The term codependency is one with a meaning that is debatable in psychology. Official guides, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, do not recognize codependent personality disorder as a true psychological disorder, but in many practical ways, it does exist. The problem is that so many of us display characteristics of codependency that we might all be diagnosed. The term codependency was first used to describe the unhealthy relationship between an alcoholic and his or her spouse. Codependency is a real phenomenon, and it is particularly dangerous when connected to addiction.
What Is Codependent Disorder?
Sometimes, codependency is referred to as simply being a part of a dysfunctional relationship or family. In this case, it applies to a number of people. Originally, codependency referred to alcoholics and their partners. The alcoholic has a bad habit, and the spouse or partner responds in a manner that is called codependency. The partner adapts and copes with the stress of dealing with drug addiction by caring for and enabling the addict, and it goes on.
Codependency in the partner or spouse (or even child or parent) of an addict is characterized by several traits. The codependent person typically has low self-esteem. He or she feels a need to be a caretaker and always wants to please people. Codependents have a hard time with personal boundaries and react with great sensitivity to what other people say or feel about them. Codependents feel a strong need to be in control; they obsess about other people and their relationships. And, as the term suggests, they depend on others for their sense of self-worth.
Codependents and Addicts
Codependency is a common reaction to loving a drug addict or alcoholic. The codependent often has low self-esteem because she feels responsible for the addict’s problem. She wants to take care of her loved one and make sure he is always happy. This particular trait of codependency is dangerous in relation to addiction. It means that the codependent enables the addict, which is not healthy for either person. When one person enables an addict, it makes it harder for him to admit to having a problem and to get help. Both people in a codependent relationship are in denial about the addiction.
A codependent in a relationship with an addict responds to the stress of addiction by trying to take control. Being in control makes the codependent feel safe in the face of the uncertainty of addiction. She may be bossy and take charge in most situations because it gives her that sense of control that is otherwise lacking. Finally, when a codependent is in a relationship with an addict, she gets everything she needs from him. She depends on him for her emotional needs, for her sense of self-worth, and for her need to care for someone.
Codependency by itself is an unhealthy aspect of many relationships. When it is combined with addiction, it takes on even greater significance and risk for the codependent person and the people in the family.