Consequences of Codependency

Identifying codependency and finding help for the helper.

The term "codependent" is traditionally used as an adjective to describe the family members and other loved ones of a chemically dependent person; however, studies show that that codependency is often considered an addiction in itself.

Psychologist Robert Subby defines codependence as "…an emotional, psychological and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individuals 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."

Unresolved codependency can lead to serious problems like drug addiction, alcoholism and eating disorders. Codependents are also less likely to seek needed medical care and more likely to remain in stressful situations. Resulting social insecurity can progress into social anxiety and stress-related disorders such as depression. Physical ramifications of codependency run the gamut from ulcers, high blood pressure, headaches, respiratory issues and heart problems.

Mary Gordon, director of the Betty Ford Center family and outpatient programs, welcomes codependents into the Family Program every week of the year. She said the most widespread misconception about the program is that it will teach family members how to take care of the alcoholic/addict after primary treatment ends.

"Instead, we provide education about family recovery and gently let the family members know they need to take care of their own needs, first and foremost," said Ms. Gordon.

Following are excerpts from a lengthy list of codependent characteristics compiled by Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself:

  • Think and feel responsible for other people—for other people's feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being, lack of well-being and ultimate destiny.
  • Feel compelled—almost forced—to help that person solve the problem, such as offering unwanted advice, giving rapid-fire series of suggestions, or fixing feelings.
  • Find themselves saying yes when they mean no, doing things they don't really want to be doing, doing more than their fair share of the work, and doing things other people are capable of doing for themselves.
  • Find it easier to feel and express anger about injustices done to others, rather than injustices done to themselves.
  • Find themselves attracted to needy people.
  • Feel angry, victimized, unappreciated and used.
  • Come from troubled, repressed, or dysfunctional families.
  • Blame themselves for everything.
  • Reject compliments or praise.
  • Think they're not quite good enough.
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