Codependency describes the characteristics of an individual who lacks a firm sense of identity and tends to obtain a sense of self through interactions with other people. Some of these characteristics include rescuing others, controlling others, lack of boundaries with others, the inability to be assertive with others, difficulty recognizing one's own wants and/or needs, and so forth.
A codependent individual tends to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact that person's relationships and quality of life. It also often involves putting one's needs at a lower priority than others while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. Codependency can occur in any type of relationship, including in families, at the work place, with friends, and also in romantic, peer or community relationships. Codependency may be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, and/or control patterns.
Codependency was originally defined in the late 1970s and early 1980s to help families and spouses of individuals with alcohol and drug problems. The model addressed family members, especially wives and mothers, who inadvertently interfered with the recovery. It was suggested that their behavior made it easier for the addict to continue drinking or using drugs. The basic premise was that the caring or nurturing behavior manifested by family members and spouses actually enabled the addict to continue using.
Q: How would I know if I suffer from codependency?
A: The best solution is to speak to your doctor or a mental health professional. To give you a frame of reference if you are unsure about which questions to ask, there are numerous sites on the World Wide Web that offer diagnostic questionnaires.
Q: Once diagnosed, can I be cured of codependency?
A: As with other diseases, a period of remission is possible. Continual therapeutic treatment combined with the training of family and friends may prevent reoccurrences.
Most therapeutic approaches to codependency are based on the 12-step program pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous and adapted by many other groups dealing with addictions—including Caron. Caron’s treatment programs stress awareness as the first step in recovery; the second step is acceptance, both of which need to occur in a supportive group setting. Codependency is treated as an addiction, since codependents have as much difficulty accepting their powerlessness over people and events as substance abusers do over their drug of choice.