Archive | March, 2012

I’m a Codependent?

8 Mar

My work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, often overlaps with the work of Substance Abuse Professionals. So many couples and families suffer from one or another addiction — whether that be alcohol, a prescription or nonprescription drug, gambling, workaholism, sex addiction and on and on. The time we live in has often been termed “the Age of Addictions.” As noted in the short list above, an addiction does not have to be a compulsive use of a substance. Instead it can be an obsessive action, such as gambling, sexual affairs, or even work. If you find yourself working compulsively and feeling as if you’re getting a “high” from all that productivity, you may have an addiction to work! Some people would say that that would be a good thing, yet to the family members who live with a workaholic it seems as if they are continually experiencing the absence or loss of that workaholic family member.
One addiction that is like a wallflower in the family of addictions is the codependent. S/he is often the silent one who doesn’t recognize that s/he actually has an addiction — in this case an addiction to the person who is so central in their lives that they have abdicated their own self or soul.
In many cases, a codependent revolves around an alcoholic. Let’s say the codependent is the spouse of an alcoholic, the person who spends much of his/her time worrying about the alcoholic, making excuses to the boss as to why the alcoholic is late or absent, making excuses to the family as to why s/he is unavailable for the get-together.
At other times, the codependent is married to or in relationship with a person who is extremely self-centered, what in psychological terms we call a narcissistic personality disorder. But let’s leave that aside to give you a little vignette of the relationship between a narcissist and a codependent. These two fit together like a hand and glove. The narcissist says, “I come first; then for a long time comes no one; then maybe …” The codependent says, “What can I do to make your life easier?”
Now these are not exact quotes, but you get the drift of this relationship: unidirectional.
The problem arises over time. The codependent may begin to realize that s/he is being “used,” not appreciated, taken for granted. This HURTS! The codependent is just beginning to come out of denial.
It may take many, many years or it may take some “shocking” action, such as the narcissist’s being discovered as unfaithful, for the codependent to take stock of things. This process is never an easy one, but instead a painful realization of the truth about him/herself, the other person, and the relationship. It usually will require professional help to grieve the loss of the illusion that the codependent had about the other person.
Codependents are, by and large, “nice” people, individuals who like to please others. However, in their relentless giving and trying to please, they give up those things which their soul longs for — their own individual friendships, hobbies or avocations which express who they are and what they enjoy. In effect, they become self-destructive. If they ever had a chance to help the other person grow by standing up for themselves and asserting their own interests from time to time, they have forfeited this chance until, like Sleeping Beauty, they suddenly wake up. But it is not to the kiss of a “prince.” Instead it is to a tough psychological reality with which they must deal.
Do you see any signs of codependency in your behavior? Look inside and see whether you only feel good about yourself when you are currying someone else’s favor.
There is help for codependency! There are self-help groups called CODA (Codependents Anonymous) and there is the grieving process of learning that you cannot reach Nirvana by having others love or approve of you. Instead you learn to love and approve of yourself! Yes, there is a Santa Claus, Virginia, and s/he lives within you!