What is co-dependency?

POSTED July 20, 2012  

Co-dependency is a concept that was first used in a Minnesota Treatment Center in 1979 for family members of alcoholics and drug addicts.  (Overcomers Outreach, Bob and Pauline Bartosch)  The definition describes people in a family relationship with an alcoholic whose lives have become unmanageable as a result of living with the alcoholic.  Melody Beattie describes a co-dependent as a person who has become hyper-focused on controlling another person’s behavior.  (CoDependent No More)

Sometimes called “caretakers” or “enablers,” co-dependent persons believe they can change a problem drinker’s behavior and make life better for all involved.  What they fail to realize is that no one can change another person; change comes from within and is accomplished by not only a desire to change, but courage do what it takes.

Alcoholism and co-dependency are diseases that affect families in fairly consistent ways.  When a family member begins abusing chemicals, spouse and children and other family members begin to cover for the drinker.  They call his/her boss and tell him/her that their drinker is sick when they actually are hung over.  When large amounts of money are spent on alcohol, the pleading and begging are dramatic, usually to no avail.  Some co-dependents have been known to drink with the alcoholic to try to keep them from consuming all the alcohol in the house.  It doesn’t work.

Children in these kinds of homes are what are called para-dependents because they are unable to leave.  Their coping behaviors can become bizarre, just to make it through the day.  They make up stories to friends to make sure they don’t visit their home and see the chaos, and they isolate and live by the motto of, “Don’t trust, don’t talk, don’t feel.”  They, along with their co-dependent, parent become frozen in time as far as emotional development.  It is only when they enter treatment and “thaw out” that they begin to grow and mature again.

There are usually many family secrets that are being kept in these families, and they have had more than their share of trauma.  Interestingly, where children are trapped and can’t leave, spouses often suffer from “learned helplessness” and choose not to leave.  It seems that the familiarity of the chaos looks better than the risk of the unknown that comes with changing.  Co-dependent persons often develop their own set of compulsive behaviors, including denial, to cope with their pain.

Seeking out a knowledgeable friend or therapist is a healthy step in finding the hope and courage to heal.  I have had many years of experience helping alcoholics and family members heal from the hurts of addiction.  Call me and let’s visit.  The first phone call or visit is free.

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