A Quick Look at Codependency

Image of parents arguing and daughter covering her ears.
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A reader recently asked me if this blog has any posts about codependency. She wanted to know what it is and how to tell if you struggle with it. I haven’t written much about codependency, although I do struggle with it. Much has been published on the subject by experts in the field. I am not an expert. However, here are my own observations.

Definition of Codependency

I use the term “codependency” to describe someone in a relationship in which s/he is obsessed with the dysfunctional behavior of another to the extent that his or her own life is being compromised. Usually the other person is an addict, in poor mental or physical health, irresponsible, or an underachiever. The codependent person is obsessed with trying to make things better for their loved one. Once the pattern of codependency has been established in someone’s life, it often happens that they “collect” dysfunctional friends and loved ones who are perfectly willing to have someone enable their bad behavior, even if the price is listening to them nag or berate them.

Someone once told me that “virtue out of balance” is a shortcoming. In the mind of a codependent, their obsession with and attempt to fix their loved one is an expression of their love. But it is not healthy love. We have been counseled to love as Christ does. Christ loves us by accepting us for who we are unconditionally, and allowing us to experience the consequences of our choices. Christ loves us by not doing for us what we can do for ourselves, even if we choose not to. He will not force us or beg us to do what would be in our own best interest. He doesn’t try to manipulate us nor does He allow us to manipulate Him. If we ask Him, He will give us direction, and power to do what we cannot do alone. But if we don’t follow His guidance, He does not berate, abandon or ignore us.

Drug of Choice

The drug of choice for someone who struggles with codependency is usually either “to fix” or “to control.” When I hear myself saying (or even thinking) that I want to “fix” someone, I know it is time to do an inventory on my relationship with that person and apply the Steps. When I find myself in a power struggle with a loved one (usually spouse or child) I need to examine whether I am trying to control that person. Even if the reason is that I don’t want them to ruin their future, my trying to “make” them do what (I think) would be best for them is codependent behavior.

I am an assertive person by nature, and my codependency is usually expressed in an assertive way. However, people who are passive can also try to control others, and get them to do what they want. Some play the victim, or allow the other person to walk all over them (sometimes called “being a doormat”) in order to avoid conflict, or in a mistaken belief that it will keep the other person from leaving them. They are still trying to get what they think would be best by manipulating their loved one.

Approaches to Recovery from Codependency

People recover from codependency in different ways. Some people find success by treating codependency as an addiction, and applying the 12-Step program to it in their own lives. Others use more of an educationally-based approach. Counseling can be helpful either on its own or in conjunction with one of the first two methods.

Using the 12-Steps to Overcome Codependency

Many of our LDS Addiction Recovery (ARP) meeting participants are codependents. Some are also addicted to a substance or another behavior. Applying the 12-Steps to their codependency has worked amazingly well for many of them.  They have learned to recognize their codependent behavior and apply the steps to overcome it with the help of the Lord, and the Atonement. There are other 12-Step programs that use a similar approach to overcoming codependency as well – for example: Al-Anon and CoDa (Co-Dependents Anonymous).

Educational Support Approaches

The LDS Church has introduced a new approach to supporting spouses and family members of addicts. It includes a guide that contains 12 principles to be studied along with various talks from General Authorities that relate to that principle. There are weekly meetings in which the material in the guide is discussed, one principle per week. The attendees at the meetings all struggle with the addiction of a loved one, and often learn from each other by listening and sharing during the meetings.

When the person in your life who seems to be making bad choices is a child, it is sometimes very difficult to know where “good parenting” stops and “codependence” begins. There is a fine line between trying to help a child (of any age) find and stay on a path that leads to happiness, and trying to take away his or her agency in order to “make” them do what you “know” is best. I think the term “helicopter parent” is really another name for codependency. I have found a lot of help in trying to learn how to be a supportive parent without being a codependent one from the Love and Logic Institute. They have many resources including books and CDs. They offer classes in many areas. I have recently found support from a Facebook group called “Love and Logic Parents Unite” where parents can share what is working for them.

  • Write about how the various ways you show love are healthy and unhealthy.
  • What approaches or resources might help you overcome any codependent behavior you might have?
  • What are you willing to do today to help you improve the way you relate to your loved ones?

Please share your thoughts about this post by commenting below.

Related Posts: Staying Abstinent: Using the Tools – Part 4