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Codependency: A Destructive Path

What is codependency?  Codependency is a behavior that is learned over time often by watching others exhibit it.  It is typically associated with a dysfunctional pattern of living and poor problem solving skills developed early in life.  It can be passed down from one generation to the next.  Codependency effects a person’s life in many ways.  The codependent person has difficulty being truly happy in relationships.  Jobs may be difficult to manage, marriages may be strained and relationships in general may leave you feeling unfulfilled and can have a destructive nature to them.  Many people learn this behavior simply by watching other members of their family demonstrate them.  It is, for the most part, learned behavior.  But what can be done can be undone.
The main factor that contributes to a codependent individual is a dysfunctional family life.  This may or may not mean that one or more family members have substance use problems.  Those who also suffer from mental health problems may be more likely to develop the characteristics of codependent behavior.  There are many people who simply think that every family is dysfunctional in one way or another.  It is true that many family groups are far from perfect, but a dysfunctional family may show one or more of the following traits:

  • Addiction.  This can be an addiction to anything:  including drugs, alcohol, sex or gambling. 
  • Abuse.  This can be physical abuse, emotional and/or verbal abuse.
  • Chronic illness.  Both mental and physical illnesses can play a part in a dysfunctional family


The majority of families with these major issues do not want to acknowledge that these problems are present.  Without a way to work through these issues, everyone bottles up their feelings and the behaviors of codependency kick-in.  The person(s) with codependency tendencies often place their own needs second to those they are busy taking care of. 

Codependent individuals tend to avoid their feelings and may have a general sense of low self-esteem.  That is how addiction can often comes into play.  It is something tangible that makes them feel better.  It helps them feel like a person.  They indulge in activities like drinking alcohol and drug using, hoping to find their peace.  A recovery center never occurs to them, because they do not want to be sober.  They were sober before and found it to be nothing but misery and self-loathing. Abusing drugs and/or alcohol makes them feel human and dulls the pain of the real world.  Self-esteem building exercises and well-being therapies are an important part of drug rehabilitation.  Vista Taos, a  Recovery Center in New Mexico, incorporates self-esteem building work into their program. 

Individuals who experience codependency usually live with the difficult task of taking care of someone else.  It can be a draining situation.  They may feel or act like a martyr.  They do what they can to protect the person they are caring for.  A codependent wife will make excuses to cover her husband’s addiction to alcohol.  A codependent husband will cover for his wife who has a gambling problem.  They have good intentions.  The problem is that the cycle of addiction and codependency continues as long as everyone is stuck in it.  It is a broken record.  A recovery center can help families to identify and address the problem of codependence.

Without treatment, the codependent person finds comfort in being the victim.  He /she may begin to seek out other relationships that are similar.    Somehow, these types of relationships become attractive.  Love and pity become entwined as one.  However, there is a way to break the cycle.

The codependent person cannot expect to change everyone involved in the damaging relationships around them.  Instead, they need to consider change for themselves.  A recovery center can help them find their path to  independence and a healthier lifestyle.  They do not need to make excuses for those that “need” them.  In fact, once a person has started this type of therapy, the person they often aided will find that they can no longer use them as a crutch to depend on.    It is a good thing to take that first step and move beyond the constraints of a codependent relationship. 

Codependency is like a drug and should be treated like an addiction.  When a person who suffers from these behaviors turn to drugs or alcohol to ease their pain, they should never think that drug rehabilitation is not an option.  Since it was a learned behavior to begin with, it can be addressed and re-education can begin.    

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