P repared by John Kreiser – BSW-RSW – Family Counsellor – Catholic Family Services – Prince Albert
Historically the concept of codependency emerged from the chemical dependency field.
It described a range of behaviors utilized by the spouse of the alcoholic who was attempting to cope with an alcoholic partner. Later on this term was expanded to include the effects of living with and/ or adapting to a person who was exhibiting dysfunctional behaviors such as gambling, other addictions and mental health disorders.
Today we have begun to understand this concept in much broader more expansive terms particularly in how we view relationships and coping with life, especially life events that are out of our control. Most of the content in this article will be based on the works of Melody Beatty who has done much work in this field. Especially her latest book – “The New Codependency.”
What is co-dependency?
A term that has certainly become over used and highly over generalized. The definition borrowed from Melody Beatty is as follows, “One who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” I would further add to this definition by saying, “to the extent that there is loss of authentic self.”
Although obsessing and controlling are indeed good places to start, there is much more to codependency. Codependency is about crossing lines and boundaries. One way to examine the characteristics of codependency is to look at the concept of caretaking, that is when well intentioned “caring” progresses into” caretaking” or when” caring” becomes “carrying.”
Some examples of care-taking:
- Doing what isn’t our responsibility and what we don’t want to do.
- Doing what other people are capable of doing and need to do for themselves.
- Meeting other people’s needs before they ask us to for help.
- Getting involved in what isn’t our business. (My job/ Your job) and God’s job.
- Doing more than our share when someone asks us for help.
- Forcing our help on people, when they don’t want it.
- Giving more then we receive, instead of mutual reciprocity.
- Taking care of other people’s feelings or problems and thus neglecting our own.
- Facing or protecting people from their consequences.
- Not asking for what we need.
- Taking care of other people’s feelings as a substitute for taking care of our own emotions and needs or unresolved issues.
- Giving that attaches ourselves to others,” needy giving.”
- Making excuses for others, but not understanding ourselves.
- Not standing up for our rights, but advocating for the rights of others.
- Not getting paid what we are worth.
- Compulsively caretaking and not knowing how or when to stop.
Boundaries set the limits of love. Boundaries also come from speaking our truth. Boundaries help us to not over extend ourselves. This means we must truly know ourselves. What we want, need, value and prefer.
Some Barriers to setting these boundaries include:
- Not knowing our feelings and repressing old “painful” feelings
- Dependency on people – fear of abandonment and rejection
- Childhood abuse or having our boundaries violated as children
- Not understanding our rights and limits
- Poor parental role modeling
- Low self –esteem , shame and guilt
- Poor communication skills
- People pleasing
- Codependent caretaking
Boundaries are not just something we want to get or something we will not tolerate. Boundaries come from an honest expression of what is inside of us. This is what we truly value and believe in namely expressing our “authentic self” In the context of relationship. So part of this puzzle is truly knowing what we want and value. The next step of course is the courage to express what we need and want. This request will hopefully lead to a respectful process of negotiation.
We begin to set healthy boundaries when:
- We’re done saying “Yes” when we really mean “No.”
- Hurtful , disrespectful behavior must stop
- We’re ready to say how we feel, even if the other person doesn’t want to hear it.
- We’re willing to part ways unless we have equal rights in a relationship
- Reminding people that they owe us money and not feeling guilty or awkward about it.
- We’re done letting someone drive us crazy
- The pain of living with someone is greater than the pain of living alone
- We will go to the police or court instead of allowing injustice and abuse to continue.
When we are ready to set boundaries, we begin to communicate in the following ways:
- What we’ll do if people don’t stop treating us in a particular way
- What people can or cannot do around us in our personal space
- How far we will go for some one
- How far other people can go for us
- What we will or will not tolerate
- Saying “No” when that is our answer and “Yes “when we mean it.
- Saying “Maybe” when we don’t know.
- What we will do or won’t do if people do not respect our boundaries
If you are able to identify with this article and believe that codependency is affecting your life in a harmful way then it would be wise to seek counselling or attend an Al-anon or CODA meeting.
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