Co-dependency is a behavioural addiction in which the co-dependent compulsively engages with, and is pre-occupied with a relationship, which is one sided, emotionally destructive and often abusive in nature. When one or more members of the family are particularly needy and attention seeking (perhaps addicts in active addiction, or mentally ill individuals), the co-dependent member of the family will sacrifice their own needs in order to care for the needy person. The co-dependent is unable to develop an adequate sense of self and finds it difficult to acknowledge his or her needs. This pattern is usually repeated in later relationships and the co-dependent will often unconsciously choose a needy partner – one who is perceived to need rescuing, often from drug or alcohol addiction.
Although they have good intentions, helping others allows the co-dependent to feel better about themself. This creates further problems as they enable the needy partner’s often dysfunctional behaviour. Co-dependents are likely to develop a martyr role and often a feel deep-seated anger and resentment towards the very same people that they are attempting to help. A cycle of compulsive behaviour begins in an attempt to feel better, and the co-dependent makes further self-defeating attempts to help the needy person in order to make themselves feel better. Co-dependents may resort to other kinds of addictive behaviour, like alcohol abuse or over eating in an attempt to reduce their anxiety. Co-dependency can create havoc in relationships and can split families in half, putting everyone in the family at risk.
Co-dependency can be identified by:
- Continued investment of self-esteem in the ability to control both themselves and others in the face of serious adverse consequences.
- Assumption of responsibility for meeting others' needs to the exclusion of acknowledging their own.
- Anxiety and boundary distortions around intimacy and separation.
- Enmeshment in relationships with personality disordered, chemically dependent, other co-dependent, and/or impulse disordered individuals.
- Three or more of the following:
- Excessive reliance on denial
- Constriction of emotions (with or without dramatic outbursts)
- Hyper vigilance
- Substance Abuse
- Has been (or is) the victim of recurrent physical or sexual abuse
- Stress related medical illnesses
- Has remained in a primary relationship with an active substance abuser
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