We have thirty years of experience in family and relationship therapy. We teach healthy parenting skills especially with difficult adolescents and young adults. We help families deal with addiction as well as depression and anxiety that affect the family system
WHAT IS CODEPENDENCE?
While not recognized as a diagnosable illness in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders, Fourth Edition Text Revised (DSM-IV, a professional reference used to make diagnoses), codependence generally refers to the way past events from childhood “unknowingly affect some of our attitudes, behaviors and feelings in the present, often with destructive consequences,” according to the National Council on Codependence. Certain signs can help us identify a tendency toward codependence, highlighted in this letter to “Cami”…
This letter really highlights the fine line between a sense of compassion for someone, and the role as an enabler. Your dad’s position brings up several questions in my mind. What is the motivation for your dad’s continued rescue of his son? Does he feel in some way responsible for your brother’s condition in life, his substance use or failure to cope? Does he see the difference between rescue and support? Certainly, his support in the face of continued “acting out” by your brother may, in fact, be motivated by your father’s need to see himself as a good father, without realizing that continued support of his son deprives him of the vital sense of self-responsibility necessary for recovery. Support actually assists the addict in taking self-responsibility and moves the person toward recovery and, ultimately, higher self-esteem. Rescue robs the addict of his self-responsibility and the consequences of his actions. It locks the addict into an unhealthy system that leads to greater unmanageability. Many times the addict ends up resenting the rescuer because of the loss of control over their lives. I don’t think your dad realizes that his actions may, in fact, be leading to your brother’s death through his rescue behaviors.
Your family’s response to Dad’s relationship with your brother is also interesting in that I wonder if the more they tell him not to rescue the son the more determined he becomes to do so?
My advice to your dad would be to separate his rescue behaviors from his support behaviors. Support behaviors are those that encourage or reinforce his son’s movement towards recovery. They encourage self-responsibility. Rescue behaviors are behaviors that help the addict maintain the charade that they have control over their lives. They are behaviors that obscure the fact that the addict’s life is unmanageable. Rescue would be giving money to his son for rent (substances). Support would be driving him to an AA meeting, or going himself to an Al-Anon meeting.
Chemical dependency often affects those who are closest to the chemically dependent person. Your physical and mental health, relationships with family and friends, work, and spirituality may have been harmed to some degree. The intense involvement with a chemically dependent person often causes what experts call “codependency.” This means that your behavior, feelings, thinking, and self-esteem are intimately tied in to your relationship with the chemically dependent person.
Recovery from codependency requires a close evaluation of what these effects have been. Once you honestly appraise your life, you will be more able to plan necessary changes to feel better about yourself and improve your life. Following is a list of some possible effects on you. Review this list and circle the number of the statements that apply to you, ones that you believe describe the chemical dependency problem. You may feel uncomfortable when you first take an honest look at some of these things. As you make positive changes and as recovery progresses, you will feel much better. You will have more control over your life.
Codependent people need external source things or other people to give them feelings of self-worth. Often, following destructive parental relationships, an abusive past and/or self-destructive partners, codependents learn to react to others, worry about others and depend on others to help them feel useful or alive. They put other people’s needs, wants and experiences above their own. In fact, codependence is a relationship with one’s self that is so painful a person no longer trusts his or her own experiences. It perpetuates a continual cycle of shame, blame and self-abuse. Codependent people might feel brutally abused by the mildest criticism or suicidal when a relationship ends. In his 1999 book, Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls, author Robert Burney says the battle cry of codependence is: “I’ll show you! I’ll get me!”
Examples of Codependency
Health professionals first identified codependence in the wives of alcoholic men. Through family treatment, they discovered that spouses and family members were codependent, or also had addictive tendencies. Co-addiction occurs when more than one person, usually a couple, has a relationship that is responsible for maintaining addictive behavior in at least one of the persons. For example, co-addicted people might believe that, at some level, getting a partner or family member to become sober or drug-free might seem like the one goal which, if achieved, would bring them happiness. But on another level, they might realize they are behaving in a way that enables the addict with whom they live to maintain their addictions.
For instance, they might never confront the addict about her behavior. Or they might become her caretaker, spending limitless time worrying about her. They might assume it’s their responsibility to clean up after and apologize for their loved one’s behavior. They might even help her continue to use alcohol or drugs by giving her money, food or even drugs and alcohol, for fear of what would happen to her if they did things differently. Many codependents come to believe they are so unlovable and unworthy that to stay in a dysfunctional, destructive relationship is the best and safest way to live.
Codependent people who believe they can’t survive without their partners do anything they can to stay in their relationships, however painful. The fear of losing their partners and being abandoned overpowers any other feelings they might have. The thought of trying to address any of their partner’s dysfunctional behaviors makes them feel unsafe. Excusing or denying a problem like addiction means they avoid rejection by their partners.
Instead, as in the example above, co-addicted people often will try to adapt themselves and their lives to their partners’ dysfunction. They might have abandoned hope that something better is possible, instead settling for the job of maintaining the status quo. The thought of change might cause them great pain and sadness.
Codependence works the same way, whether the addiction is drugs, alcohol or something else, such as sex, gambling, verbal or physical abuse, work or a hobby. If the addicts’ behavior causes worry, forcing the partners to adjust to and deny the problem, they are at great risk of becoming depressed or anxious themselves.
• I cover-up or lie about the chemical dependency problem. • I minimize the negative effects or do not accept it as a problem. • I passively accept the chemical dependency without trying to change things. • I usually rescue the chemically dependent family member from trouble. • I’ve tried using alcohol or drugs with this person in an attempt to maintain control. I’ve taken over some of this person’s responsibilities. • I’m taking tranquilizers, sleeping pills or “nerve” medications. • I’ve increased my use of alcohol, other drugs or cigarettes. • I’m having difficulty sleeping. • My appetite has changed lately. • Mental or emotional health is in trouble. • I’m experiencing serious anxiety or tension. • I’m experiencing serious depression. • I’m having difficulty feeling good about anything in my life. • I often feel angry or resentful. • Sometimes I just don’t care what happens to me; or I wonder if life is worth living. • I spend a lot of time and effort worrying or thinking about the chemical dependency problem. • I feel alone in the world, like no one cares. • I have fears that seem unreasonable (afraid to leave the house, afraid of being closed in, etc). • My outlook on life is becoming more and more negative. • I just don’t feel very good about myself. • My personality seems to be changing. • I feel very guilty or shameful about the chemical dependency problem and how it’s affected my behaviors. • I think I have emotional problems that require professional treatment. • I often appear cheerful to others although I hurt inside. • I’m not as involved with friends or outside activities as I used to be. • I don’t have anyone I can lean on or depend on when I need help. • My interest in hobbies or leisure time activities has declined. • My relationships with other family members (parents, siblings, etc.) have suffered. • I often refuse offers from friends to participate in social activities because it’s easier to stay home. • I try too hard to please others. • I spend most of my time out of the home because of the chemical dependency problem. • My relationship with one or more of my children has suffered as a result of this problem. • My ability to be a parent has suffered. • Other effects – work, school, spiritual. • I miss too much work or neglect things at home. • I’ve given up my religious faith or practices. • It seems as though my life lacks meaning or purpose. • It’s becoming difficult to feel or show love towards others. • My values or standards are changing for the worse. • Self-worth comes from external sources. • Those who were abused as children face an even greater risk.