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Copdependency: What does it mean?
Posted: September 14, 2011
Last Updated: September 14, 2011

“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,” according to Marsha Bowmen, Border Area Mental Health division manger and counselor.

 

Codependency was first identified about fifteen years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Many caregivers to 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 or codependency.

 

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

 

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), physical illness related to stress.

 

Over the years, codependency has expanded into a definition which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during childhood by dysfunctional family rules.  “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 Bowmen. One of the newer definitions of codependency is: a set of maladaptive and compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress.

 

Some dysfunctional families rules that can lead to codependency are:

·         It’s not okay to talk about problems.

·         Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself.

·         Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation.

·         Be strong, good, right, and perfect.

·         Make us proud beyond realistic expectations.

·         Don’t be selfish.

·         Do as I say, not as I do.

·         It’s not okay to play or be playful.

·         Don’t rock the boat.

 

Many families have one or more of these rules in place within the family. These kinds of rules can constrict  the free and healthy development of people’s self-esteem and coping. As a result, children can develop non-helpful behavior characteristics, problems solving techniques, and reactions to situations in adult life

 

As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. The codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires; setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment.

 

Many codependent people 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 codependent people learn how to break the cycle of dysfunctional families and learn to set healthy boundaries within their relationships call Border Area Mental Health Services. To reach Border Area Mental Health Services in Grant and Hidalgo Counties, call 388-4412; in Catron County, call 533-6649; in Luna County, call 546-2174.  For CRISIS, call 538-3488 or outside Silver City, call 1-800-426-0997.

 

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