Series Three: Blog Forty-Five
Codependency is a nebulous term utilized to address relational dysfunction rooted in current and past trauma. Like addiction there is not a one description that fits all codependent behavior. Terry Kellogg once said “you scratch an addict and you find a codependent”. This unhealthy dynamic is rooted in a complex pattern of abuse, neglect and abandonment issues that seduce people to utilize extreme measures to control what they cannot control.
Codependency is glaring in unhealthy relationships. Addicts build relationships to others in the same way they build a relationship to themselves. Codependents grew up in a dysfunctional families and learned to be controlled by other people’s problems and feelings. You learned to ignore your own feelings, needs, and wants. Countless stories told in 12-step meetings indicate uncertainty and tension that many endured through childhood. Coming home from school, you learn to check the vibes before entering the house. There is a succession of indicators that you translate to determine whether or not it is safe as you enter the house. Is Mom depressed, lonely or sad? Can I cheer her up? Do I just let her cry? Try to avoid her? Is she suicidal? Should I try to distract her from her pain? Is Dad home? Is he tense and pissed? Is he drunk? Can I tell him about my day or should I stay away from him? Are mom and dad fighting? Should I keep clear or try to get them to stop? Maybe, I should create a distraction. Maybe I should leave or isolate in my bedroom. Maybe I shouldn’t have even come home. All of these decisions for a child are not based on their needs. They are a reaction and are focused on what others feel and do. As children people learn to become reactors, controllers and manipulators. Codependency becomes ingrained and woven through childhood insecurities triggered from living in a dysfunctional family. It is promoted through a lack of affirmation and parental unavailability that fosters self-doubt, self-centeredness, shame and a lack of ego strength. It is the product of excessive expectations and being over controlled. In this context kids try to fill family needs and parental emptiness that births perfectionism, stress, martyrdom, sainthood, overachievement, rebellion and self-destructiveness.
It is the result of a child reacting to parents who fail in their marriage relationship. The unhealthy marriage creates isolation, enmeshment, triangulation, inappropriate bonding and emotional incest. A child loses sight of where they stop and their parents begin. The parents’ difficulties engulf the child who tries too hard to make things better but they can’t. As a result, the child grows up feeling over responsible, helpless and hopeless that relational living could ever be different than what was known as a child. You learn to embrace the improbable and ignore the obvious that exists in the sick family system.
Codependency is complicated and will implore a lifelong pursuit. Many addicts struggle more with changing codependent behavior than they do addressing their addict behavior tendency.
Addicts who pride themselves with long term sobriety, admit in frustration that they seem to violate their codependency contract often. The goal in recovery is one of course correction. A pilot flying from Dallas to Denver doesn’t draw a straight line with the idea they never will deviate from the line drawn. Rather, there is continual course correction throughout the journey so that ultimately touchdown is on target when they arrive at Denver as if they never deviated from the course in the first place. The same is true for the codependent. What is more valuable than having never left the center of behavior, is engaging ongoing course correction. Those recovering from codependency who learn to course correct, see themselves drifting from center and involving codependency then bring themselves back to center are ones who learn best to manage the dysfunction from their family of origin.
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