Codependency For Dummies - Darlene Lancer - E-Book

Codependency For Dummies E-Book

Darlene Lancer

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Your trusted guide to value yourself and break the patterns ofcodependency Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Edition is themost comprehensive book on the topic to date. Written in plainEnglish and packed with sensitive, authoritative information, itdescribes the history, symptoms, causes, and relationship dynamicsof codependency. The majority of the book is devoted to healing andlays out a clear plan for recovery with exercises, practicaladvice, and daily reminders to help you know, honor, protect, andexpress yourself. New to this edition are chapters on working theTwelve Steps to recover from codependency and howtherapists/coaches/nurses are affected by codependency. Codependence is primarily a learned behavior from our family oforigin. Some cultures have it to a greater degree thanothers--some still see it as a normal way of living. Yet thecosts of codependence can include distrust, faulty expectations,passive-aggressiveness, control, self-neglect, over-focus onothers, manipulation, intimacy issues, and a slew of other harmfultraits. Codependence causes serious pain and affects the majorityof Americans--not just women and loved ones of addicts.Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Edition offersauthoritative and trusted guidance on ways to raise yourself-esteem, detach and let go, set boundaries, recognize healthyvs. dysfunctional relationships, overcome guilt and resentment, andmuch more. * Helps you break the pattern of conduct that keeps you inharmful relationships * Provides trusted guidance to create healthy boundaries, copingskills, and expectations * Offers advice for eliminating feelings of guilt, blame, andfeeling overly responsible * Explains the difference between care-giving and codependentcare-taking If you're trapped in the cycle of codependency and looking forhelp, Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Editionoffers trusted advice and a clear plan for recovery.

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Codependency For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

Published by: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774, www.wiley.com

Copyright © 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey

Published simultaneously in Canada

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Codependency For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

Visit www.dummies.com/cheatsheet/codependency to view this book's cheat sheet.

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Introduction

About This Book

Foolish Assumptions

Icons Used in This Book

Beyond the Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Getting Started on Overcoming Codependency

Chapter 1: Codependency Hurts

What Is Codependency?

Reviewing the History

The Spectrum of Codependency

The Stages of Codependency and Recovery

Goals of Recovery

Chapter 2: Somebody Please Tell Me What Codependency Is

Defining Codependency

The Core of Codependency — A Lost Self

What Codependency Isn’t

Chapter 3: Symptoms of Codependency

Hidden Shame

What Are My Rights and Limits?

Depending on Someone Too Much

Lack of Assertiveness

Control and Caretaking

Denial

Painful Emotions

Physical Symptoms

Chapter 4: Crossing De-Nile to Recovery

The Purpose of Denial

Forms of Denial

Types of Denial

Recovery Builds Self-Awareness

Chapter 5: So, Are You Codependent?

Codependency Assessments

Do You Exhibit Codependent Patterns?

Have You Been Affected by Addiction?

Part II: Breakthrough to Recovery — Healing Yourself

Chapter 6: Getting Started in Recovery

It’s Your Recovery

Seeking Help and Support

Be Patient with Yourself

Must You Believe in God?

Telling Others about Your Recovery

Chapter 7: What Made You Codependent?

