I had never heard the word codependency until I walked into the rooms of an Al-Anon meeting. (Al-anon is for family and friends of alcoholics) I quickly learned this was what I was - a codependent - I was addicted to the alcoholic as much as he was to alcohol. But what is codependency and how can I recognise the signs and symptoms?
What is Co-dependency?
Melody Beattie defines codependency as "someone who has let another person's behaviour affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behaviour." (Please check out her books on the subject, they are extremely helpful in recognising codependency and how you can help yourself. Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency.)
Co-dependency originates in childhood and as I've said about my own co-dependency it is most common in alcoholic, gambling, drugs, sex addiction or eating disorder families, families with mental illness, depression, trauma, anxiety, poor parenting, and child abuse. It doesn't happen to everyone in these families and you may not have been raised in a family with an addict in it to develop it later on in life. Some people I know have developed co-dependency when they married an addict or their child developed an addiction or one of the other mental health problems outlined above.
Signs and Symptoms of Co-dependency
There are so many signs and symptoms of codependency those listed below are only a few. Please check out Melody Beattie's book regarding an extensive list of symptoms.
- Focusing primarily on another person's needs or behaviours and being overly responsible. People pleaser.
- Getting into relationships with addicts or people with lots of problems and enabling their behaviour with excuses, lies and covering up for them.
- Financing addict's behaviour at the expense of yourself and your children.
- Difficulty identifying or asking for what you want and need. You may 'lose' yourself altogether in the relationship. Loss of identity.
- Live in complete denial of the behaviour you are exhibiting and the behaviour of the addict.
- Difficulty in identifying your own feelings - if you can at all-, as you may have taken on everyone else's feelings, stuffing down yours.
- Low self-esteem - but you may have a higher self-esteem in other parts of your life such as work.
- Difficulty communicating directly most especially about yourself
- If you are able to feel anger it can be expressed violently towards others, but maybe not towards the addict. You may have very "aggressive" conversations with the addict too.
- Unexpressed anger may manifest itself in terms of depression.
- Feeling numb.
- Controlling. Everything in your life has to be controlled including the addict.
- Fear of intimate relationships.
- You may be experiencing Domestic Violence (DV). Seek help when it is safe to do so. (Women's Aid Ireland, Refuge in the UK - see below for their links)
As I have said these are just some of the many signs of codependency.
Recovery - How do I do it?
If you can identify that you are in a codependent relationship. Well done. Now it's time for some self-help and therapy. If you are in a DV relationship please seek help as I stated above.
Please seek therapy immediately - we can help you with this.
I would also recommend attending a 12 step group for family and friends such as Al-anon, Gam-anon, Codependency anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics etc. These organisations are a great support for families and friends. They offer a great program with help, love and friendship.
Start by reassessing your life. Do you know how to look after yourself? The very basics of self-care are often very difficult for the codependent. (See my blog post on Self-care and self-soothing exercises.) Focus on yourself and your children if you have any. You are now your only or top priority. You can't look after anyone else until you learn to have proper healthy boundaries and can look after yourself!
Journaling is a wonderful tool that can be used in self-care and therapy. It will help you reflect on what is happening in your life and what areas you need help in.
Don't be afraid to seek help. This takes a lot of courage to do so! You are not admitting defeat or that you are a failure. You are admitting you are stronger than you ever thought possible.
Learn mindfulness, a wonderful tool to help you find yourself, your balance and your Serenity again.
Stop enabling the addict. Learn to say no! No is a full sentence and a full statement So you never have to explain yourself. This is where the 12 step programs come in they teach you how to detach with love and to stop enabling the addicts.
You may have to seek legal advice if the addict is or has put you into debt.
Helping others is good, is it not?
There is no problem with helping others, it can be a very rewarding thing to do. But finding a balance between helping others and being codependent is hard. You have to learn how to look after yourself first. Put healthy boundaries in place and then you can help other from a much more loving and caring place.
We offer counselling services for co-dependency. If you need help we are there for you please call 089 4373641 for an appointment.
www.amen.ie (DV against men)