Codependency is a type of relationship where one person care-takes or otherwise allows another person to continue in some kind of dysfunctional behavior, like addiction or underachieving. People who are codependent often enable a loved one’s behavior by shielding them from the consequences of addiction: giving them money, bailing them out of jail, covering up for their absences, keeping secrets, etc.
One common symptom of a codependent relationship is difficulty with boundaries, meaning that people see themselves as responsible for each other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. This means that when the other person is feeling upset, someone who is codependent may feel that it’s their fault. People who are codependent often feel guilty, like the other person “needs” them, and so they structure their life around that person, sometimes at the expense of their own needs.
They may try to people-please, or on the flip side to control the other person’s behavior. Codependent relationship patterns serve to maintain the status quo: the sick person is in the sick role, and the other person can stay as the caretaker, with both individuals feeling they need each other. If this sounds familiar to you, there is hope! Community meetings such as Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, or SMART Friends and Family can help.
At AToN, we also can help people to identify when they are in a codependent relationship and our family session can be a time to practice setting boundaries, and committing to avoid enabling. Codependency is something that can change, but it is a process. AToN can be a place to start!
Kirsten Helgager, PsyD
AToN Center 888-535-1516