Were You Loved for Who You Are? — A Psychodynamic View

You’re in the Majority

What Makes a Family Healthy or Not — A Family Systems View

Chapter 8: Healing Your Wounds — Freeing Your Self

The Wounded Child

Grieving Losses – Feel to Heal

Confrontations

Healing Trauma

Chapter 9: Welcome to the Real You

Building an Internal Guidance System

Getting to Know Yourself

Being Your Authentic Self

Chapter 10: Building Self-Esteem and Self-Love

The Tyrannical Trio — the Critic, Pusher, and Perfectionist

Feeling Good about You

Self-Compassion and Self-Love

Chapter 11: Finding Pleasure

The Mind-Body Connection

Play and Rejuvenate

Uplift and Calm Your Spirit

Meet Your Social Needs

Part III: Healing Your Relationships with Others

Chapter 12: Letting Go and Nonattachment

Over-Involvement versus Nonattachment

Self-Responsibility

Helping Too Much

Getting Triggered and Reacting

Worrying and Obsessing

Accepting Reality

Tools for Letting Go

Expect Pushback

Chapter 13: Speaking Up

Communicating Effectively

Setting Boundaries

Handling Conflict

Chapter 14: Relating to Your Family, Friends, and Lovers

Changing Your Dance

Relating to Family Members

Relating to Friends

Becoming Counter-Dependent

Dating

Codependency and Sex

Chapter 15: Making Relationships Work

Recipe for Healthy Relationships

Navigating Autonomy and Intimacy

Intimacy

Coping with Loneliness

Part IV: Moving On and Maintaining Recovery

Chapter 16: Following Your Bliss

Author Your Life

Manifest Your Passions

Set Goals

Chapter 17: Where to Get Help

Twelve Step Meetings and Support Groups

Psychotherapy

Recommended Reading

Emergency Numbers

Chapter 18: Working the Twelve Steps

Step One — Accepting Powerlessness

Step Two — Finding Hope

Step Three — Letting Go

Step Four — Examining Ourselves

Step Five — Sharing Our Shame

Step Six — Accepting Ourselves

Step Seven — Humbling Ourselves

Step Eight — Identifying Who You’ve Harmed

Step Nine— Making Amends

Step Ten — Cleaning the Slate Daily

Step Eleven — Staying Close to Your Higher Power

Step Twelve — Practicing These Principles

Chapter 19: Maintaining Recovery

Recovery Is a Life Journey

Getting Triggered

Crossovers and Sequels

Handling Slips

Part V: The Part of Tens

Chapter 20: Ten Ways to Love Yourself

Have a Spiritual Practice

Receive Support

Meet Your Needs

Have Fun

Protect Yourself

Accept Yourself

Gentle Yourself

Encourage Yourself

Express Yourself

Pursue Your Passions

Chapter 21: Ten Daily Reminders

Do Focus on Yourself

Do Let Go

Do Trust Your Experience

Do Honor Your Feelings

Do Be Yourself

Don’t React

Don’t Hurry

Don’t Worry

Don’t Try to be Perfect

Don’t Isolate

About the Author

Author’s Acknowledgments

Cheat Sheet

Connect with Dummies

End User License Agreement

Guide

Cover

Table of Contents

Begin Reading

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Introduction

If you’re reading this book because you wonder whether you may be codependent, you’re not alone. Some think the majority of Americans are codependent. The term codependency has been used since the 1970s. The newer perspective is that codependency applies to many more people than originally thought. Different types of people and personalities may be codependent or behave in a codependent manner. Codependence varies in degree and severity. Not all codependents are unhappy, while others live in pain or quiet desperation. Here are examples of people who may be codependent:

An older couple,

Manny and Faye

are happily married for many years. Faye calls Manny “Daddy,” and Manny calls Faye “Mother.” Faye defers to her husband, who frequently corrects her. They agree about most everything and that Manny comes first. If you ask Faye her opinion, she quotes her husband.

Sid and Ina

have lived together for several years, but their relationship lacks passion and intimacy. Sid is having an affair with

Myra

and is unsure about marrying Ina, whom he claims lacks Myra’s wildness. He feels trapped. He can’t commit to either woman. He fears both leaving and getting closer to Ina.

Sean

is a compulsive overeater. His wife,

Sonja,

nags him and tries to control his food intake.

Melissa

is an accomplished film director. Men find her attractive, and she’s had several intense, brief relationships that end when the passion subsides or she begins to feel like she’s losing her independence.

Budd

is a senior executive at a major corporation and supervises more than 100 workers. He’s considered powerful and assertive by his colleagues. At home, he complies with his wife’s demands, avoids intimacy, and is unable to talk about feelings or express his needs.

Thomas

is a single dad and very close with his adult son, who lives with him. Thomas thinks of his son as his best friend and can’t say no to whatever his son asks of him. It’s been many years since Thomas’s divorce, but Thomas hasn’t been able to find the “right” woman.

Walter

is successful at work but gets drunk at home each night. Nights when he goes out, his wife waits up and worries, then berates him when he returns, and often calls in sick for him the next day.

Connie

is intimidated by her violent husband, Mikhail. She’s humiliated but loves him anyway. He apologizes and romances her, and she forgives him, believing his promises that he’ll never hit her again.

Codependents are attracted to codependents, so there’s little chance of having a healthy relationship. The good news is the symptoms of codependency are reversible. It requires commitment, work, and support. Even so, sometimes the symptoms can sneak up on you and affect your thinking and behavior when you least notice it. Codependency isn’t something you heal from and are forever done with, but you can one day enjoy yourself, your life, and your relationships. Should you choose to embark on recovery, you’re beginning an exciting and empowering journey. A new way of living and seeing the world opens up. I hope you decide to join me on this amazing journey.

About This Book

Not all codependents are in a relationship with someone who suffers from an addiction. Whether or not you are, this book is for you as you relate to your loved one. If you’re recovering from an addiction to a substance or process, such as alcohol, eating, hoarding, shopping, working, sex, gambling — the list goes on — and are ready to work on your issues revolving around codependency, then this book is an ideal place to start. However, the focus of this book is not on overcoming those addictions, but on your relationships. (When I refer to “addict,” I mean not only a drug addict, but also a person with any type of addiction. Sometimes, I specify alcoholics.)

Although a book is linear and compartmentalized — you read a sentence or paragraph that discusses one thing at a time — people exist through four dimensions of space/time, and codependency is holographic, affecting everything in the way you live your life. It’s neither linear nor three-dimensional. Every trait affects every other. This book breaks down codependency into parts in order to discuss its various aspects, but that’s not how you experience codependency. For instance, just answering yes or no to a question is impacted by your self-esteem, values, boundaries, feelings, and reactivity — all at once. On top of that, there are things from your past or the present about which you may be unconscious and in denial. They, too, affect everything you say and do. Even when you understand all the moving variables, the process is impossible to understandably explain in a few sentences.

This book is very comprehensive and details everything you need to know about codependency in one place. It provides tools you can implement to take an active role in your recovery. I reorganized this second edition to follow the way you’d experience recovery — first understanding the definition, symptoms, and causes, and then engaging in the evolving process of changing and healing. However, feel free to jump around and read it in any order that you choose. There are cross references to other chapters that are relevant to the topic being discussed. A new chapter has been added to explain the process of working the Twelve Steps, which is an important means of recovery. An additional Part of Tens chapter for professionals is available online to help clinicians avoid codependent behavior.

There are self-discovery exercises, which are an important part of the book. If you’re a professional, feel free to copy and use these exercises with your clients. If you’re tempted to skip the exercises, you miss out on a major feature, which is included for your benefit to help you change. One strategy is to read through the book, and then go back and do the exercises at your leisure. After you do them, you can also repeat an exercise you find helpful months or years from now and will most likely acquire new knowledge about yourself. Some exercises are meant to be repeated, and like any exercise, every time you do it, you benefit.

Those new to codependency probably won’t be able to implement advice found in later chapters. If that happens, don’t be dismayed. If you begin recovery and pick up this book down the road, you may read it with different eyes and glean new insights and understanding.

Because denial operates at an unconscious level, you may not relate to it unless you read how other people experience it. Therefore, I’ve included a number of examples that are composites of clients and people I’ve known, including myself; any resemblance to a real person is coincidental, as specific details and facts have been changed. The names are made up and appear in boldface.

