Co-Dependency – what does it mean? and what are the consequences?

Co dependency – part of the answer?

This is a post by a contributor to the site, who wishes to remain anonymous but who tweets as @DVhurts. It arose after conversations on Twitter about what we can do to help parents when their relationships have broken down and their children are caught in the middle. Is it the primary responsibility of the family courts to fix this? Or do we need to take more ownership of the relationship choices that we make?

Sarah has been busy arguing on Twitter again, this time about why women have children with men they dislike. (Er, engaging in profound debate surely? Ed) Unfortunately I ran out of time to join in but it did start me thinking and this is what I believe is part of the answer. I am a codependent myself who is in recovery. This is only a very brief overview, please look at the resources listed to find out more.

Who is codependent?

Anyone can be is the short answer. More often than not though co dependents are adults who as children felt responsibility for a dysfunctional family member or a situation that was not their fault. They may have an addicted father, or be a young carer or simply they may be the first person in the family to be clever enough to go to university when that was their parents ambition. They take on too much at a young age and looking after people becomes their default setting.

Fear shame and guilt drive them. It can run in families and recovered addicts can be codependent themselves for instance as parents . They are overly serious and the responsibility for the world rest on their shoulders. They will give you the coat off their back and catch pneumonia themselves.

They form relationships with more laid back and sometimes downright irresponsible and try to change them. When they can’t they don’t quit, but try another tactic until they are worn out, bitter, broke etc… A codependent does not learn the lesson, unless they get help but tries again with the same type of partner.

Melody Beattie’s book explains their behaviour :

Codependents are reactionaries. They overreact. They under-react. But rarely do they act. They react to the problems, pains, lives, and behaviors of others. They react to their own problems, pains, and behaviors.

They react out of fear, they rescue people this may be a partner, a child, a client a relative or friend. They pay off debts that are not theirs, they make excuses about another’s unacceptable behaviour,they put up bail, they worry obsessively . They are attracted to “sick ” people , alcoholics, addicts, over eaters or a mentally or physically ill person because they are caretakers.

Their self worth is completely intertwined with the other person. A codependent can tell you everything about what the significant other needs but has no idea about what their own needs are. They have very low self esteem and even self hatred, they are over tolerant of abuse and unacceptable behaviour towards them. They can be angry, bitter, anxious, depressed and have significant mood swings:

Ever since people first existed, they have been doing all the things we label “codependent.” They have worried themselves sick about other people. They have tried to help in ways that didn’t help. They have said yes when they meant no. They have tried to make other people see things their way. They have bent over backwards avoiding hurting people’s feelings and, in so doing, have hurt themselves. They have been afraid to trust their feelings. They have believed lies and then felt betrayed. They have wanted to get even and punish others. They have felt so angry they wanted to kill. They have struggled for their rights while other people said they didn’t have any. They have worn sackcloth because they didn’t believe they deserved silk.”

Melody Beattie, Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself

Codependents can be male or female, though probably a higher percentage are woman as culture expects women to be carers

Could I be codependent?

Do you finish your partner’s sentences but don’t know what you think yourself?
Do you reject “boring” partners for the more risky ones and when they display risky behaviours forgive them time and again because it will be better next time?
Have you ever pretended that serious problems caused by your partner are not happening?
Are you being physically, emotionally,financially or sexually abused?
Do you ever feel abandoned by your partner and keep tabs on them?
Do you have unexplained physical problems, chest pain, stomach pain, numbness, headaches or sleep problems?
Is your partner the centre of your world and your think and talk endlessly about them?
Are you bottom of the queue when it comes to spending your money yet you splash out on others?
Do you constantly criticize yourself and reject praise.
Do you only feel truly alive when helping others?
Have you settled for being needed?
Do you have great difficulty saying no?
Have no trust in yourself?
Is your relationship chaotic and you daily feel out of control?
Is your head like a washing machine on spin cycle?
Do you have a life script: if I can make them go to rehab,stop them seeing certain friends ,get them a decent job we WILL live happily ever after.
Is it difficult to sit quietly?
Are you living with something that you would normally find unacceptable such drunkenness?
Are you lonely despite being in this very intense relationship?
Do you prefer to live in a dysfunctional relationship because you are too scared to live by yourself?
Have you sent your partner/parent/child/friend to counselling/rehab/hypnotherapy etc thinking this would be the solution and been enraged when it wasn’t?
Do you put your partners needs above everyone else including your children?
Do you constantly excuse and lie for your partner/child etc?
Are you ashamed of your feelings of anger , sadness?
Do you struggle to stay in the day but have thoughts of they should and what if constantly running through your mind?
Is your partner similar to your mother, father, brother etc?

It requires a hard look at what is, rather than what you hope will be. As you let go of managing and controlling, you must also let go of the idea that “when he changes I’ll be happy.” He may never change. You must stop trying to make him. And you must learn to be happy anyway.

Robin Norwood, Women Who Love Too Much

If you are ready to admit you need help.

Codependents rarely seek help until they are the bottom of a very deep hole, after all they are resourceful, and have numerous mechanisms for coping with what life throws at them. At some point though, normally after some years, the penny starts to drop.

