Codependency: The Most Basic Addiction
Tab Ballis LCSW, CCAS
Robert Subby, who has written and lectured extensively on mental health and addiction, observes that :
“Codependency is an emotional, behavioral, and psychological pattern of coping which develops as a result of prolonged exposure to and practice of a dysfunctional set of family rules. In turn, these rules make difficult or impossible the open expression of thoughts and feelings. Normal identity development is thereby interrupted; codependency is the reflection of a delayed identity development.”
Though originally defined as a predictable response for the partner of a person suffering from chemical dependency, codependency is now recognized as a maladaptive strategy that people typically utilize, in their efforts to cope with a wide range of life stressors. Codependency is, essentially, an addiction to another person; the compulsive need to control that part of their life that is out-of-control. It has been said that “When a codependent dies, someone else’s life flashes before their eyes!”
The family origins of codependency are varied, including substance abuse, mental illness, childhood abuse and neglect, and chronic physical and psychological trauma.
Regardless of the nature of the family stressor, the adaptiveresponse for a child is to focus on the inconsistencies of their environment, rather than their own needs and feelings…reacting instead of acting.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) theory is useful in defining codependency, with its emphasis on sensory triggering of traumatic response, and the suspension of emotion, in favor of action.
The “inner child” model focuses on the pathological power of “shame” to convert unvalidated childhood needs into codependent relationships and compulsive behaviors.
Codependent adults bring their family-of-origin survival skills into their personal and professional relationships, where they only serve to perpetuate the all-too-familiar dramas of childhood.
Characteristics of codependency include the following:
- Difficulty identifying and communicating emotions
- Confusion with roles and rules in personal and professional relationships
- Discomfort in setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with others
- Extremes of trust and control in interactions with others
- Compulsive need for approval and affirmation
- Avoidance or pursuit of conflict
Visible symptoms of codependency may include stress-related illnesses, depression, anxiety, rigidity, and a pattern of dysfunctional relationships.
Codependency can manifest as occupational instability, and it may also produce secondary addictive and compulsive behaviors.
Effective treatment of codependency begins with the alleviation of current physical and psychological symptoms, while broadening and strengthening the support system. However, long-term remediation of codependency requires the identification of dysfunctional coping strategies that have persisted from childhood, as well as the recognition and acceptance of healthier choices. Support groups, such as Alanon, and Codependents Anonymous, are effective resources for addressing codependency, as is psychotherapy. Some excellent books on codependency are available as well, including “Codependent No More”, by Melody Beatty.
Tab Ballis is a licensed clinical substance abuse counselor in private practice in Wilmington.
For more information on Codependency:
Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc.
1600 Corporate Landing Parkway
Virginia Beach, VA 23454-5617
Phone: (757) 563-1600
Fellowship Services Office (FSO)
PO Box 33577
Phoenix, AZ 85067-3577