Do you find yourself trying to control others because you think you know what’s best for them?
Codependency is a pattern of trying to control others for their own good, usually without permission, which ends up being bad for yourself and for your relationship.
It’s a learned pattern of behavior in families that can be transmitted from one generation to another. Codependent people are usually trying to help someone, particularly someone with a substance use disorder or other compulsive behavior.
Feelings and Beliefs
The patterns of codependency are rooted in the following feelings and beliefs:
- The desire to help a loved one who’s suffering.
- A sense of responsibility, which is usually caused by feeling that something needs to be done and no one else is doing it.
- A belief that the person with a substance use disorder is not capable of getting along without the codependent person.
- A belief that it is important to protect the family, the couple and/or the other person by hiding problems.
- A belief that the codependent person can change the identified “problem” person and a sense of having both the right and duty to do so.
- A feeling that the codependent person has no right to say no or withhold help.
- The codependent person bases his or her self-esteem on doing things for others.
- The codependent person experiences a feeling of superiority and strength when he or she rescues others or cleans up after them.
Typical codependent behaviors include:
- Enabling/rescuing: Rescuing others from the consequences of their addiction or behavior.
- Over responsibility and martyrdom: Taking on the thoughts and feelings of others, then feeling victimized by the problems that others create.
- Manipulation and control: A result of feeling responsible for others is a tendency to try to control their behavior, either without letting them know (manipulation) or by direct command (control).
- Parentification of children: Children in these families tend to grow up early, especially older children, and often take on the responsibilities of the adults.
- Isolation and family secrets: A belief that the family’s image should be protected by restricting contacts with outsiders and teaching children to keep problems in the family, even when it’s obvious that the family needs help.
- Denial and no-talk rules: Within the family, many subjects are off limits, which leads the codependent person to refuse to acknowledge even obvious problems.
- Resentment and self-pity: Because the codependent person is doing so much for others (whether they want the help or not) and feels unappreciated, he or she often comes to feel burned out, resentful and self-pitying.
Codependent behavior is usually based on good intentions but can cause great harm by delaying and undermining a person’s recovery or progress, and by damaging relationships.
Benefits of Treatment
Treatment for codependency enables one to establish healthier personal and social boundaries. Treatment aids in addressing past emotional wounds, fear, resentment, shame and other family-of-origin issues. Treatment of codependency helps one improve a poor self-image and foster healthier relationships with one’s self and others.
If you recognize some of the behaviors and feelings in yourself, help is available.
You can attend a local Codependents Anonymous meeting like the one found at www.greaterhoustoncoda.org
or you can reach out to the therapists at the Bellaire, Texas, location of Menninger’s Outpatient Services. They can help you understand your behaviors and find new, healthier ways of interacting with family, friends and colleagues.
James Sargent, LCDC, is a former addictions counselor at Menninger's Outpatient Services location in Bellaire.
Blog References: James R. Finley and Brenda S. Lenz