependency is: a set of maladaptive and compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive when experiencing great emotional pain and stress.


Codependents tend to have the following behaviors:

·         Refusal or hostility when asked to discuss a problem

·         Bottles up feelings

·         Indirect communication such as relaying messages through a third party like a child or friend

·         Perfectionism or expectations of perfectionism in the relationship

·         Unrealistic expectation


As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. Many times they are drawn to addicts because of their need to caregiver and their issues with being taken advantage of by the ones they love through life. The codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continual unfulfillment.


Many codependents have problems with setting boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behavior from a loved one. They will excuse behaviors that they find unacceptable under the pretext of “truly loving” the addict or abusive person.


Even when a codependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the codependent person still operates in their own system. They’re not likely to get too involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This, of course, creates problems that continue to recycle; if codependent people can’t get involved with people who have healthy behaviors and coping skills, then the problems continue into each new relationship.


Counseling can help codependents learn how to break the cycle of dysfunctional families and learn to set healthy boundaries within their relationships. Border Mental Health Services offers counselors who deal with codependency and its effects on families of alcoholics and substance abusers. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649 for referral; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.



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© 2008 by Border Area Mental Health Services and Putting the Web to Work. Front-page photo copyright by Bob Pelham, Pinos Altos Cabins, and used by permission. All rights reserved. For the privacy and comfort of our clients and staff, the photographs used in this site are representative and do not show specific individuals associated with BAMHS.