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The concept of co-dependency or codependency has evolved during therapies with families with alcoholism. Drinking necessarily affects the whole family and pulls the system towards disintegration. But the system strives for balance. Thus, along with drinking, a kind of counterweight develops, leading to family unity, a counterweight to co-dependent behavior.
By definition: “The codependent person has problems with control and trust, and develops dependency on other people, afraid of leaving the person important to them. In order to maintain a relationship, the person’s partner will tolerate any behavior that has negative consequences for them (such as addictive behavior). He feels too much responsibility for others, while neglecting his own feelings. He has difficulties managing conflict, giving and receiving love. ”¹
There are two myths associated with relationship addiction over time. One is that relationship dependence is observed only in families where one member suffers from alcoholism or other addiction. According to another, relationship dependence is almost exclusively found in women. These beliefs have been refuted by numerous studies. Not only experiencing addiction can lead to codependency, but any mental or physical illness in the family, unexplained family roles, inhibition of emotion, domestic abuse, and the excessive presence of stressors in general. All of these can result in a kind of solution to the co-dependent behavior. Furthermore, it has been observed that if one of the parents is co-dependent, a similar pattern of behavior may be displayed in later generations along the lines they provide.
The family is a complex system, you can experience belonging and what it is like to be yourself, accepted by others (and to see that each member is individual and accepted and loved together). When co-dependence develops, the individual usually disappears, lacks the internal security or the right to be himself. Self-esteem is largely dependent on others and must be confirmed externally, otherwise the feeling of worthlessness will dominate the person. So the co-dependent lives in a kind of fusion, loneliness is the deadly enemy of the whole being, a menacing nightmare. You definitely need somebody who can live this merger, who can help, who you can watch, who you control, because you don’t have a pattern that shows you how to help yourself, what to look at (how to control your own life) and this gives you the feeling that he is someone.
If a co-dependent finds a dependent partner, he or she can fully fulfill these needs. Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that, over time, severely damages the addict’s physical, social, and mental health, and is becoming less and less likely to be entrusted with responsibilities and thus complement one another. They create a system where, for example, alcoholism and co-dependence complement each other perfectly, and strengthen and intertwine their relationship. However, this relationship, however strong and unhealthy, deprives both of them of the opportunity to control their lives. Instead, their clinging only results in drift.
Family and relationship are also a system with their own rules and roles. A healthy system helps its members to develop, retain and provide security; it also provides a resource for change.
One of the most destructive beliefs of co-dependency is that you can only live for the other, it is worth living for the other. From the inside, only this operation is normal, acceptable and desired. Any manifestation that would guarantee one’s own well-being can only be imagined by the help of another. If someone does something for themselves, it will appear as a final manifestation of selfishness in the eyes of the co-dependent.
How does this appear during therapies?
The family system around addiction exhibits specific features in which both the substance user and the co-dependent are involved. As the drug condition worsens, it becomes more dependent on the periphery of the family, less involved in running it, less responsible (mother tends to take children to school, go to parents, shop, pay bills and manage other finances …), This also applies to their own lives (a substance-abuse couple calls the workplace, her husband is ill, she is looking for a doctor, a psychologist to contact, she calls rehabilitation institutions how to get in, she warns her to wash… ). This behavior does not necessarily change with the attainment of abstinence. The relationship hand looks like the co-dependent is fighting for control (because they would otherwise have their lives completely disintegrated), appearing in almost every area of their lives (whose parents need to go and when, when and where, when, what clothes how to talk, how to talk to people, how to learn with the child, how to wash, warm, feel…).
Drug users have less and less responsibility in their own lives, and the situation is similar to that of a co-dependent. He is so attentive to the other that he has no energy for his own life, almost dissolves in the other.
It is worthwhile to use self-help groups and individual help to recover. In these forums, drug addicts are present, dealing with their illness, experiencing their emotions, and developing self-reflexivity, so they deal with themselves, which is the basis of sanity. As he begins to deal with himself, the co-dependent suddenly finds himself in a vacuum. He no longer has to keep an eye on him, he doesn’t have to look after another. This is difficult because he is “materialized” by the whining of his companion. Now that the addict has begun to learn how to take care of himself, he is experiencing co-dependent withdrawal symptoms. In her eyes, the recovering partner becomes extremely selfish because she spends more time without her, going to a meeting alone, or going to a psychologist or, say, doing a program with her friends. According to the co-dependent, this is unacceptable and reinforces feelings of helplessness, resentment, loneliness and abandonment. In parallel, he begins to behave in such a way that everything returns to the old course, which was not good, but predictable and familiar.
In partner therapy, clients receive a forum where they can discuss what they are going through right now; and if they see that they are both addicted, they bring them closer to change. For a relationship in which both of them can live for themselves and be well together.
A mature personality is a prerequisite for a mature relationship. This requires a kind of healthy narcissism. In practice, this means that the relationship is made up of two equal people who know their own needs and take responsibility for their own lives. This is the basis for their common life, their relationship to function well.
Every addiction has a story. It evolved along some events and patterns. Blaming is meaningless and may exacerbate the problem. The behavior of fellow addicts is not deliberately harmful, it is guided by the intention of helping the surface. Therapeutic experience shows that, although the intention is noble, its realization is extremely destructive.
Recognizing co-dependency also entails throwing away a leading belief in their lives that has been hitherto believed to be true: the addict is flawed, weak, inadequate, and I must help. During work, couples exchange this belief that co-dependence is a cause and effect, as is substance abuse, and that everyone is primarily responsible for their own lives, as it is one of the most important characteristics of adulthood and the basis for mature relationships.
Just as the relationship around addiction has a history in which to live their lives, so does a healthy relationship; this can be done during therapy. This is hard work for a common goal, stepping out into the unknown, into uncertainty, because what has been built so far has not resulted in a good relationship. However, the way they have lived so far is not fundamentally bad and it is not worth looking for the wrong one. The story so far has very important lessons for the present, which help couples change. The relationships around addiction were not controlled by them, but rather drifted. During therapy, couples take possession and consciously shape their relationship.
¹Pske Zsolt, Marem Tremkó (ed.) – Recovery from Addiction: Gambling and Substance Abuse.
Cullen, J. & Carr, A. (1999). Co-dependency: An empirical study from a systemic one
perspective. Contemporary Family Therapy, 21, 505-526.
Marina Milushyna – Foreign studies of the codependency phenomenon. Humanities and Social Sciences vol. XX, 22 (2/2015), p. 51-61