Foolish Assumptions

Not knowing your familiarity with codependency, in writing this book, I assumed you may be totally new to the concept, someone already in recovery, or a mental health professional who is seeking more information. I’ve tried to write so that nonprofessionals are able to understand all the concepts; however, some ideas are profound and written for the person who wants to comprehend the deeper psychology underlying codependency. It’s certainly not written for dummies.

Icons Used in This Book

What’s cool about For Dummies books is that there are icons throughout letting you know what’s really important and what you can skip. Here are the icons used in this book:

This icon marks information that is especially important. Although all the information in the chapter is important, these paragraphs stand out as information you should continue to think about.

The Tip icon appears beside valuable suggestions you can put into practice in overcoming codependency.

This icon accompanies information that is technical psychological stuff, which you may not be interested in. Read it if you want a more in-depth understanding about codependency.

Look out for this icon, which alerts you to pitfalls of codependency or beginning treatment.

This icon highlights exercises or suggestions for healing work that you can do on your own at home.

This icon alerts you to examples that illustrate a principle or concept discussed in the previous paragraph.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the material in the print or e-book you’re reading right now, this product also comes with some access-anywhere goodies on the web. You can access this additional free, valuable information on the Dummies website:

A Cheat Sheet for handy reference that you can quickly turn to at

http://www.dummies.com/cheatsheet/codependency

A number of extra articles that you will find helpful in your path to recovery at

http://www.dummies.com/extras/codependency

Where to Go from Here

Where you start reading depends on how much you know about codependency. If you’re just beginning to investigate codependency, begin in Part I. If you’re ready to begin recovery, I recommend that you get a journal to take notes, write about yourself, and do the many exercises that are designed to enlighten you and further your recovery.

Remember, reading is only a beginning. It opens your mind to the problem. It takes time, work, and support to overcome codependency. So read all you can, talk to other recovering codependents, and find a sponsor in a Twelve Step program or a professional coach or mental health professional to help guide you on your journey. For specific information on getting outside support and where to find it, go to Chapters 6 and 17.

Part I

Getting Started on Overcoming Codependency

Visit www.dummies.com for great Dummies content online.

In this part . . .

Learn the definition and characteristics of codependency

Assess whether you exhibit any of codependency’s six core symptoms, including denial, shame and low self-esteem, and dysfunctional boundaries and communication patterns

Answer questions that help you assess your level of codependency

Chapter 1

Codependency Hurts

What Is Codependency?

Although mental health clinicians recognize codependency when they see it, the definition of codependency and who has it has been debated for decades. (I devote an entire chapter — Chapter 2 — to explaining what codependency is.) Experts agree that codependent patterns are passed on from one generation to another and that they can be unlearned — with help.

An overview

Therapists and counselors see people with an array of symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, or intimacy and relationships issues. Clients are hurting and often believe the cause is something outside of themselves, like their partner, a troubled child, or a job.

On closer examination, however, they (and many readers of the first edition of this book) start to see that, despite whatever else may be going on, their behavior and thinking patterns are adding to their problems — that is to say, their patterns are dysfunctional. These patterns have an addictive, compulsive quality, meaning that they take on a life of their own, despite their destructive consequences. The root problem is usually codependency.

Why relationships hurt

Along with comfort and pleasure, intimate relationships especially evoke all your hopes, fears, and yearnings. You want to feel secure and be loved, appreciated, and taken care of. Dependence upon those closest to you further magnifies your emotional needs and vulnerability to being rejected, judged, and seen at your worst.

Codependency is a particular kind of dependence. It’s insidious and powerful. It robs you of joy, peace of mind, and the ability to have sustained, loving relationships. It affects your relationship with yourself and limits your flexibility and the natural flow of relationships with others, including giving and receiving love and support and the ability to communicate, compromise, and problem-solve.

All the symptoms I outline in Chapter 3 work together to not only deprive codependents of the benefits possible in relationships, but they also create problems that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. For example, shame and low self-esteem make you insecure, anxious, and dependent upon others’ acceptance and validation. You may feel uncomfortable being yourself and be hypersensitive to perceived criticism or abandonment (even where neither exists). You may attempt to control or manipulate people to maintain a relationship and to be liked. Some codependents require repeated reassurances or are afraid to be direct and honest, which is necessary for effective communication and real intimacy.

Childhood shame and trauma conceal their real, core self, which they can’t access. Instead, codependents develop a persona in the world that reacts to others, to their own self-criticism, and to their imagined ideal of who they should be. To be acceptable to others and to themselves, you hide who you are and become who you aren’t. You may not even be aware of how self-critical you are but suffer the “tyranny of the should’s” — a phrase coined by psychoanalyst Karen Horney (pronounced “Horn-eye”). Even though you may not relate to this, it still operates beneath your conscious awareness. You may only be aware of your persona illustrated in Figure 1-1 and nothing on the inner circles.

By Darlene Lancer

Figure 1-1: Self in confusion.

All relationships require boundaries. Love is not safe without them. Yet many codependents tolerate being treated without respect, because they lack self-worth. They don’t feel entitled to compliments, to be truly loved, or to set limits. They might do more than their share at work or in a relationship to earn acceptance, but they end up feeling unappreciated, used, or resentful. In reading this book, ask yourself whether your relationships feed you or drain you.

Shame can also cause codependents to deny or discount their feelings and needs, both to themselves and in their relationships. To cope, they sometimes disregard what’s actually happening, ruminate with worry or resentment, or finally explode. Their denial and confusion about their boundaries and responsibilities to themselves and to others create problems with intimacy and communication. Instead of bringing couples closer, frequently communication is avoided, is used to manipulate, or is highly reactive, leading to escalating conflict and/or withdrawal. Nothing gets resolved. They end up feeling trapped and unhappy because their symptoms paralyze them with fear of rejection and loneliness.

