Codependency: The Generic Dysfunction of the 90’s

Monday, March 23, 2009 23:00
Posted in category Ask Rickhead
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Post written by Rick Doyle 

Codependency : The Generic Dysfunction of the 90’s

Dear Rickhead:  (This week Ask Rickhead decided to tackle the question of causes and conditions to help define codependency) Not a typical Rickhead question but more a tying some recent discussions with a number of people that all have the same core issues with unhealthy relationships being the end result of untreated codependency.

My wife and I were talking about a good friend recently whom mentioned that they were headed to a divorce after almost 10 years of marriage and 2 children later.  What stunned my lovely bride of almost 9 years and mother of our 2 children was that her friend disclosed some very serious problems that had been going on for several years including but not limited to what appears to be alcoholism, drug addiction, drug abuse, self medicating, severe enabling and hostility from our friends soon to be Ex’s husbands family and a host of other problems that trust me when I say these problems are dysfunction to an un-resolvable degree.  Here’s the kicker.  Our friend discloses that she is in therapy (Yeah!) and is, codependent!  My response is, do you want to quit being codependent?  Find out the reasons you attracted, stayed in and might attract yet another dysfunctional relationship to take care of.  Resolve why you pick who you pick or why you stayed to long in an unhealthy relationship and it will make it next to impossible to keep repeating that pattern.  Once you know and define why your choices are dictated by codependency issues then it becomes easy to resolve them and work away from practicing them in the future as well as removing the label of being codependent.  Back in the 90’s (yes the last century, yes I’m really old), everyone who was in or picking or staying in bad relationships was proclaimed, codependent and faced a life sentence and label of being a control freak with a fetish to pick losers whom they could “fix”.

Let’s face the facts here’s how it went back in the 90’s: if you don’t have something wrong with you then you’re probably just in denial and are codependent. Better yet, go to just about any book store, and locate the self-help section, There you will see many people buying six books at a time, but acting as if they are for friends and not themselves. Now diagnose yourself. That’s the same thing as a dentist who is going to fix his own tooth, not likely by himself. As you will soon discover, there are a hundred books on codependency with a hundred different definitions. Who’s right! Not to obsess over this dilemma, you decide to purchase five or six of these books as if they are going to go out of print in the next day or two. You may be suffering from a slight bit of compulsiveness.

At this point in the game, you are about half-crazed because you discover that, as you read each page of each book, you begin to feel like a stained glass window at the mercy of a jackhammer. Every word describes the worst parts of you. So in a desperate act of lost control, you reach out, admit defeat as a human being and ask for help from a:

A) friend

B) professional

C) another codependent

D) all of the above.

The answer is D but only after contemplating suicide for two months because of fear that you can’t kill yourself because:

A) who would take care of everyone and everything

B) what would people say or think of you if you killed yourself

C) If you killed yourself you wouldn’t be alive to throw the guilt at the individual(s) that drove you to the point of killing yourself and wouldn’t they be sorry

D) all of the above.  Again the answer is D.

There are so many different definitions for codependency that just about anyone with some relationship dysfunction, from moderate to severe, will be able to fit one or more of the definitions at some time or another. The term codependent has become the neurotic, generic dumping ground (and money maker) for such an incredible array of problems and many of the practitioners out there. Many claim to be qualified to define, work with or even fix codependency but it is becoming almost impossible to differentiate who is right and who is wrong.

To quote just a few of the definitions currently in use but which tend to be fairly encompassing enough to include the most common characteristics (reader beware). Melody Beattie: a person who has let someone else’s behavior affect him or her and is obsessed with controlling other people’s behavior.’ Dr. Timmen Cermak: “Codependence is a recognizable pattern of personality traits, predictably found within most pattern of chemically dependent families, which are capable of Mixed Personality Disorder as outlined in the DSM IV”.  Robert Subby: “Co‑dependence is an emotional, psychological, and behavioral condition that develops as a result of an individual’s prolonged exposure to, and practice of, a set of oppressive rules ‑ rules which prevent the open expression of one’s feelings as well as the direct discussion of personal and interpersonal problems.”

