Co-Dependency is a behavioral condition where individuals have not developed ways to have healthy and mutually fulfilling relationships. The original concept of co-dependency was created to explain how living with a substance abuser or alcoholic affects the responses and actions of the people living with them. Over time, the definition has expanded to include any dysfunctional living circumstances where a child or individual creates ways to cope with the situation that may be maladaptive, compulsive or emotional.
The condition can affect any person connected to someone who is part of a dysfunctional family where there is an ignored fear, anger, pain or shame — likely where a family member abuses drugs or alcohol, or suffers from some kind of addiction whether it be to sex, work, food or gambling. The pattern of co-dependency has also been seen where an individual develops the condition from a relationship with a person who is mentally or chronically ill.
Co-dependents tend to look for things outside of themselves that will validate or make them feel better. Some may turn to substance abuse, or develop compulsive behaviors. Their actions usually are with good intent while trying to take care of someone who is dealing with something difficult, but the effort becomes unhealthy. A husband may try to compensate for his alcoholic wife. A child may try to make up for irresponsible and unhealthy actions of a parent, or a parent may be covering for a child’s poor behavior.
The behavior is serious when the co-dependent behavior is compulsive, as if they feel no sense of choice in the matter and feed off feeling needed.
If developed in childhood, the condition can affect an adult where the co-dependent still functions from the system they’ve learned. Individuals who are co-dependent may enter into relationships that may not have healthy boundaries. The other person may be needy, unreliable, selfish or emotionally unavailable, but the co-dependent will more likely try to be a provider and never address their own needs or wants in the relationship, often ignoring how unfulfilled that leaves them.
Signs of co-dependency
- caretaking behavior
- unhealthy feeling of responsibility over other’s actions
- tend to do more than their share
- extreme need for approval
- fear of abandonment
- not trusting
- not able to be assertive without guilt
- problems with intimacy
- tend to be indirect
- experience physical illness related to stress
- avoid feelings
- place too much emphasis on perfection
If relationships consistently leave you unfulfilled, and you notice some of the characteristics listed here, it may be a possible indication of the condition.
Treatment for the condition
Often the best way to begin changing unhealthy or destructive behavior is to discover where and why it started. A professional will explore what has caused the unhealthy behavior patterns in a person’s life. Since the condition is often developed from childhood experiences, treatment may look at early childhood living situations and issues. Treatment focuses on helping patients rediscover themselves. Through counseling, people with the condition can learn how to be assertive, address their own needs and feelings, and communicate in healthy ways.
To learn more or get in contact with us at the Atlanta Behavioral Consultants, please call Marsha Schechtman, LCSW at 770.753.4911 or Howard Drutman, Ph.D. at 678.867.7020.