The symptoms of codependency are all interwoven. They lead to painful emotions and self-sabotaging behaviors that produce negative feedback loops. This book helps you untangle and free yourself from them and create positive, healing feedback loops.

Reviewing the History

Although codependency has only relatively recently been recognized as an illness (dating from the 1970s), the characteristics were described as neurotic traits by Karen Horney 75 years ago. The term itself evolved out of family therapy with alcoholics, following the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1935 by Bill Wilson to help alcoholics find sobriety.

The work of neo-Freudian Karen Horney

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, leading neo-Freudians and humanists began focusing on the development of personality. Karen Horney, referred to as the first feminist psychoanalyst, was one of the leading proponents for self-actualization.

Horney broke with Freud on many issues and believed that children have a fundamentally good “real self,” which thrives in a healthy, empathic, and supportive environment. Natural striving to actualize their true nature can be thwarted due to poor parenting and cultural influences; however, self-awareness can go a long way to unshackle the real self from those negative influences, allowing it to flourish. Horney conceptualized a compliant personality alienated from the real self that today resembles typical traits of codependents. Some of her other personality categories may be codependent, too. Her influence is apparent in the writings of humanist psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers in the mid-20th century.

Karen Horney’s “neurotic trends”

Horney described three personality styles that people develop in order to cope with self-alienation and the fear, helplessness, and isolation of childhood. Underneath brew feelings of anxiety, hostility, and unworthiness that are repressed to varying degrees. The first group is made up of individuals who believe they can only feel loved and secure if they’re passive and comply. The second includes those who view life as a struggle and conclude they must be aggressive and in control, while the third group ensures their safety by withdrawing emotionally from interactions.

Horney identified ten neurotic trends or needs that underlie these three styles. Although the needs may overlap and remind you of normal needs, they’re neurotic because they’re compulsive, driven by anxiety, and out of proportion to reality. They’re inappropriate and indiscriminate in application. It’s normal to want to please your boss, but wanting to please everyone is neurotic. Several of these trends describe codependents:

The first style — Neurotic compliance

The need for affection and approvalThe need for a partner, believing that love will make you happy and that your partner will fulfill your expectations and responsibilitiesThe need to restrict your behavior and expectations within narrow borders, underestimating your potential and living an inconspicuous life

The second style — Neurotic aggression

The need for power and domination of others, with contempt for weaknessThe need to exploit and manipulate others, viewing them as objects to be usedThe need for social recognition or prestigeThe need for admiration of your ideal selfThe need for personal achievement combined with resentment when others don’t recognize you

The third style — Neurotic withdrawal

The need for self-sufficiency and independence to the extent that you avoid close relationshipsThe need for perfection, worrying about possible errors and defects, and feeling superior to othersThe need to restrict your behavior and expectations within narrow borders, underestimating your potential and living an inconspicuous life

Codependents repress their real Self and authentic feelings and develop deep, shame-based beliefs about who they are and their rights, needs, and lovability. This happens in reaction to dysfunctional parenting in childhood (such as critical, indifferent, rigid, invasive, inconsistent, or rejecting parents). Sometimes their beliefs are due to abuse, and sometimes they’re inferred from the behavior of emotionally unavailable parents. Shame is also the result of the anger they have turned against themselves because they couldn’t direct it toward parents they looked up to and relied upon for survival. (See Chapter 7.)

To get by, many codependents learned to comply and measure up to an imagined ideal (refer to Figure 1-1). Others withdrew or rebelled. As adults, some codependents constantly feel inadequate, whereas others identify with their ideal self and think they have high self-esteem. Many become perfectionists to balance the self-hatred they feel inside. They may strive to be loving, good, beautiful, accomplished, or successful in an effort to prove their worth and/or to be independent and never again need anyone. Yet the more they try, the more depressed they become, because they’re abandoning the real self that wasn’t nurtured by their original caretakers. Some enter therapy because of an addiction or relationship problem, while others go to understand why they’re depressed even though everything in their life is working.

The influence of family systems therapy

Family system theories emerged from the study of cybernetics, systems theory, and systems psychology. In the mental health field, theorists and therapists were increasingly viewing mental illness in a family context. In clinics, counselors noticed that some patients improved, but when they returned to their families, their symptomatic behavior returned. The counselors deduced that the family dynamics were maintaining or even causing the illness and began focusing on family interactions.

Therapists who worked with alcoholics observed repetitive patterns among the spouses and families of the alcoholics that reinforced drinking behavior. They saw husbands and wives who reproached and tried to manage an alcoholic, unaware that they were trying to control an uncontrollable illness. The family members displayed dysfunctional characteristics and were initially referred to as co-alcoholics. From years of disappointments and submergence of their personality, they had become empty shells. Their self-esteem and despair were as low as that of the alcoholics.

Surprisingly, clinicians discovered that many of the problems in the family persisted even after the alcoholics found sobriety. They found that their spouses’ dysfunctional patterns predated the alcoholic marriage and continued into new sober relationships. They realized that the co-alcoholics had to recover independently of the person and relationship that brought them to Al-Anon, the Twelve Step program for families of alcoholics. Still later, it was observed that those patterns appeared in others who weren’t involved with an addict but had grown up in dysfunctional families (see Chapter 7). All of their findings thus validated and converged with psychoanalytic theory.

The term codependency was born in the late 1970s and by the 1980s was being applied to addicts and their relatives, family members of someone with chronic mental or physical illness, and caregiving professionals.

Addiction and Twelve Step programs

Soon after AA was founded, Bill Wilson’s wife, Lois, saw that the spouses, mostly wives at that time, needed support. She started holding meetings in members’ homes. These meetings expanded to include all relatives and friends of alcoholics, and Al-Anon was born. In the 1950s, a main office was established in New York City to coordinate groups that had spread nationwide and today worldwide.

