Codependent Issues is written by George Hartwell M.Sc. a Christian counsellor and registered psychotherapist with a masters in clinical psychology and 40 years experience.
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Codependency / CodependentThe codependent is a person who loves caring for others, whose mission in life is to help. They are good people, responsible people and ordinary people. They are often 'the Pillar' of the family or the church or the organization they are part of. They want to live in a peaceful world and they sacrifice themselves for it.
Problems arise to mess with the best of intentions. Lack of self care leading to some kind of burn-out. Depression created by the negative inner voices. Confused boundaries can bring resentments and encourage dependency. Failures in helping others triggers overwhelming sense of failure. All this is confusing and discouraging. Something is wrong with this picture.
Psychotherapy is a professional process in which you access the wisdom of an empathic guide who can walk with you through the transition out of this confusion and discouragement and toward better self-care and clearer boundaries.
In your transition out of codependency, I am available to serve as a guide in this journey. Call me for a brief consult or to set up your first session. George: 416-939-0544.
Codependency Issues Q and A
Why is it so hard to cure codependency issues?
Do you believe that our lives get set on a particular path in childhood? I do.
Do you believe that some drive or motivation arising in childhood can be so strong that it remains the key driving force in a person’s life? I do.
Do you think a personality pattern can be established in childhood that has the momentum to continue for half a life-time? I do.
Now codependency fits right into the above patterns. It is part of a path that is set in childhood. It reflects a motivation or drive established in childhood. In fact it is one aspect of a personality pattern that has been established in childhood.
The fact that codependency is a reflection of a fixed personality pattern provides a clue as to why is is so hard to change. People live within the perceptions, beliefs and emotion of their personality. It is not so easy to ‘look in a mirror’ and be different.
As a psychotherapist I have made it part of my mission in life to discern and understand personality patterns. It is also part of my mission to guide people in recognizing and transforming their personality pattern.
Psychotherapy with those stated objectives cannot be undertaken by anyone. It is a job for a highly skilled professional. The understanding of how to transition out of personality patterns is not widespread even among professional counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists.
So do not be surprised that it is hard to cure on one’s own and may even take some time working with a professional. A 12 Step Group can help be raising awareness and providing support and accountability. These are big steps in the direction of a cure.
How would you describe someone with codependent traits who is not necessarily a full-blown codependent?
There are several different ways to describe this person. Here are some:
- Over-functionning: the person who is always doing more than their share to keep the family system going.
- Over-caring: the person who throws herself into the care of another.
- Pillar of the system: the one who is always there and can always be counted on.
- Over-responsible: the one who keeps taking on more than their fair share of the work-load of the system.
- Enabler: in an alcoholic family the Enabler is overly helpful and enables the alcoholic to stay on the feet way past when they should have collapsed and faced their addiction to alcohol and dealt with it.
I believe we all have personality labels of this more friendly type - a pattern that distorts our most authentic self, a pattern that is functional to a degree and dysfunctional to a degree. Another common example would be the People Pleaser.
What are the primary concerns of codependent people?
Codependent people are first of all ordinary loving people who have the same concerns as everyone else. They are not freaks.
Remember that the codependent is someone who cares for other. They are responsible and nurturing people.
If you were married to a codependent one of your concerns might be that they are always off helping someone and not looking after you and the family. They like to help so much that it becomes a problem.
You might find that your codependent is so concerned about keeping the family peaceful that they are not open and direct about matters that might lead into a conflict. They might try to quietly control things rather than allow openness.
The Codependent is likely highly self-critical. they live with much internal blame and judging. Associated with that
the Codependent takes the blame for things that go wrong, say ‘sorry’ a lot and feel responsible for fixing whatever went wrong.
The primary concern of the Codependent is other people. The Codependent is highly motivated to care for others. The want to keep others safe and secure. The Codependent wants to create peace and order.
The downfall of the Codependent is that they do not take care of themselves. This is a real vulnerability - the hidden vulnerability of the Codependent.
The codependent is defined as one person in a family system involving an addict, especially an alcoholic. In such a system the codependent acts as the responsible adult (Parent) to the addict who is acting like the dependent child.
However the ‘codependent’ may be found in other settings not involving an addict. In whatever the setting the codependent is in the role of either a Rescuer or a Caretaker or both. As a Rescuer/Caretaker they are involved with a person who needs rescuing/caretaking and their role is to ‘Rescue’ the person or provide for their care.
The following is generally true of the Codependent:
- In childhood their parents did not provide safety, security, peace and order and this lack effected the child who will grow into the Caretaker/Rescuer/Super-Responsible person.
