It’s no secret to people who’ve grown up in a home where parents have abused alcohol or other substances: everyone in a family affected by addiction can develop unhealthy coping strategies. People who enter relationships with an addicted person have a tendency to be codependent.
What is codependency?
In a healthy, interdependent relationship, two adults mutually look out for one another and make compromises so that both people will have their needs met. As described by our partners at Willingway Treatment Center, a codependent relationship often has:
- A martyr who makes all of the sacrifices in the relationship so the other person can continue their manipulative, abusive, or addictive behavior
- Poor boundaries: the martyr doesn’t know how and/or isn’t allowed to say no
- One or both people with history of emotionally unavailable parents
- One person laboring under the false belief that they can heal the other person with their love
- One person who lies or covers up for the other person so they won’t have to deal with the consequences of their poor choices
Codependency in Families
Codependency doesn’t just occur between two intimate partners. It can also occur between a parent and child. This dynamic often perpetuates into the next generation of the family, as a child of a codependent parent may find themselves drawn into codependent relationships as an adult.
According to Psychology Today, a household where codependency thrives tends to share some of these rules:
- Problems and feelings should not be discussed.
- Strength means learning to “suck it up” instead of processing grief, sadness or disappointment.
- Perfection is expected.
- “Do as I say, not as I do.”
While there is certainly nothing wrong with encouraging children to be strong, work hard, and make good choices, extreme rules that don’t allow a margin for human error, mistakes, or a personal definition of success create a situation where codependency can take root. Children in these homes often end up taking care of their parents and younger siblings, especially if the parent(s) also struggles with mental illness. The home environment may also include the following components:
- Manipulation, guilt, and shame
- Neglect – emotional and/or physical
- Abuse or extremely harsh punishments
- Parents’ unwillingness to accept that there is a problem and get help
Inside the Codependent Mind
A person with codependent traits tends to be a people-pleaser, doing whatever it takes to make everyone happy. They may cope with their feelings of low self-worth by giving and giving, not speaking up to advocate for themselves or to keep others from taking advantage of them. They may feel guilty any time they say no. They may expect people who love them to hurt them and may experience trust issues as a result. They may fear loneliness, but be unable to escape it, even when there are others present. They tend to be very critical of themselves.
What a child learns in their early life can be difficult to shake off in adulthood. An adult whose parents taught them codependency may be inclined to replicate this dynamic in their relationships later in life. Psychology Today recommends a number of steps that adults can take to counteract codependency in their own relationships:
- Educate yourself by reading about codependency and becoming aware of how you behave in relationships.
- Seek counseling and/or a codependency support group.
- Set healthy boundaries.
- Instead of rescuing others, offer the help they need to solve their own problems.
Addiction fosters codependency. Often, the family or partner of an addicted person acts codependently to protect the addicted person from the consequences of their behavior. They think their caring will heal the addicted person, and they will sacrifice their own health and well-being to cater to the addicted person’s needs.
We Can Help
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we assist people who’ve struggled with codependency to find new ways of engaging with their loved ones. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or the effects of addiction on a relationship, please contact us to find out how we can help.