Other Twelve Step anonymous programs began to form based on the model of AA, which had proven so effective. Soon these programs proliferated. After Al-Anon founded its headquarters, Narcotics Anonymous began in 1953, followed by Overeaters Anonymous in l960 and Gamblers Anonymous in 1961. The 1970s saw the arrival of Emotional Health Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, and Adult Children of Alcoholics. The list grew in the 1980s to include, among others, Workaholics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Clutterers Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, and Sexual Compulsions Anonymous.

Eventually in 1986, the self-help program Co-Dependents Anonymous (referred to as CoDA) was founded by two therapists, Ken and Mary, who both grew up in dysfunctional, abusive families and had histories of addiction. CoDA was also modeled on the Twelve Steps of AA. Unlike Al-Anon, membership wasn’t linked to having a relationship with an alcoholic. The only requirement, as stated in its preamble, “is a desire for healthy and loving relationships.” The meeting of the First National Conference on Co-dependency was held in 1989.

A codependent society

As the awareness of addiction grew, more habits and compulsions began being characterized as addictions, and increasingly people seemed to have codependent traits that compromised their relationships, both among addicts and those close to them. Family systems author and theorist Virginia Satir commented that of the 10,000 families she’d studied, 96 percent exhibited codependent thoughts and behaviors. By the late 1980s, former psychotherapist Anne Wilson Schaef called America an addictive society in her 1988 book, When Society Becomes an Addict (HarperOne).

It may be that all the focus on relationships is the sign of the times, reflected in the growth of family therapy, and the women’s sexual liberation and human potential movements. In prior generations, intimacy was left to novels, poetry, and fantasy, because the focus was on survival and productivity, but today it’s considered a need. It’s no coincidence that the codependency movement arose in America, the champion of independence and romantic love — with the highest divorce rate. Americans want romance to work! Whatever the reason, just about everyone wants a fulfilling intimate relationship — something that seems to elude codependents.

The codependency debate

The controversy around codependency is divided into two camps — for and against. At one end are mental health professionals who advocate that codependency is a widespread and treatable disease. On the other is an array of critics of codependency, who argue that it’s merely a social or cultural phenomenon, is over-diagnosed, or is an aspect of relationships that doesn’t need to change. Those in the “against” camp state that it’s natural to need and depend upon others. They claim that you only really thrive in an intimate relationship and believe that the codependency movement has hurt people and relationships by encouraging too much independence and a false-sense of self-sufficiency, which can pose health risks associated with isolation.

Other naysayers disparage the construct of codependency as being merely an outgrowth of Western ideals of individualism and independence, which have harmed people by diminishing their need for connection to others. Feminists also criticized the concept of codependency as sexist and pejorative against women, stating that women are traditionally nurturers and historically have been in a nondominant role due to economic, political, and cultural reasons. Investment in their relationships and partner isn’t a disorder, but has been necessary for self-preservation. Still others quarrel with Twelve Step programs in general, saying that they promote dependency on a group and a victim mentality.

Committees have lobbied for codependency to be recognized as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, which would allow insurance coverage for treatment. A major obstacle is the lack of consensus about the definition of codependency and diagnostic criteria. For insurance purposes, clinicians usually diagnose patients with anxiety or depression, which are symptoms of codependency.

Here are some things to think about, to help put the naysayers’ points in perspective:

Codependency’s detractors are correct to claim that people are meant to need, love, and care for others. Yet, when you look at codependent relationships up close, you discover that many of the benefits of healthy, intimate relationships elude codependents due to their dysfunctional patterns of interacting. Instead of feeling supported and enhanced by relationships, the symptoms and consequences of codependency provoke anxiety in relationships and cause pain. Codependents complain of feeling lonely and unhappy

in

their relationships. Similarly, a “false sense of self-sufficiency” is part of codependency. Codependents ignore their needs and depend upon others and frequently self-sacrifice to an unhealthy degree. They care for others in a way that leads to control, resentment, and conflict. The concept of codependency isn’t to blame for the increase in divorce, loneliness, and unhappiness.

Codependency itself limits our ability to have satisfactory intimate relationships

.

Some recovering codependents choose to leave an abusive or painful relationship as an act of self-preservation. Remaining in such a relationship may also pose health risks from the chronic stress. Separation doesn’t have to lead to isolation. It’s untreated codependency that can cause people to isolate. In contrast, recovery helps individuals cope with loneliness in healthy ways by reaching out to others. The goal is to create healthy, nurturing, interdependent relationships. Thus, recovery from codependency doesn’t necessitate ending a relationship to become independent. The aim is to be able to function better and to enjoy more intimacy and independence

in

your relationships. I’ve worked with many codependent individuals and couples whose relationships benefited when they became more autonomous and assertive. Calling codependency what it is doesn’t create the problem.

Finally, I agree that the term

codependency

shouldn’t be used to judge people. It arose out of Western socio-political thought and should be considered in a cultural and ethnic context. There may be instances where codependency is adaptive, and change would be disruptive. This poses a problem as American and European ideas spread to Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. I’ve received correspondence from men and women who feel conflicted between their eager desire for independence and the oppressive restraints of their religion and culture. Many don’t have the institutional or cultural support necessary for change that exists in the West.

The Spectrum of Codependency

Maybe you’re wondering whether you’re codependent. It may be hard to tell at first, because, unless you’re already in recovery, denial is a symptom of codependency, as I explain in Chapter 4. Whether or not you identify as codependent, you can still benefit from alleviating any symptoms you recognize. You will function better in your life. Recovery helps you to be authentic, feel good about yourself, and have more honest, open, and intimate relationships.

