Codependent is a word that is thrown around rather loosely, but what does it really mean to be codependent? By definition a codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior. As you might imagine most people are not fond of this definition and do not want to see themselves as either controlling or obsessed. It can be helpful to substitute the words concerned for obsessed and helping for controlling, as those words tend to be more palatable to most.
The reality is the only way someone suffering from substance use disorder can continue their addiction is if someone else is cleaning up the wreckage of it. In its truest form codependency is obsessive ‘helping”, doing things for another adult that they can and should be doing for themselves.
While it is healthy to feel concern for someone we love, codependency uses this concern to justify boundary violations as attempts to “help” the person we love. The only way we feel better is to make the substance user feel better by trying to fix their problems. We pay their bills, take care of their legal issues, cancel our plans in order to meet their needs, lie for them, and the list goes on. As long as we continue to rescue the substance user from the consequences of drinking and using, that person will use. It’s as simple as that.
Signs of codependency include:
- Offering advice to others whether it is asked for or not.
- Taking everything personally
- Lying or making excuses for another person’s behavior
- Using manipulation, shame, or guilt to control another person’s behavior
- Feeling responsible for other people’s problems
- Expecting other’s to respond a certain way
- Feeling like a victim
- Fearing rejection
- Feeling used and underappreciated
- Confusing being loved with being needed
In our society, codependency can be as deceptive as addiction. It hides behind the guise of helpfulness, “doing the right thing”, taking one for the team, or being a loving parent/spouse/child/partner/friend. It is a way of avoiding our true feelings by instead focusing on managing our external world. Codependent people often lose sight of where they end and other people begin. The boundaries are blurred or nonexistent.
If you are in a relationship with someone struggling with a substance use disorder, it is natural to experience a desire to help. It is tempting to believe your efforts to help your loved one will stop them from using. This is simply not true. The truth is focusing on your own recovery, finding peace and healing for yourself is the greatest gift you can give the people in your life. You’re worth it!
Kelly S. Scaggs, LCSW, LCAS, CCS, MAC, ICAADC
CLINICAL DIRECTOR, Fellowship Hall