Codependent behavior – what is it? Does one have a choice? If so, how can one change?
The following is a guest post by Irene Watson, author of award winning The Sitting Swing: Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference (see complete bio below).
Codependent Behavior Patterns Are a Choice: Take Responsibility for Your Own Actions by Irene Watson
I want to share with you four good definitions of codependency along with the author of each definition:
An emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules. –Robert Subby
A set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members to survive in a family experiencing great emotional pain. –The Johnson Institute
A stressful learned behavior associated with an unhealthy focus on the needs of others and/or attempting to take responsibility for the behavior of others. –Brian DesRoches
We begin tolerating abnormal, unhealthy, and inappropriate behaviors. Then we go one step further, we convince ourselves these behaviors are normal. –Melody Beattie
When I first began hearing about Codependency, it was mostly described as a relational pattern among spouses or family members as related to alcohol and drug problems; addiction problems. Since then, the term “codependent” has been adapted to many situations and speaks more to the pattern of behavior in which the needs of others appears to be placed above one’s own.
As a result of this seemingly altruistic, “your needs before mine,” pattern of behavior, codependent people actually have a lot of difficulty forming healthy and balanced relationships. Seeking out relationships of any kind, tend to be with people who have addictions, addictive personality traits or mental health issues that a typical codependent person seeks to ignore or avoid.
People that have codependent patterns of behavior will usually search for something outside themselves in an attempt to make themselves feel better. One of the major sources of learned codependent patterned behavior comes from living in a dysfunctional family where mistreatment, disrespect and abuse are accepted as “normal” social interactions and relational interactions.
For this reason, people with codependent behavior patterns take on the caretaker role easily.
Taking a Deeper Look at Codependency
In taking a deeper look at codependency, it is important to point out that, contrary to what most people believe, codependent people do not solely seek out relationships that involve substance abuse. Codependency covers a huge continuum of behavior patterns in which a person is extremely controlling over other people’s behaviors and feelings to being afflicted in a way that interferes with your work, creativity, personal growth and of course, relationships with others.
Wherever you might lie on the codependency continuum, either completely and excessively swayed by another, or completely and excessively dominant over another, or some place in-between, the result for each person, is an inability to feel balanced, whole, and empowered.
As I mentioned previously, the biggest source of codependency is long-term childhood exposure to dysfunctional relationships. This chronic exposure causes a distorted and damaged self-esteem, which, in a name, is the root of codependency. When a person is able to feel healthy and whole, they have no problem understanding that another’s feelings, ideas or behaviors cannot be controlled. There is no issue for healthy people in understanding the idea that we make decisions for ourselves, which best fits our needs, while others are making decisions for themselves which best fits their wants and needs.
However this healthy perspective is undermined when the sense of Self is damaged through frank emotional and physical abuse, through experiences that did not validate our point of view, or when our basic need for love, understanding, and empathy were not met by those who took care of us.
How to Release Yourself From Your Own “Ties That Bind”
Those individuals that have codependent behavior patterns know all too well that their sense of caring will, if it hasn’t already, become compulsive while possibly leading to chronic emotionally draining relationships. These kinds of emotionally draining relationships usually leave the codependent person feeling angry, resentful and unappreciated.
One of the foundations of belief regarding codependent behavior is that the codependent individual is trying to avoid dealing with their own difficult emotions. This can leave the individual feeling disconnected from their own needs and wants while struggling with trusting others.
First thing to know is that you can change these relationship patterns in your life. Many people benefit greatly from joining a support group, such as the 12-Step program, Alanon, which focuses on codependency behavior patterns. Also, many people who have codependent behavior patterns find themselves using alcohol or drugs or other risky behaviors in order to escape facing their own feelings. A person can join any of the 12-step support programs and get some understanding and support. Several people have found Alcoholics Anonymous very helpful, even if their primary addiction is to codependent behavior patterns.
Some individuals prefer to seek non-group setting for support in addressing codependent behaviors. There are several types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy and/or family therapy that has been helpful to many people in guiding them through the difficult changes they faces while addressing codependent behavior patterns.
Some people are unsure if they are “just being kind” or if they are dealing with codependency and seeking acceptance from others, regardless of the toll on themselves. If you find yourself constantly doing for another person, even when you don’t want to, or shouldn’t, for your own welfare, but you still do it, then you might want to check in with yourself about how you actually feel while doing these things.
When you are thinking about how much you give and how you feel about it, remember that children are entitled to get much more than they give, and they should be getting an abundance of your “giving” even when you don’t feel like it!
You can make a change in how you perceive your life and shifting your perceptions will ultimately lead to changes in your behavior. If you decide to change, give people warning, as they will have a difficult time with the “new you.”
Today, practice saying “no” to little things with people you trust and take note to how it makes you feel.
Irene Watson, author of award winning The Sitting Swing: Finding Wisdom to Know the Difference (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Loving Healing Press, 2009,) was born and raised in a tiny hamlet of Reno in the northern area of the province of Alberta in Canada. She received her Master’s Degree in Psychology, with honors, from Regis University, Denver. Irene and her husband, Robert, live in Austin, Texas.
She is also author/editor of The Story That Must be Told: True Tales of Transformation, and, Authors Access: 30 Success Secrets for Authors and Publishers and is in the process of co-authoring another book, Rewriting Life Scripts: Transformational Recovery for Families as well as having a chapter in an upcoming book Letters to New Grandparents.
Irene is the president of Higher Power Foundation, Inc. and facilitator of transformative retreats and workshops – Rewriting Life Scripts. She brings 40 years of life changing experiences, facilitation and study into her hands-on programs. She is also the Managing Editor of Reader Views, and book review and .