Codependency is a concept that addresses the tendency for a person (the “codependent”) to be become controlled or manipulated by another person or group (the “controller”). Ironically, a codependent person will depend on the control of the other person.
Often times the controller has an addiction or some other dysfunction(s) that the codependent person is dependent on and actually needs the controller to have. Codependency can exist in marriages and other romantic relationships. It can also exist in relationships at work, between parent and child, within friendships and in community relationships.
Characteristics of the Co-Dependent
- Denial about the controlling/dependent nature of the relationship or about self-needs
- Efforts to control the other’s behavior but simultaneously needing those same behaviors to exist
- Excessive compliance based on intense desire to be needed and accepted by the other
- Low self-esteem; placing one’s self lower in importance and priority to the other; taking a martyr mentality
- Overly involved or entangled with another person
- Preoccupied with the needs, behaviors, thoughts and feelings of the other. The preoccupation goes beyond normal caretaking or reasonable self-sacrifice
Consequences and Treatment of Codependency
Unaddressed codependency can lead to other self-defeating behaviors and conditions in the codependent. Conditions often include alcoholism, addiction, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression and trauma. The active codependent will continue to attract or maintain dysfunctional relationships. In a work setting, codependents have a hard time leaving unhealthy or stressful jobs out of concern of abandoning coworkers or the boss but tend to get promoted less and make less money than non-codependent workers.
Treatments for codependency include:
- Medications as needed
- Support groups such as Co-Dependents Anonymous, Al-Anon and/or Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Family therapy
Sometimes someone recovering from codependency will have a hard time finding balance. The person might become aggressive, selfish, develop a victim mentality and/or become passive-aggressive. With continued treatment, the person will learn how to use assertiveness appropriately so that aggression is no longer necessary. The person will learn to be caring without putting himself second. A sense of empowerment will eventually develop and the person will become in charge of his own life without the need for another to control it. Someone who has recovered from codependency will not tolerate manipulation or abusive relationships for himself.
Some professionals believe that the diagnosis of codependency is overused. Or that codependency is not necessarily a disorder; it is simply a healthy personality trait that is taken too far. They believe that learning boundaries and assertiveness skills would help alleviate the problem. In some people or families where no clinical disorders exist among the family members, the characteristics or behaviors of codependency have positive effects on the family system.