- This person takes their responsibilities in life very seriously and their friends will observe they are too serious and as children they act like little adults.
- If anything goes wrong they assume it is their fault, or their responsibility to fix. If any work needs to be done they will assume they need to do it and they will take on disproportionate share of work. Not always good for team work.
- They have trouble with self-care and this is their Achilles Heel. They neglect themselves.
- They are self-critical especially seeing themselves as being too selfish, too immature, too childish. Most will admit they live with a huge load of self-criticism.
In an addictive family system, the addict is the dependent. Now the one who takes care of the addict is the codependent. The codependent is NOT dependent on the addict. Just the opposite. The codependent is supporting them.
The codependent is on a mission to ‘save the world’ one person at a time. This makes sense to them because it has been their life. They are good at creating order, reducing conflict and taking care of people.
One possible unfortunate and unintentional side-effect is that they kind of ‘support’ the addict in their addiction. If that is going on we call it ‘Enabling.’
No, codependency is not a mental health issue, in one sense, anyway.Codependency is very, very common. The person is warm, responsible, and well-liked. No mental health issue there.
However, in another sense, there is a problem. Not a big problem at first. After all, this pattern was learned in childhood and it served a purpose for a time.
But all good persons come to an end. The codependent pattern cannot last. Inside this responsible, caring type there is a fatal flaw that must be dealt with.
One can take matters into your own hands and find a professional and work on the pain that is surfacing, or wait until nature takes its course and have a nervous breakdown.
Your nervous breakdown is not a ‘mental health issue.” It is simply nature's way of saying that it is time to let go of your old dysfunctional self and letting your more authentic self emerge. But it is painful!
Your old self is disintegrating. That is scary. The old is dying so the new can come. A good therapist will support you and coach you through this valley. Let it happen. Find a good professional resources, you will get through this
What is the difference between People Pleasing and Super-Responsible (Codependent)?
In a Positive Nervous Breakdown what Breaks Down?
We will look at two personality patterns that I know do experience this process.
It will give you more confidence if you can identify the pattern that is breaking down. What helps to identify a positive nervous breakdown while it is happening is to
Let’s first identify your present the old you. In childhood you consolidated into your personality pattern. It was the best way to solve you safety and love problems in childhood. One pattern is the Too Serious Kid who developed this adjustment in a family system called Parental Inversion and who, as an adult, developed the style I call the Super-Responsible.
The other pattern is the People Pleaser Personality. The People Pleaser is the Too Nice Kid who always tries to be good and get it right. The People Pleaser kid wants to please mom and dad in order to be loved. The People Pleaser kid wants to get it right and be good in order to be loved. The kid grows up into the People Pleaser adult. (Note: John and Paula Sandford used the term ‘Performance Orientation’ in their book, Transformation of the Inner Man, Logos.)
Comparing People Pleaser to the Codependent
1. The People Pleaser is primarily motivated to be loved, to get love, to achieve love, to earn love, to compete for love, etc.
The Codependent is primarily motived to achieve peace and order. They may also be driven to help, rescue, save, support others or keeping a family, church or organization together. Rescuing is a deep mission felt in their bones.
2. The People Pleaser may come across with the submissive smile in their face. They may be always smiling because they are always trying to please those that they are with.
The Codependent comes across calm, caring and eager to help. They are quick to say ’Sorry’ or feel they are responsible if anything goes wrong.
3. When criticized the People Pleaser gets defensive. Inside criticism triggers panic inner thoughts like, ‘I did something wrong,’ ‘I am bad,’ ‘I am not loved.’ These beliefs trigger a quick defensive reaction. They need to defend against really feeling these heart beliefs because they are depressing and anxiety provoking
When a Codependent is criticized in the least they react. It seems they overreact to criticism. But there is a reason for that for they live with the constant criticism of their Inner Judge.
4. The People Pleaser may be passive, lack backbone and have trouble standing up and defending their loved ones. The People Pleaser position if submissive to others and passive often passive-aggressive.
The Codependent is good at caring, being positive, keeping people talking so defends the unity of the family. They can be
5. The key factor in the childhood family of the People Pleaser is the lack of love, open affection, good communication, and healthy affirmation for success and praise. In this love vacuum the Inner child chooses to be less expressive of self and adopt more to the presumed requirements of the environment.
The key factor in the childhood family of the Codependent is the lack of safety and order in the family. Conflict may be present, violence, verbal abuse, alcoholism, or for emotional, work or ill health one or both parents are emotionally absent or not functioning. The Inner Child chooses to be less expressive of self and to step in and fix the mess.
6. The People Pleaser may be identified by the important of how much they do, how much they accomplish and how important outward success measures are to them. Self worth and good feelings related to their achievements.
