Co-dependency is a condition that results in a dysfunctional relationship between the co-dependent and other people. Co-dependency or co-dependence is a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively caretaking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life. A co-dependent is addicted to helping someone, often involving putting one’s needs at a lower priority than others while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. People with co-dependency are more likely to attract further abuse from aggressive individuals, more likely to stay in stressful jobs or relationships, less likely to seek medical attention when needed and are also less likely to get promotions and tend to earn less money than those without co-dependency patterns. This ‘addiction’ is sometimes so strong, the co-dependent will cause the other person to continue to be needy. This behaviour is called enabling, but what has it got to do with drug or alcohol abuse?
The definition of enabling is to ‘make able; give power, means, competence or ability to; authorise, to make possible or easy’. In our case behaviours by carers, friends and family members allow Loved Ones with substance use problems to avoid the negative (yes negative) consequences that may accompany their actions associated with their addiction. There are many ways in which this behaviour can manifest. In addition, enabling behaviour can be instigated by various individuals including; parents, siblings, co-workers, supervisors, neighbours, friends, teachers and even therapists.
Typical examples of an enabler would be to purposefully overlook someone abusing a child, calling in sick for someone suffering from addiction, putting roadblocks to prevent their child from becoming independent, or even keeping a sick family member from getting the treatment that would make them well. These are behaviours common to co-dependents. A co-dependent often suffers from a ‘Messiah Complex’ where they see problems with everyone and see themselves as the only person who can help. Here is where I need to work…trying to be ‘Mr. Fixit’ for everyone…even those who don’t feel they need anything fixed (needing to be needed). A co-dependent counsellor (common) will never think your sessions are done. In fact, they often create issues that weren’t there in the first place just so they can continue to feel they’re an important, no, essential part of your life.
In our case the benefits of enabling are twofold: our Loved One who is using substances can continue the behaviour they want and secondly, the enabler does not have to acknowledge that anything is wrong. This action however, is a short term solution to a long term problem. Long term, enabling drug abuse behaviour leads to unhappiness for the enabler and the further deterioration of the individual substance user.
Take this test to find out if you’re helping people who need help or you need people to help:
- Do you feel demeaned, hurt or offended when someone you love tells you they don’t need your help?
- In the last year, has anyone resorted to arguing, begging or raising their voice to get you to stop trying to help them?
- If you had plenty of money and your Loved One asked you for money to help with their necessary expenses (food, rent, clothes, bills), would you give them the money?
- When someone shares a life or relationship problem with you, but doesn’t ask for help, do you offer help or advice, anyway?
- When you survey your relationships, do you find yourself surrounded by mostly people who need you?
- Do you ever find yourself making excuses for the people in your life?
- Do you avoid confronting your Loved One about their addiction?
- Do you measure your self-esteem by how much someone depends on you?
- Do you ever remind people where they would be without you?
If you answered ‘yes’ to some of the above questions we are not going tell you what to do but may suggest talking to a friend about it and reading a few books on the subject, or even asking your friend to attend an alanon, narconon or co-dependents anonymous meeting with you. Or are you in denial?
Part of enabling behaviour is the concept of denial. Denial is when family and friends refuse to recognise or refuse to admit to a problem. This does not only refer to substance abuse, denial is a defence mechanism that is utilised when an individual finds the truth of a situation too difficult to deal with. In this case, denial of substance abuse behaviour can mean that family and friends do not recognise how the behaviour is affecting work, school, relationships, or causing financial problems.
Most striking in the denial phenomenon is the enabler’s refusal to acknowledge the deterioration of the relationship he or she has with the substance abuser. In fact, quite often the denial mechanism will continue until it no longer can. Meaning, until something horrific occurs; the individual may refuse to acknowledge the problem.
Many co-dependents, like other addicts, blame the people around them for their problem, or, more accurately, use them to deny their problem. ‘I’m not codependent, I just love them so much.’ ‘It’s just that they need so much help.’ ‘They couldn’t get along without me.’ Let’s face the facts…the needy people in your life need to learn to take care of themselves, take responsibility for their own problems and begin to solve them. If you’d stop bailing them out, they’d learn to handle life’s challenges, themselves. So, actually, you’re hurting them! (we’re not talking about a rare emergency situation…we’re talking about a lifestyle of neediness.) I remember how upset I was when, in my early 20’s, my mother told me to get a job and move out of her house. It was the best thing she could have done for me. I resented her for at least 5 years. If you can be as strong as my Mom with the habitually needy around you, you’re not co-dependent. Co-dependency, like any other addiction, is caused by a feeling of emptiness…a low self-esteem. Instead of a drug, a co-dependent uses the needs of others to make themselves feel whole. That’s why no one around them is allowed to recover…the co-dependent wouldn’t be needed.
Cure For Co-dependency
The only cures for co-dependency requires finding the genuine, healthy sources for a positive self-esteem, to replace the negative ones. You also have to learn how to ‘wean’ your needy people off of your help. This is a dysfunctional relationship, and often results in the ‘needy’ person abandoning the codependent. Although very painful, this is better for both people…forcing them to find better sources of fulfilment. It’s good for the co-dependent to find productive and fulfilling activities that don’t involve satisfying needy people. This can be done with sporting activities, art, school, etc. There are many ways to be productive without attachment to a chronically needy person.