What is Codependency?

All of us are codependent to some degree. It is the human condition, we all need other people. We are all affected by other people’s words and behavior. We affect other people by our words and behavior. The question is whether we have let our natural interdependence evolve into something unhealthy.

I created the following Venn diagram to give a pictorial representation of the relationships between needing to be needed, trying to control your alcoholic or addict's behavior and unhealthy dependence.

Unhealthy Codependence

In my opinion, unhealthy dependence can be defined as a relationship where one person is addicted to being needed by someone else.

You could ask, how is unhealthy codependence different than how most relationships function? I couldn’t say. All I can say is that I believe that in a healthy relationship, you want your partner to be healthy, happy and functional in their life, even when you are not there. And they want the same for you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t feel joy in being with them. However, your happiness should not depend entirely on their presence and their mood.

Enabling and Unhealthy Codependence

In an unhealthy relationship, individuals will tend to make their partners dependent on them. For instance, by enabling their alcoholic’s or addict’s unhealthy behaviors, an unhealthy person can ensure that their partner needs them. In these circumstances, the alcoholic or addict receives many subtle cues telling them that it is all right to indulge themselves as long as they let their partner know that they are needed.

Enabling was how I kept my alcoholic addict dependent on me. In retrospect I realize that rescuing my alcoholic addict from the repercussions of her behavior fed my ego. It made me feel necessary in her life. Even when she treated me badly, at some level I believed that she couldn’t survive without me to take care of her.

In an unhealthy relationship, when the person seeks addiction treatment, the codependent will often sabotage their efforts. This is seldom conscious. They are not bad people. They do not want their partners to be in pain. However, they are so vested in being needed by their partners that they are fearful that if their partner were healthy, they would no longer be needed. At some unconscious level, the needy person will tend to support that behavior that makes them feel needed.

Many people in alcoholic or addict relationships have an unhealthy codependence upon their substance abuser. To some degree they need their alcoholic or drug abuser to be dependent on them. If this is you, you may well be contributing to your alcoholic’s or addict’s self-destructive behavior. If you truly want things to change, you will need to take steps to deal with your own issues.

Codependency Test

This Test will help you assess the degree to which you may be contributing to your family’s alcoholism or drug addiction problems.

If you feel you have an unhealthy dependence on your alcoholic or addict family member, there are steps you can take. I found an excellent counselor who helped get me started on the path to recovery. I also participated in a weekly two hour support group where, for about a year, we worked through a codependence workbook. It was a difficult, painful process of recognizing and dealing with my issues.

There are no quick fixes. Us unhealthy codependents have had a lifetime to develop our bad habits. It will take time and a lot of work to change our behavior patterns and, more importantly, to change our unconscious thinking patterns.

Go to Codependency Test

Return from Codependency to My Alcoholic Addict