The Codependent can be observed as poor at self-care. They neglect their own needs. Don’t take time for themselves. Their life is tied up in caring for others.
7. In the midst of the transition/breakdown the turning point for the People Pleaser is when they do not care as much what other people think and pleasing other people.
In the midst of the transition/breakdown the turning point for the Codependent is doing some things that are fun or getting involved in some take-care-of-self activities.
8. Manipulative control of the People Pleaser is done easily through guilt. Or one can send a signal indicating that something is wrong. They feel guilty around right and wrong. Their parents may have disciplined through guilt.
Manipulation of the Codependent is done by insisting that there is a need in some that demands their attention. They feel guilty about being selfish. Tell them they are being immature and selfish and they may comply with your wishes.
I believe it will help in understanding your nervous breakdown to know what pattern is yours. Asking some questions of spouse and work associates to get other input might help with this. Seeing counsellor, therapist might help as well. Try to figure things it out yourself first then go to others to confirm your judgement. People Pleasers, you need to step into thinking for yourself.
What is an example of a Codependent relationship?
The concept of the codependent relationship may have grown out of observations of alcoholics and their spouses. It must have been observed that a particular type of spouse got paired up with the alcoholic. That spouse came to be called the codependent.
Let’s say the man has an addiction to alcohol. Perhaps he has trouble being firm and making decisions that need to be made.
His wife happens to be someone who knew he had a drinking problem when they got together but that was okay with her because she felt called to help him. She believed she could help him and all would be well.
His wife is attracted to people and situations that need her help. Consciously or unconsciously she believes she can (and must) rescue people. She is comfortable with situations where her ability to solve problems, care for others and take responsibility are called upon.
The alcoholic is the one with the drug problem. His partner is a support to him and that might or might not be the best thing. It sometimes enables the addiction.
This is an example of a ‘codependent relationship’ as if that was bad. No it is not. It is just an identification of a family system. It is not wrong, or pathological.
If it is unhealthy, it is because most of us grew up in unhealthy systems and produce unhealthy systems. It is normal unhealthy not abnormal.
One can live with it until one can’t. Until the day comes when, like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, we feel compelled to grow up and get out of our unhealthy and be free. For more about that process search my name for Positive Breakdown or Mental Breakdown.
Why am I codependent when I did not grow up in an alcoholic family?
You need to ask yourself a few questions to know why you are a codependent. Here is my take. A codependent is a caring person who naturally responds to the needs of others. often while sacrificing their own needs.
In my writing (George see HealMyLife.com) what I call the Super-Responsible.
The reason alcoholics create the super-responsible in children is that they, at times, are not acting as responsible adults. They are out of commission. They are acting like children or falling asleep. They are not keeping the children safe and the household in order.
Now how did you parents do at keeping your childhood safe and secure?
Did you parents provide order and act responsible?
Did your parents function as parents so you could function as a child and not get drawn into being responsible for order, safety etc?
These kind of situations in your family background can trigger parental inversion where a child takes on adult responsibilities. Does that sound familiar?
Really it might be better if we did not try to label anyone as a codependent. I say this for several reasons:
- Any label confuses our own sense of identity, if we are the one labelled, and
- Confuses how others see us, rather than seeing us as persons.
- Too many people are confused by the term ‘codependent’ because they think it means someone who tends to be dependent on someone or something. Of course, that is not what it means.
What happens is that the spouse of the alcoholic has become entangled in the life of the addict. The spouse is trying to hold the family together while the addiction is trying to destroy the family. Relationships are deteriorating. Finances are at risk and the family standing is likely to be destroyed by the collapse created by the alcoholism.
The spouse may have grown up in a family situation in which they had a role in keeping the family together. They may be used to the role that they are being ‘forced into’ by the addiction. They take more and more responsibility from the family life.
One way to say this is that they are over-functioning just as the addict is under-functioning.
Rightly or wrongly the people in social services or addiction services begin to see the spouses role as part of the family system. This role, the one carrying the burden of keeping the family functioning is called the codependent.
When the Codependent becomes an Enabler
Sometimes this is taken to mean, rightly or wrongly, that the codependent is part of the problem. In particular, if the codependent os too supportive they may be blamed for the alcoholics in ability to recovery or take responsibility for themselves. The term for being too supportive is ‘Enabler.’
If the codependent is too supportive and enabling then they are part of the problem. This is the pathological side of codependency.
However, if the codependent is only trying to survive and keep the family together without over-supporting the alcoholic they are not part of the problem, just part of the family system. This is not pathology. It is healthy functioning.