The good news is there a lot of help for codependents and most of it is provided by charities who don’t charge but are run on voluntary contributions.

A number of those who identify as codependents will be in a relationship with an alcoholic, a gambler or someone else who has addictive traits. Many are 12 step programmes based on the original AA concept.”Hi I’m Joe and I ‘m an alcoholic.” That’s about as much as most people know about AA and other 12 step programmes.

In 2012 research from the Children’s Commissioner indicated that over 62% of care proceedings involved alcohol misuse. That’s without taking drugs into account.

It is said for every alcoholic six other people contacted with them are affected, It is said only an alcoholic can understand an alcoholic likewise only someone affected by a family member’s alcoholism can understand how their personality has adapted to deal with the circumstances. These family members can seek help through the Al Anon family groups and younger family members through Alateen. Likewise those affected by a family members drug addiction, gambling or eating disorder can also find strength and hope amongst those who have been in the same situation .

I would also recommend courses that increase self esteem and assertiveness. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can turn off that washing machine head and offer options for what can seem to unsolvable problems.

This is not an extensive list but a start. There is help, but it is the co dependent who has to put their needs first and start to look for it. They cannot change another person (came as a revelation to me!) but they can change their own lives for the better and that also leads onto healthier relationships.

10 thoughts on “Co-Dependency – what does it mean? and what are the consequences?

  1. Angelo Granda

    At first sight,my comments to readers of this post are:-

    We should never base a relationship and have children with another simply because we feel sorry for them. The post seems to be a discussion suited to psychologists rather than myself but already i suggest the points made lack the human element.We can analyse and analyse forever but will never be able to account for human behaviours fully.
    Folk fall in love for all sorts of reasons; women might meet a non-violent man who resembles her father or previous partner but reject him because he has the wrong-coloured hair or eyes.Likewise ,she might meet and be attracted to a violent man because she loves his hair,eyes and character.She will be drawn towards him and unable to resist the attraction.
    Unfortunately,if she has the misfortune to attract a violent man ,even though she has made the same mistake before ,she cannot help her human feelings and emotions.
    There will always be a risk any subsequent child may come to harm but it must be accepted. Human beings are sometimes stupid and sometimes reckless.
    If she makes the mistake,we should offer support and monitor the situation closely.If the man commits a crime or if it appears he is the cause of significant harm to a child, he should be taken before a suitable court able to implement and enforce reform on him.
    As a human being,Mum should not be blamed.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I honestly don’t think it is ever an issue of ‘blame’ – but caught in the middle of warring parents is a child who needs to be protected.

      I know some professionals feel and express exasperation towards women who won’t ‘get out’ or keep going back – and I accept that sometimes there is a lack of understanding about just how difficult this can be.

      But I do not agree that the prevailing view is that mothers in abusive relationships should be punished. But I accept they must often get left behind in the rush to ‘rescue’ and protect their children.

      1. @DVhurts

        It is absolutely not about blame. Anyone who is a codependent has already been to hell and back they do not need to be punished.” The chemically dependent partner numbs the feelings and the non-abuser is doubled over in pain-relieved only by anger and occasional fantasies” Janet Geringer Woititz Codependency an Emerging Issue. I must add you do not have to have a chemically dependent partner to be codependent , he/she could just as well be a sex addict, a shopoholic …. I wrote simply to help anyone who may recognise themselves to to realise that there are choices available. The resources I quoted are completely non judgemental . For people in these relationships it is important to get help both for themselves and their children. There is a way out of the pain.

        1. Angelo Granda

          We all appear to agree it isn’t about blaming co-dependants or the chemically- dependent themselves,then.Good.
          Does anyone know the answer to these questions?
          Out of every 10 chemically- dependent people,how many are violent?
          What percentage of the chemically- dependent are deprived financially?
          DV Hurts,thanks for writing the post .I now understand that you aren’t only referring to the chemically dependent and the violent.
          These people really should get help for themselves and their children. Whether they would get it from the CS or not is another question. I think violence should be dealt with by the criminal justice system. Shop-lifting , financial fraud,street mugging etc. are but not DV and chemical- dependence when children are involved.. The powers that be seem to prefer to refer the problem to the CS but note that when there are no children involved ,they do prosecute. One wonders at their agenda.

  2. Angelo Granda

    QUOTE: But I accept they must often get left behind in the rush to ‘rescue’ and protect their children: UNQUOTE

    Sarah, this is one of your wiser comments. Lawyers including Judges often get carried away in the rush. No-one should be over-hasty and make judgments as to a mother’s inability to accept wrong-doing by her husband. It isn’t possible for a Judge or a lawyer to assess the dynamics of a case or to decide on a mother’s true feelings unless the case is conducted correctly in accordance with procedure.

    How often do we see lawyers flummoxed? They simply cannot understand why it is that mums appear not to accept the impact of d.v. We see things like, Man kills baby .Man in prison. Mum cannot accept it. This is getting carried away. Things aren’t as black and white.

