The Big Question
So, just what is Codependency anyway – how did we get this way? If you google Codependency you will receive 824,000 opinionated results. And now you have one more. Some are from trained professionals and some are from people just like me who have lived in the trenches. The following “definitions” are just a few of the opinions that I have gleaned while reading through all 824,000 posts – just kidding, just kidding. But, I have read several of them. However, it is my life experience that molds what I believe about this subject.
Several, several years ago, I started asking people, in and out of my recovery program, what they thought it meant to be a “Codependent.” When I ask civilians (a term I affectionally call people who are not in recovery) what they think Codependency means, some of them believe that Codependency was just some psycho-mumbo-jumbo kind of stuff. Others people believe that it is all about relationship additions. And believe it or not, there are even some people who believe that it is nothing more than an excuse, for not trying and for being a failure. But the most common, and the most popular opinion is that a Codependent is a person, usually a family member or close friend, who has an unhealthy relationship with someone who has an alcohol or drug problem.
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary Codependency is:
“a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as an addiction to alcohol or heroin); broadly : dependence on the needs of or control by another” “
An extreme dependency by one person on another who is suffering from an addiction. Common characteristics include low self-esteem coupled with a high need for approval. Not a formal psychiatric diagnosis, codependency is a psychological syndrome noted in relatives or partners of alcoholics or substance abusers.”
Wikipedia says that Codependency is:
“defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (typically narcissism or drug addiction); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of, or control of, another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, and also romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, or control patterns. Narcissists are considered to be natural magnets for the codependent.”
In my opinion, based on my personal experience, the people in relationships with someone who has some type of addiction are only the tip of the iceberg. The rest of the iceberg, the really big part, are the people who don’t have an alcoholic or addict in their life and they don’t understand their pain or have a clue where it comes from.
So, I guess you are wondering why an uneducated, untrained professional, came to the conclusion that there are more people out there suffering from Codependency that do not have an alcoholic or addict in their life, than there are of those us who do? My conclusions are not hypothetical assertions. They are based on my own personal experience, and the experience of others like myself, that I have met and loved and laughed and cried with along my life’s journey. Many of these Codependents I met in 12 Step meetings and many others have never attended a recovery program at all, because “technically” they didn’t qualify. You see, they did not have, and never have had, an alcoholic or drug addict in their life. There are two old sayings that emphasize my point. The first is that, “it takes one to know one.” And the second is, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, there is a pretty good chance that it is a duck.”
In that case, how do we lose that sense of well being? Based on my experience, Codependency is learned helplessness – it is learned powerlessness – it is a learned behavior. In other words we are a product of our environment. Our transformation into Codependency is a gradual process brought on by different hurtful events in our life. It slowly creeps in like fog in the night when we are vulnerable and steals away our self-esteem, and then it literally reprograms how we think and feel about ourselves, and how we feel about the people around us.
It is in the emotionally abused who have been criticized, judged, and ridiculed who live someone filled with anger or hatred or even someone who is mentally ill. It happens when there has been neglect – when people in authority in our life don’t do for us what they should do – regardless of whether it is because they don’t have a choice and they can’t, or because they are irresponsible and they won’t. It could even happen when circumstances make you the odd person out – like when your whole family doesn’t understand you because they all love sports and you don’t. You love the arts. You are the odd ball. You feel different, alone and left out. You don’t understand them and they don’t understand you. Now, I am not saying that people who experienced any of the above life challenges will be codependent – I am saying, based on the people who have shared they hurts with me, that they could.
Million of books on Codependency have been written and sold in the past ten years. Why? Because people want to understand why they do the things they do and feel the things they feel. They want answers and they want to feel better. All of these people have a common thread that weaves through their lives to the very heart of their sole. They have a void, a feeling of emptiness, and a personal need crying out to be filled – a need to be accepted, a need to be loved and a need to be special in some good way. Low self-esteem has them searching for something, anything, anyone outside of themselves to make them feel better, make them feel complete and to make them feel whole. They have many questions about life and about God and about themselves and they want answers.
We are not born codependent – we are trained to be codependent through one painful life experience at a time. In the beginning it is a tool that we use to cope with the hurt and or the chaos in our life. In the end it’s prison bars that keep us caged in unhealthy relationships. Days, weeks, months and years are sometimes lost trying to understand the past or struggling trying to control and predict the future. Both are a waste of time and energy and they rob of of the present.