What is Codependency?

Codependency is a pathological, dependent relationship with another human being.

Codependency was first identified by researchers who were looking at relational dynamics within alcoholic families. They found that family members in these homes reacted similarly, forming their own compulsive behaviors and obsessive thinking patterns in response to the addict’s behavior. Today this term is used to describe a constellation of behaviors which arise in members of dysfunctional families that resemble an addiction to another person.

Just as an addict is obsessed with thoughts of his or her own drug or patterns of behavior, the people who try to maintain relationships with the addict become obsessed as well. Typically, codependents are able to tell you everything about the most dysfunctional person in the family, but have little awareness of their own needs and desires. Often the codependent creates more chaos in the family than the addict due to unresolved fear and anger, a disconnection with self, and irritability.

Codependents often have little sense of self and constantly look outside themselves for validation, self-worth, and safety. They become caretakers of unhealthy family members to the exclusion of managing their own needs. They believe that somehow they should be able to control the behavior of the addict and see themselves as long suffering or as a martyr. The more the codependent over-functions, the more the addict under-functions and the cycle continues.

Usually the combination of therapeutic intervention in conjunction with 12-step involvement is sufficient to change these ingrained behaviors, but codependents may need in-patient care if they are unable to interrupt their pattern of behavior with out-patient counseling.