What is Codependency?

Codependency is an addictive process, a disorder just like any other addiction.  Codependency can be described as a dysfunctional pattern of living in which one overreacts to things going on outside of oneself and under reacts to what is going on inside of oneself.  Codependency may involve compulsive behaviors and dependence upon approval from others in order to achieve a sense of safety, identity, and self‐esteem.  Codependents may put all their efforts into those around them, neglecting to fully take care of themselves, especially emotionally.  Codependency is a disorder that, if left untreated, can lead to other addictions such as eating disorders, substance dependence, work‐ a‐holism and compulsive spending. As a general rule of thumb, those who are substance dependent (addicts) are usually codependent, and those who are in the family system of the addict (close relations and family members) are usually codependent. Timmen Cermak, M.D., suggests that co‐dependency is a personality disorder.  His reason is that when specific personality traits become excessive and maladaptive and cause significant impairment in functioning or cause significant distress, this warrants a personality disorder diagnosis.

Dr. Cermak, T.L. “Diagnosing and Treating Co‐Dependence.” Minneapolis, MN: Johnson Institute, (1986). proposes the following diagnostic criteria for this disorder:

1) Continued investment of self‐esteem in the ability to control both oneself and others in the face of serious adverse consequences.

2) Assumption of responsibility for meeting others’ needs to the exclusion of acknowledging one’s own.

3) Anxiety and boundary distortions around intimacy and separation.

4) Enmeshment in relationships with personality disordered, chemically dependent, other co‐ dependent, and/or impulse‐disordered individuals.

5) Three or more of the following:

  1. a) Excessive reliance on denial
  2. b) Constriction of emotions (with or without dramatic outbursts)
  3. c) Depression
  4. d) Hyper vigilance
  5. e) Compulsions
  6. f) Anxiety
  7. g) Substance Abuse
  8. h) Has been (or is) the victim of recurrent physical or sexual abuse
  9. i) Stress‐related medical illnesses
  10. j) Has remained in a primary relationship with an active substance abuser for at least two years without seeking outside help

Codependency is more easily identified by looking at typical codependent traits.

  1. Concealing behavior of the addict
  2. Efforts to confront the addict with his or her   problem
  3. Intense mood swings from high to low
  4. Overlooking the addict’s behavior
  5. Protecting the addict from consequences of their behavior
  6. Distrust of those outside the family because of the addict
  7. Attempts to catch or trap the addict
  8. Efforts to exact promises from the addict
  9. Feelings of responsibility for the addict’s behavior
  10. Fantasizing and obsessing about the addict’s problem
  11. Feelings of depression and remorse
  12. Loss of friendships
  13. Secret pacts with other family members
  14. Distrust of each other within the family
  15. Growing self‐doubt and fear
  16. Accidents, illness, or injury due to the stress of addiction in their life
  17. Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  18. Loss of time on the job
  19. Growing resentments and disappointments
  20. Engaging in self‐defeating or degrading behaviors
  21. Taking over of duties and responsibilities of the addict in an effort to keep family life “normal”
  22. Feeling superior to the addict
  23. Creating alibis, excuses and justifications to others
  24. Denial of the obvious
  25. Rationalizing the addict’s behavior
  26. Self‐righteous criticism and judgment of the   addict
  27. Belief that if the addict changed, all problems would disappear
  28. Threatening the addict
  29. Strategies to control sexual activity of the addict
  30. Being sexual with the addict to prevent the addict from being sexual with others
  31. Neglect of spiritual pursuits including prayer and meditation
  32. Suicidal attempts or thoughts
  33. Deterioration of family pride
  34. Feeling distant from other family members
  35. Loss of self‐esteem or self‐respect
  36. Feeling unique and/or alone
  37. Efforts to control family expenditures with increasing failure to do so
  38. Unusual dreams
  39. Decreased ability to work or function
  40. Increasing financial problems
  41. Overextension and over‐involvement in work or outside activities
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