Like most things, codependency varies on a scale from minimal to severe. When you’re under stress, symptoms flare. Some individuals show only slight symptoms, while others have all the typical characteristics (Chapter 3 outlines the symptoms of codependency). As you read this book, some traits and examples may sound foreign, while you can relate to others. The severity of codependency varies depending on a number of things, such as the following:

Your genetics

Your culture, including your religious beliefs

Your family’s dynamics

Your experience of trauma

Your role models

Your addictions or use of drugs

Intimate relationships you may have or had with addicts

If you’re codependent, generally symptoms show up to some extent in all your relationships and in intimate ones to a greater degree. Or codependency may affect your interaction with only one person — a spouse or romantic partner, a parent, sibling, or child, or someone at work. Codependency may not affect you as much at work if you’ve had effective role models or learned interpersonal skills that help you manage. Maybe you weren’t having a problem until a particular relationship, boss, or work environment triggered you. One explanation may be that the parent has a difficult personality or the child has special needs, and the couple has adjusted to their roles and to one another, but avoids intimacy.

The spectrum of codependency is illustrated in Figure 1-2. The horizontal vector shows how opposite codependent personality traits can manifest in a relationship. Individuals may reverse roles. For example, you may be the pursuer in one relationship and a distancer in another, or flip back and forth in the same relationship. In an alcoholic marriage, the sober spouse may scold and blame the irresponsible, needy alcoholic, who behaves like a victim. Then their roles switch, and the alcoholic dominates and controls his or her partner. Sometimes the spouse who acts needy or “crazy” gets well, and the self-sufficient, invulnerable partner breaks down.

By Darlene Lancer

Figure 1-2: The continuum of codependency.

Both the disease and recovery exist on a scale represented by the vertical vector in Figure 1-2. Codependent behavior and symptoms improve with recovery, described at the top, but if you don’t take steps to change, they become worse in the late stage, indicated at the bottom.

As you get better acquainted with the symptoms and characteristics of codependents, you may see yourself. If you feel overwhelmed by the thought of having codependency, instead focus on the patterns and behaviors you want to change. If you’re committed to change, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you consider yourself a codependent. However, it’s important to realize that codependency won’t get better or go away by itself. Support is essential, because you won’t be able to make permanent changes on your own.

The Stages of Codependency and Recovery

Counselors treating alcoholic families considered codependency to be a chronic disease like other addictions (see Chapter 2), because they observed that codependency was progressive. Addiction counselors noticed that the addicts’ spouses showed progressively worsening symptoms that paralleled those of alcoholics. In the later stages, both had serious mental and/or physical problems. Left untreated, codependency spiraled downward, just like alcoholism did. However, both markedly improved when treatment began and shared a similar trajectory of recovery.

You can commence recovery at any time to reverse codependency’s adverse progression — the sooner, the easier. This section generally summarizes significant characteristics of the early, middle, and late stages of codependency and recovery as they apply to relationships. As you read the tables in this section — Tables 1-1, 1-2, and 1-3 — keep these things in mind:

Notice that over time the symptoms on the left side of the tables get progressively worse, while the symptoms on the right side improve.

References to addicts and other addictions only apply if you’re involved with an addict, in which case, symptoms and progression are more pronounced. There’s more dysfunction, feelings of helplessness, and conflict.

You may relate solely to symptoms in the early stage or only a few of the symptoms. If you start making changes now, you can turn things around more quickly.

Table 1-1 Early Stage of Codependency and Recovery

Progression of Codependency

Recovery from Codependency

Attracted to needy person; offers help, gifts, meals

Hits bottom and reaches out for help for self

Attempts to please the person

Learns about codependency and addiction

Obsessed with the person and his or her behavior

Joins Twelve Step program and/or therapy

Rationalizes and doubts own perceptions

Begins to have hope

Denial about addiction, but concern grows

Comes out of denial

Gives up own activities to be with the person

Learns recovery is for self

Family and social life affected

Refocuses on self

Increasingly emotionally dependent on the person

Begins to build own identity

Table 1-2 Middle Stage of Codependency and Recovery

Progression of Codependency

Recovery from Codependency

Denies/Minimizes painful aspects of relationship

Understands powerlessness

Hides painful aspects of relationship from others

Begins reliance on a spiritual source

Anxiety, guilt, and self-blame increase

Begins to detach

Self-esteem lessens

Self-awareness grows

Withdraws from outside family and friends

Makes new friends

Obsessively watches the person and addiction

Develops outside activities

Tries to control by nagging, blaming, manipulation

Stops enabling and controlling

Anger and disappointment due to broken promises grows

Learns assertiveness

Feels resentment at inability to control the person

Takes responsibility for own self

Mood swings and increased conflict and violence occur

Increases self-care and self-esteem

Enables and manages the person’s responsibilities

Sets boundaries and becomes less reactive

Hides family secret (or addiction)

Has more emotional independence

Uses food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, or work to cope

Heals childhood wounds

Table 1-3 Late Stage of Codependency and Recovery

Progression of Codependency

Recovery from Codependency

Develops physical symptoms

Happiness doesn’t depend on others

Feels angry, hopeless, and depressed

Self-esteem and confidence return

Obsessive-compulsive behavior, addictions

Has own power and pursues goals

Further decline in self-esteem

Is expansive, creative, spontaneous

Despair and lack of self-care

Experiences self-love

Increased conflicts

Capacity for interdependency and intimacy

Early stage of codependency and recovery

The early stage of codependency begins by becoming attached to someone and ends with unhealthy dependency on him or her. In recovery, the early stage ends with starting to reclaim yourself.

The disease process

You may be attracted to a needy person or be overly involved with a family member and naturally want to help or please him or her. Gradually, you become increasingly emotionally dependent upon and obsessed with that person to the extent that you lose focus on yourself and start to give up personal friends and activities.

The recovery process

You begin coming out of denial (see Chapter 4), which means you squarely confront the problem and acknowledge reality — a prerequisite to changing it. This shift may be inspired by someone else’s recovery or by reading this book. More likely, it’s triggered by an event — a wakeup call, referred to as hitting bottom. Change becomes imperative. Instead of ignoring or minimizing the facts, you recognize them as difficult and painful, but true. You may not like them, but you see them as they are.

