By Beckah Boyd
The word co-dependent is often used to describe a family member or friend of a chemically dependent person such as an alcoholic or methamphetamine addict and a byproduct of that relationship. However new studies are becoming known that show co-dependency is an addiction all on its own. What is being brought to light is that the bulk of people on the planet are in fact co-dependent in some form. We are addicted to being needed. This is also known as the enabler personality.
Co-Dependence The Addiction
How is co-dependency a disease or illness? Well we quantify a disease as having three parts an onset, a definitive course, and a predictable outcome. This holds true for the enabler. The onset is the point in which the enabler realizes their life is just not working due to their co-dependency. The definitive course is when the co-dependent personality continues to deteriorate both mentally, spiritually, physically and psychologically. The predictable outcome is death. There are in fact many physical complications caused by this disease some of which are gastrointestinal issues, ulcers, high blood pressure, headaches, backaches, respiratory issues, heart problems, and even for some cancer. They also develop their own addictions such as eating disorders, workaholic, and overspending. Statistically co-dependents often die sooner than their chemically dependent counter parts.
Many therapists still attribute co-dependency to alcoholism; however, a few of them that come out of a family therapy background have acknowledged that co-dependents need to treatment on their own as if they had a disease themselves. Such as Robert Subby who defines co-dependence as
“an emotional, psychological and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules – rules which prevent the open expression of feeling as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.”
Signs of a Co-dependent Personality
1. Relationship addiction ~ they have no sense of self or feel they are of value and so they must continually be in an intimate relationship to feel that “high” much like an alcoholic with liquor. When in a relationship they typically turn into a chameleon being whatever that person needs them to be in order to gain acceptance and some form of value.
2. Lack of Boundaries ~ as part in parcel with their chameleon behavior co-dependents have a habit of lacking emotional boundaries. They will often feel whatever the person around them is feeling. Say you have a friend who is wicked pissed off at someone else, you do not even know this person. Yet for some reason you begin to get very pissed with them yourself. Even after you leave, you are still thinking about it, fuming mad. This is a lack of boundaries. It is not your right to get pissed at someone you do not even know and yet you take the offense as if it is done to you. With a co-dependent, it is as if the person does not know where they end and the other begins. Whatever their partner’s problems are become theirs. This can go both ways if both partners are co-dependents.
3. Value is placed on what people think of them ~ Pretty self-explanatory. They will apologize for things they cannot control, a co-dependents goal is to figure out what a person wants and to give it to them. They develop remarkable abilities when it comes to reading people’s wants and needs. So that they can project that image of what the person desires.
4. Indispensible ~ co-dependents really feel that people would not want them around if they were not giving something so their goal is to make themselves indispensible. Usually they take the approach of “if I do this for you, then you can’t get rid of me.” either giving gifts, doing favors or care taking in one form or another.
5. What Do You Think? ~ is a question that you will often hear from a co-dependent. They do not believe or trust enough in their own perceptions and so must go to many other sources in order to have their opinion validated. If it is not then they will change to the opinion of whoever is around them at the time hoping that the agreement will in fact make a positive impression on the other person.
6. Center of The Universe ~ co-dependents are self-centered but in a much different way. If there is a problem, they will bring it back to them as if it is their fault. “You look angry. What did I do?” is often heard coming from the co-dependent. An enabler personality gives a sense of selflessness, however it is the exact opposite of that which they take pride in. They are often seen meddling in other people’s business this again harkens back to their lack of boundaries. They like to create dramas where they are the hero and can come to the rescue. They come from the belief that they can and should be able to fix any issue which arises.
7. Emotional Walls ~ due to a co-dependent’s need to help and take care of others they neglect themselves, which in turn causes them to become out of touch with their own feelings. When a feeling does emerge, it is often in an intense and explosive way that the people around them will feel. They will then go about trying to “fix” the damage done and rebuild their image. They have become so out of touch with their feelings that oftentimes they cannot determine their own wants and needs when left to their own devices.
8. A Liar ~ Most people lie to get themselves out of trouble and a co-dependent is not much different. They lie to others to get themselves out of uncomfortable situations, or out of confrontations, they also lie to themselves when it comes to their feelings. The lies that a co-dependent will tell us are “with our best interests in mind” they are the lies that they tell to keep us from “being hurt”. For example a friend of mine who is a co-dependent went to her usual nail appointment except instead of getting the design she wanted they put something else completely. Instead of saying right there that there was an issue she said she loved it. She then booked another appointment at a different nail place and had them redone. Her excuse when she went back to her regular nail technician was that her sister had bought a gift certificate to this new nail place and so she had decided to use it because it was going to expire in three days. She then went on to tell the technician how she did not like the new place’s nail techs as much as she liked her regular place. What was the point? To try to avoid hurting any feelings, not that the nail technician would’ve cared they were getting paid either way.
9. Fear of Abandonment ~ the co-dependent personality needs to be involved in every aspect of their significant other’s life. If they are not the co-dependent perceives it as abandonment.
10. Control and Judgment ~ one thing that the co-dependent craves is control, this disease arises from a deep seeded fear. They build an illusion around themselves and try to control all of the variables to keep that illusion in place. When they begin to realize their lack of control, it actually can cause the co-dependent to lash out and become more judgmental. Our society is continually justifying judgements so it is sometimes hard to spot when it comes to this disease.
These are just ten of the many signs of co-dependence. It is a disease, before turning to a typical therapist you may want to read a little bit more about it. One wonderful book written by Anne Wilson Schaef (an internationally known psychotherapist), entitled Co-Dependence Misunderstood-Mistreated available through Harper and Row.
[photo by: tutu55]