Codependency-a second-hand life

Co-dependency is developed by an individual because they are not able to fully love themselves even though they get validation and acceptance from others. By helping others, it brings them a sense of acceptance and good feelings about themselves. At Twin Rivers, we address co-dependency and educate clients on how co-dependency can contribute quite strongly towards a full-blown relapse!

Toxic co-dependency:

Toxic co-dependency is a dysfunctional relationship where ‘a giver’ sacrifices their needs for another person, a receiver. The ‘giver’ takes on the task of doing another person’s day-to-day responsibilities they should be able to do for themselves. This dynamic does not have to be a romantic relationship but can occur in social, work, or other settings. In co-dependency, the co-dependent will do anything to maintain a relationship, and to avoid the feeling of abandonment. In all co-dependent relationships, ‘the giver’ and the ‘the receiver’ has an intense need for approval and fear the idea of rejection by the other person.

The ‘receiver or victim’ eventually does not trust themselves and does not learn from their mistakes because they keep having someone else, ‘the giver’ doing their tasks or correcting them.

How does co-dependency form?

Often people who develop a co-dependent relationship have grown up in a dysfunctional family home and their emotions have not been acknowledged. A dysfunctional family home could be because of an addiction but also because of other mental health conditions.

If the co-dependent ‘the giver’ has experienced trauma, it is likely that they created an insecure attachment in childhood with one of their primary caregivers/parents which can create insecurity in current relationships because they lack the trust of the partner.

So how does this all fit into the addiction field?

Co-dependency can also be seen as a ‘relationship addiction’. However, if you look at the history of co-dependency, the term was first used to describe having an unhealthy coping mechanism for dealing with a loved one’s addiction.  If looked at carefully, there are three points that form a vicious triangle, each one having its own role to play in the cycle.

If you have a relationship with someone who has a drug/alcohol/substance addiction, the person is dependent on the substance of use in order to ‘live fully’. The loved one, family member or friend in turn, becomes dependent on the person with the substance abuse and does the tasks they are no longer able to do because of their addiction, enabling the addict to continue using the substance. In the end, both parties become dependent on the same addiction.

Melody Beattie writes in her book ‘Co-dependent No More’ about co-dependency and addiction. While treating the actual substance abuse is important it is vital to treat the co-dependence as well. The stress of being in a co-dependent relationship can drive substance abuse even more.

Traits of a co-dependent:

Some points to look out for that might mean a co-dependent relationship exists:

  • Struggle to adjust to changes.
  • Wanting full control over situations
  • Struggle to make their own decisions.
  • People-pleasing to be liked or loved.
  • Often lack trust in themselves or others.
  • The constant fear of rejection.

Do you have some of the traits above? A couple of tips you can take on board…

  1. Boundaries are vital to separate the two members of a co-dependent relationship. They help the individual to realise it is ok to have their own feelings, thoughts, and emotions without having to rely on the other person.
  2. Building up healthy self-esteem. Often those in a co-dependent relationship will have low self-esteem. Building up one’s self-esteem in a positive way will also in turn give the co-dependent the confidence to set the necessary boundaries.

Rebecca Bourhill for Twin Rivers 2023