Beginning recovery starts with getting information and reaching out for help. By reading this book, you’ve already begun searching for new answers and options. Many people start psychotherapy or join a Twelve Step program, which gives them hope and starts the process of rebuilding their identity. Table 1-1 shows the progressive stages of early codependency and recovery.

Middle stage of codependency and recovery

The important middle stage of codependency is where denial, painful emotions, and obsessive-compulsive behavioral patterns are prevalent. You increase attempts to control, while feeling more out of control. When in recovery, you reclaim independence, balance, and greater peace of mind.

The disease process

Without support, denial and isolation continue, and problems get worse. You may minimize and hide from yourself and other painful aspects of your relationship and withdraw from outside activities and friends. Meanwhile, your obsession with the relationship or addiction and accompanying anxiety, resentment, and guilt increase. You do more to help, enable, and control the other person or his or her addiction, and may even take over responsibilities that are not your own (see Chapter 4). As mood swings and conflict increase, some codependents turn to drugs, food, spending, or other addictive behavior to cope.

The recovery process

The middle stage is where most of the work of recovery takes place. You begin to practice nonattachment and grasp your powerlessness over others and your addiction (see Chapter 9). As the focus on yourself grows, so do self-responsibility, self-awareness, and self-examination, which are part of psychotherapy as well as Twelve Step programs. AA emphasizes that an alcoholic’s success in recovery is based upon rigorous self-honesty. This is also true for codependents and one of the Twelve Steps of CoDA.

Blaming others and external circumstances denies your power to effect change and achieve happiness. Even if you’re a victim of abuse, you find the power to change your circumstances and responses when the center of control shifts from the perpetrator to yourself. Self-examination also includes working through childhood issues that may have led to your codependency, as I explain in Chapters 7 and 8.

Although insight about your behavior is necessary, it’s insufficient for change. Decisions, actions, and risk-taking are required during the middle stage (see Chapter 16). They happen when you’re ready, and they can’t be forced. It’s hard to change even when you know things would improve, like taking a better job or moving to a desirable area. Taking risks where the outcome is uncertain requires courage — courage to venture from discomfort that’s familiar into new territory. This is one reason why support is essential; see Chapters 6 and 18.

During the middle stage, you make new friends, participate in outside activities, and are able to be assertive and set boundaries (see Chapters 13 and 11). As you become more emotionally independent, you take better care of yourself, and reactivity, enabling, and controlling behavior diminish.

Table 1-2 shows the progression of codependency and recovery in the middle stage.

Late stage of codependency and recovery

In the late stage of codependency and recovery, the contrast between disease and health are most pronounced. The untreated codependent’s world has significantly narrowed, and his or her levels of health and functioning have severely declined, while the recovered codependent’s world has expanded to include greater risk-taking, relationships, and new goals.

The disease process

As the disease progresses, anger and conflicts are more common, and self-esteem and self-care further decline. Hopelessness, emptiness, and depression prevail. The chronic stress of codependency manifests in new symptoms, such as stress-related health problems (see Chapter 3) and new or more-progressed obsessive-compulsive behaviors and addictions. These behaviors and addictions may include monitoring the addict, enabling, cleaning house, dieting, overeating, having affairs, exercising, spending, or using legal or illegal drugs.

The recovery process

In the late stage of recovery, your self-esteem and confidence return. You’re empowered to pursue your own goals and are more expansive, creative, and spontaneous (see Chapter 16). You desire to fully express yourself for the sheer joy and freedom of it. As your focus shifts away from someone outside yourself, you fully understand that your happiness doesn’t depend upon others, and you no longer have a desperate need to be in a relationship. At the same time, you’re more desirous and capable of authentic intimacy (see Chapter 15).

Table 1-3 shows the progression of codependency in the late stage if you do nothing and the rewards you reap if you stick with recovery.

Recovery from codependency requires ongoing maintenance in or out of a relationship. This is why people continue in Twelve Step programs after they’ve left an addict or addiction behind. Only after a number of years do the changes and tools of recovery and health become part of you.

Changes to Expect

The overall goal of recovery is to become a full-functioning individual who is able to live an authentic life. That means that your feelings, values, and behavior are congruent and that you’re at ease on your own as well as in intimate relationships.

Going over the four basic steps

Your journey to recovery (and this book’s organization) roughly follows these steps:

Building self-awareness

To build self-awareness, you gain information and come out of denial.

Healing your relationship with yourself

To heal your relationship with yourself, you get to know yourself, heal shame and past wounds, build self-esteem, and find pleasure — developing hobbies, for example.

Healing your relationships with others

To heal your relationships with others, you let go of focusing on others (this is also a prerequisite for Step 2), learn to be assertive, establish boundaries, and have healthy relationships.

Expanding your relationship with the world

Pursuing larger goals and passions

Recovery entails knowing, valuing, trusting, and freely expressing yourself congruently with your feelings and values. To that aim, this book addresses learning new skills, attitudes, and habits with respect to your thoughts, feelings, actions, and self-esteem, as listed in this section. Consider tracking your progress as you work through the coming chapters and continue to grow in recovery. Add your own goals as you go along.

