By the time she was 13, Melody Beattie from Minnesota was an alcoholic. Five years later she was a drug addict too.
A few years later, she managed to quit drinking and drugs. But she got together with and married a man who drank a lot – and that caused her a great deal of pain.
Then, while at a recovery center where she worked she started helping a lot of partners of alcoholics and addicts. She realized something vital to her own continued recovery and growth – and subsequently to tens of thousands of others too.
Beattie realized through these partners she was helping that the pain she still felt was not due to her husband’s drinking. It was her issue.
While everyone feels a certain responsibility for their partner and their emotions, it’s not healthy when someone’s identity is dependent upon someone else.
So Beattie’s husband needed support because of his addiction to alcohol. But she could now see that she had excessive emotional dependence on him.
That made her “codependent”. It’s a word that’s thought to have been first used at meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Someone who is codependent is a person with an excessive emotional and/or psychological reliance on a partner. It is typically a partner who needs continual support due to an addiction or chronic illness.
It’s also known as a “relationship addiction”. This is because someone who’s codependent has relationships that are frequently abusive, always one-sided and emotionally damaging – and yet they cannot seem to quit the unhealthy relationship.
This fits the description of any addiction: being unable to quit something that is detrimental to the person and/or others around them.
Anything that changes the way a person feels is something that a person can become addicted to, if they don’t like how they feel most of the time. That is, if they feel compelled to change the way they feel, but need something external to do so.
Or in the case of codependency they need someone.
When Beattie, now aged 73, had her book Codependent No More: How To Stop Controlling Others And Start Caring For Yourself published in 1986 the world at large first heard and began to understand codependency. That book remains one of the bestselling recovery books to this day.
Concept of codependency
Codependent No More gave people the knowledge that being addicted to a person or a particular sort of relationship was something to look out for in relationships.
Beattie defined a codependent person as someone who has allowed another person’s behavior to affect them. This is specifically their emotions.
So what happens is they become addicted to controlling the person’s behavior. They become obsessed with this.
Codependency is also when someone is an enabler. They enable another person to carry on living in a dysfunctional manner.
The reason is because the codependent person is using the other person to give them approval and their sense of self. Codependent people were often not given the love and approval they needed as a child.
It may look initially like love, but look more closely with trained eyes and it can be seen it’s much more about trying to be in control.
Codependency is often a learned behavior from the codependent’s parents. Then, codependency gets handed down from one generation to the next.
Six major signs of codependency in a relationship
1. A codependent partner will hardly ever complain.
This is even though they will do much more than their share. In fact they are always over-helping and frequently take over their partner’s duties and responsibilities. They will do whatever is asked of them, whenever it is asked. They are the ultimate partner-pleasers and carry on partner-pleasing, even when they are resentful and can no longer recognize their own wants and needs.
2. A codependent person always has to be in a relationship.
They are especially attracted to broken, addicted, under-functioning and/or troubled people. They will seek to change these people and attempt to fix their great number of problems. But these are continual, ever-increasing and beyond one person’s ability to fix. A codependent person will get a sense of meaning through a huge amount of self-sacrifice to meet the relentless needs of their partner. A codependent cannot keep any healthy boundaries, even if they knew what those actually were. So they feel pity for the other person, even if that person is actually hurting them in some way.
3. Approval is more important to a codependent than having any shred of self-respect.
They need other people to like them in order to feel adequate. So they will continually be checking with the other person to seek their approval. They will need their partner’s permission to do almost everything. There is most often a feeling that they’ve lost any sense of self that they might have once had. A codependent hates and is fearful of conflict and confrontation. So they always feel as if they are walking on eggshells in their relationship.
4. Codependents are scared of making any mistake or ever being wrong in any way.
Consequently, they demand of themselves to do everything perfectly. It means doing everything and anything that their partner asks or demands or wants or needs – even when it makes them feel very disagreeable or unbearable. They also never have any time left for themselves, such as doing a hobby they enjoy. Their only hobby becomes doing everything for their partner.
5. A codependent person will focus on all of their mistakes.
The more they focus the larger a mistake grows. It can seem as if all they are ever doing is saying “sorry”. Even when their partner criticizes them for saying sorry and asks them to stop it, they say “sorry” again. Then, even if they have done nothing wrong, and even if it was their partner who’d made a mistake – they just can’t seem to help themselves from apologizing.
6. One of a codependent person’s worst fears is abandonment.
So a codependent will do absolutely anything to avoid being rejected or abandoned. It is perhaps one reason they are attracted to and seem to attract someone looking for someone to take care of them. It makes them feel needed and less likely to be abandoned. The codependent thinks: “This person could never survive without me.” But they will give their everything and more to that person at the expense of their own emotional, mental and physical well-being. Even when they can clearly see unhealthy and damaging behaviors in their partner, they just cannot seem to leave.
Our experienced therapists know exactly how to help a codependent person. This means learning how to build up self-esteem again.
It also means being capable of standing up for yourself if someone tries to control you, threatens or criticizes. It means learning how to give yourself healthy boundaries, such as saying no when you need to say no.
Treatment for codependency often needs a look back at childhood issues to see their connection to current unhealthy behavior patterns. This can involve finding and dealing with some deeply buried feelings of loss, anger and hurt.