    When a mother is traumatised (what can be more traumatizing than the loss of a baby?) she is in deep shock. Her mind will undoubtedly be unbalanced temporarily by the magnitude of it all. When she goes to a rushed court hearing,she may be in delayed shock. This is not BS , this is a fact.

    Another fact is that the LAW lays down legal guidelines, frameworks and procedures which have to be followed scrupulously in serious cases especially. Before any lawyer can begin to come to a correct and well-informed appraisal PARTICULARLY ONE OF A MUM’S ABILITY TO ACCEPT CONCERNS, the guidelines must be implemented fully. They should ask these questions before attempting to do so.

    Was the mother informed by the CS of advocacy services and of her right to help and support at meetings?
    Did she get one?
    Did the SW’s follow other guidelines and keep her fully informed?
    Did they offer support?
    Did they inform her how she was expected to change and the time-scales for doing so?
    Were all procedures followed correctly?

    If the answer no to just one of those questions then professionals are getting carried away. When a mother is traumatised, she must be treated in accordance with the law, she must be given extra-time to get over the physical and mental shock and the situation must be fully discussed with her at that later stage not before.
    Don’t rush matters.Of course the Mum will face simple realities in time .Lawyers ,be merciful and give her the time.

    1. helensparkles

      The law is focussed on timescales for children, you might think that is wrong, but it is.

  3. Sam

    Angelo I agree. When I was a child I had , like many girls one of those Russian dolls, after being in an abusive relationships I was the very small doll on the inside, my ex and those people he either hoodwinked or freely supported him were the larger dolls covering me up. Those large dolls have expectations, it’s morally wrong to be a single parent, if you loved him more he wouldn’t treat you like this, what would you do to your children if you split up, it’s just a domestic, he is depressed, it’s difficult for a man you ought to cut him some slack, you will be setting your children up for failure. When the case emerged regarding the travellers who kept people as slaves, and the police could not initially get them to testify against their captors a bell went ping in my head, I understood perfectly why. All there sense of self was eroded, the only way they could survive was to keep doing what they were doing. They and domestic violence victims become voiceless. The longer it goes on the harder it is to escape and social networks , poverty and opportunity all have there part to play. For me knowledge,support of others who have been there and time has healed. Anyone suffering from the effects of domestic violence needs an advocate to be their voice.

  4. Angelo Granda

    Sam, do you think it right that a parent should be expected to accept that he or she has caused harm to a child before seeing all the evidence in court and before being found guilty after a fair hearing before a proper court?
    In the Ellie Butler case,both parents did not accept that Dad was guilty and, on appeal, they were found to be right. I presume had they lost the appeal, the Mum would have had to reconsider.
    When a mad person commits a crime,it may be only after a spell inside that they come round to accepting their crimes. The same will apply when a dv victim is traumatised and has MH problems.She will not be able to acknowledge all the concerns straight away ( especially without an advocate and without having concerns explained to her).
    The lawyers rushed to condemn Ellie’s mother after the original case and were forced to reconsider after the appeal. Have they rushed things again? Why don’t they give her the time to adjust to the facts and get therapy etc.
    Also, although at this stage it looks most unlikely, what if Ben Butler wins his appeal again? I understand he is appealing the conviction.
    Have the lawyers learnt their lesson? No, they have rushed into condemning Mum again.

  5. ian josephs

    It all goes to show that a baby or young child should only be removed from sane parents if a parent has committed a crime against that child or other children

  6. Angelo Granda

    I do not think children should be removed from parents (sane or not) permanently even if a parent has committed a crime against the child. The whole idea of permanent removal and/or forced adoption is against the human rights of the CHILD ,in my opinion.
    I differ from Ian in that i think there may sometimes be justification for temporary removal plans ( with time limits,possibly six months maximum with rehabilitation home always the target, renewable if necessary).
    I think the ambit of the Family Court , as it operates currently,should be limited to such temporary removal plans.
    The problem,Ian, is that the Family Court system will not relinquish its right to make decisions in child-protection cases. It sees the need , in some cases, for permanent removal despite there not being any criminal conviction ,intent or any malice towards a child. At the same time,we know that Family Court hearings are not scrupulously fair and we know that permanent removal is not proportionate to the circumstances of cases . Also we know there are issues regardiong 3 and 14.(ECHR).Yet there is no automatic right of appeal.
    I am just an ordinary parent; my suggestion is that ,in serious cases, where removal is on the cards, we should be entitled to demand a hearing before a higher standard ( SECOND-TIER) of Family Court. The standards would be closer ( a sort of half-way house) to those held to in a criminal court. At the very least the higher Family Court should have to ensure legal procedures are followed and that all the evidence is checked rigidly. It should also be less passive and tolerant towards false representations and evidence presented by the LA’s in particular.
    As far as proportionality is concerned,no Family Court should be allowed to impose sanctions above and beyond any available to a criminal court where final judgment is made by a jury. No criminal court can impose a death sentence, forcible adoption of a convicted persons children or anything of such great severity.So the family court should also be banned by law from doing so.
    Comments welcome. Ian, do you see any compromise at all between my view and your own?

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