How you think

The first priority is to heighten your awareness, thinking, and understanding of codependency and addiction and how each has and continues to affect your family and your life. Specific cognitive goals include understanding your separateness from others, letting go, and giving others the dignity to be responsible for themselves while taking responsibility for yourself. Ongoing goals are developing awareness of your thoughts, values, beliefs, needs, and behavior and reducing obsessive, repetitive worries and negative self-talk. Your list may include the following:

Understanding codependency (see especially

Chapters 2

,

3

, and

4

)

Understanding addiction and your family dynamics (see

Chapters 4

,

7

, and

14

)

Understanding how addiction may have affected you (see

Chapter 7

)

Coming out of denial (see

Chapter 4

)

Accepting your powerlessness over addiction (see

Chapter 12

)

Understanding and practicing the concept of nonattachment (see

Chapter 12

)

Becoming aware of boundaries with others (see

Chapters 3

,

14

, and

15

)

Gaining awareness of thoughts, including judgments of yourself and others (see

Chapter 10

); worries and fears (see

Chapter 12

); rationalizations (see

Chapter 4

); and fantasies and obsessions (see

Chapters 4

and

12

)

Identifying your needs and how to meet them (see

Chapters 3

,

8

,

9

, and

10

)

Gaining awareness of beliefs and values (see

Chapter 9

)

Testing your thoughts and beliefs against reality (see

Chapters 4

,

7

, and

9

)

Developing decision-making skills (see

Chapter 16

)

Gaining awareness of codependent behavior (see

Chapter 3

), including pleasing (also

Chapter 2

), manipulating, controlling (also

Chapter 9

), and enabling

What you feel

Because you weren’t taught to identify your feelings or your childhood environment prevented their free expression, it’s likely that you’re not often aware of your feelings. Having emotion is different. Codependents can cry and rage but aren’t able to name a feeling or know why they’re upset. Typically, codependents feel guilty for other people’s negative feelings and think other people make them feel guilty or angry.

Taking responsibility for your feelings and not those of others is a gradual, but essential, learning process. Important goals are to be able to identify, name, and express your feelings openly. This may be a challenge if you’re not used to crying or feeling vulnerable, but this is a healthy step in healing. People who are overwhelmed with feelings need to contain and understand them. Down the line, you want to be able to appropriately express your feelings to others. Your goals may include these:

Replacing despair with hope (see

Chapters 6

,

11

, and

17

)

Identifying and accepting your feelings (see

Chapter 9

)

Identifying and accepting feelings about your work and others (see

Chapter 9

)

Journaling feelings (see

Chapter 9

)

Connecting thoughts, needs, feelings and actions (see

Chapter 9

)

Distinguishing your feelings from other people’s feelings (see

Chapters 3

and

12

)

Taking responsibility for your feelings (see

Chapters 3

,

9

,

10

, and

12

)

Not taking responsibility for other people’s feelings (see

Chapters 3

and

12

)

Sharing feelings in a group or with a therapist (see

Chapters 6

and

17

)

Taking charge of your anger (see

Chapter 3

,

8

, and

11

)

Grieving your losses (see

Chapter 8

)

Sharing your feelings in safe, personal relationships (see

Chapters 14

and

15

)

Comforting yourself when you have negative feelings (see

Chapters 8

,

10

, and

11

)

Your self-esteem

Your self-esteem reflects how you feel about yourself. It enhances or impairs your relationships, your professional success, your moods, and your sense of well-being. Replacing shame and low self-esteem with self-respect and self-worth is the cornerstone of recovery (see Chapter 10). Pursuing all of the goals outlined in this chapter improves your self-esteem, but you can benefit by giving specific attention to the following:

Confronting negative self-talk (see

Chapter 10

)

Healing shame (see

Chapters 3

,

7

, and

8

)

Being kind to yourself (see

Chapters 8

and

10

)

Taking responsibility for your actions (see

Chapters 9

,

10

,

12

, and

19

)

Affirming yourself (see

Chapters 10

and

16

)

Accepting yourself (see

Chapters 9

and

10

)

Reducing guilt and forgiving yourself (see

Chapters 10

and

19

)

Meeting your needs (see

Chapters 5

,

8

, and

9

)

Sharing in Twelve Step meetings and in therapy (see

Chapters 6

and

18

)

Trusting and loving yourself (see

Chapter 10

)

Pursuing goals (

Chapter 16

)

Nurturing and giving yourself pleasure (see

Chapters 8

and

11

)

What you say

Practicing assertive communication improves your relationships and builds self-esteem. Your goals may include these, which are covered in Chapter 13, as well as the other chapters indicated:

Being honest and direct

Making “I” statements

Taking positions

Learning not to react (also

Chapter 12

)

Becoming aware of abusive communication (also

Chapter 3

)

Setting boundaries and saying no

Being able to problem-solve in your relationships

Handling conflict

What you do

There’s a maxim in AA: “Take action, and the feelings will follow.” Your thoughts and feelings determine how you behave, but actions also change your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Reading about and understanding codependency and how you came to be codependent are important, but taking risks and behaving differently actualizes your understanding and changes you. Taking action doesn’t mean jumping in to “fix” a problem. That complicates matters and prevents things from working themselves out naturally. There’s another — almost opposite saying in Al-Anon: “Don’t just do something, sit there.” It requires courage and strength to do the opposite of what you ordinarily do and to refrain from habitual behavior. Action goals include communicating differently and setting boundaries. They also include the following:

Journaling (

Chapter 9

)

Attending Twelve Step meetings and/or counseling (see

Chapters 6

and

18

)

Not enabling (see

Chapters 3

and

12

)

Practicing nonattachment and minding your own business (see

Chapter 12

)

Creating a spiritual practice (see

Chapter 11

)

Developing interdependent behavior (see

Chapters 14

and

15

)

Developing hobbies and interests (see

Chapters 11

and

16

)

Taking action to meet your needs (see

Chapters 8

,

9

, and

12

)

Setting and pursuing goals (see

Chapter 16

)

Building supportive relationships (see

Chapters 6

,

11

, and

17

)

Reaching out when you’re in pain (see

Chapters 6

and

17

)

Don’t be discouraged if you’re unable to achieve some of these goals. Many manifest in the middle and later stages of recovery. You’re on a journey — a wonderful, sometimes painful, but joyous adventure of self-discovery.