In my generalized definition of Codependency I recognize a codependent as a person who has been negatively affected by someone else’s disease/dysfunction and learns to adapt and adopt an unhealthy set of behavioral characteristics as a result of engaging for prolonged periods in unhealthy relationship(s). Even if the original relationship that created the dysfunction/ codependent characteristics is severed, the individual continues to practice these behaviors on their own or in the future relationships with others. They frequently look for dysfunction in others to fix under the generic guise of “being helpful”.  A lot of effort is put forth to not only remove the label but to deny the behavior even in the face of overwhelming evidence, bailing out a significant other over and over and over.  Allowing yourself to be verbal, emotionally or otherwise abused, over and over and over.  You get the picture. Everyone else gets the picture and it’s a really bad picture when either your friends refer to you as codependent to your face or you make self reference to the generic label jokingly, yet deep down know it’s true and don’t do anything to change or grow away from it.

Codependents are not all as bad as they sound. Some have or descend to greater dysfunction than others. The codependents field of expertise, in many cases, statistically places them at, and at times (although rarely), aids them in their careers. It is estimated that 60% of the people working in the helping fields have codependent characteristics. That same 60% also account for a 70% burnout rate, high incidence of chemical abuse, attempted suicide and perspective client abuse rates in their respective fields.

The predominant specialties of codependents I have worked with appear to be the following characteristics: Control, manipulation, guilt throwing and guilt catching, denial, boundary distortions (around intimacy and separation), low self‑esteem, confusion of identities, distorted relationship to willpower, rationalization, minimizing and/or exaggeration disproportionate to the situation, excessive mood swings, addictions, obsessive compulsive behavior, hyper vigilance, attraction to abusive personalities/relationships (repeatedly) excessive caretaking of others and not one’s self, constriction of emotions, stress related illnesses and an inability to express or allow their needs to be met by another.

Everyone has some of these characteristics to one degree or another. The codependent, however, practices some or many of the characteristics to an extreme or unhealthy degree.  One extreme but true example is of the person who covertly misses being needed.  His or her spouse just celebrated 6 months sober.  To celebrate this they get their spouse a case of beer, wine or champaign to celebrate this great accomplishment.  There is nothing worse than losing your job of fixing the problems, especially if your significant other replaces you with recovery.  Nothing a little sabotage won’t fix. I can tell you, I have heard more than one untreated codependent state they liked their spouse drinking better than they like them sober. A little easier to control them while drunk maybe or even a verification of shame based issues?

The codependent will likely, always be codependent, but with appropriate treatment can become far more normal, happy and functional. The codependent can learn to recognize and refrain from practicing harmful behaviors, but in some cases it requires strong commitment to therapy and self‑help recovery. Codependents however, frequently prefer to “fix themselves”, which in some cases is how they got their problem in the first place.

A session with a good and knowledgeable therapist/counselor to assess your problems and to help outline an appropriate treatment plan is a good first step. Be careful who you pick. Codependency treatment is a big moneymaker these days, and not everyone who says they are credentialed to treat codependency can or will be appropriate for you. Talk to them on the phone, check them out and see what diagnosis they are going to slip your insurance company. Some of the diagnosis being used out there to get your bucks may not be what you want on your records.

While a lot of the seminars and groups that in the 90’s are still around many learned to rebrand themselves or rename themselves with not much better results.  Some have served many well and will continue to do so for years to come, they are usually free. I do believe that some/many codependents can recovery but it is very hard because like eating/eating disorders unlike alcohol addiction we all need to interact with people or eat but we don’t HAVE to drink. Abstinence is not the answer but a balance of what is too much and what is to little in relationship to relationship control is by its very nature almost it’s definition. Improvement and practicing a degree of separation from the above described behaviors will result in much better relationships that are likely to prove a longer healthier outcome for everyone involved.

The core to lasting recovery from codependency lies in three things:

A) Resolving or fixing your broken picker

B) Taking care of yourself more than in the past when putting others exclusively ahead of your well being resulted in many harmful feelings and behaviors

C) Practicing new behaviors from the knowledge gained from examining the old past behaviors and taking responsibility for them. 

In other words you can’t help anyone else until you help yourself. Also remember you won’t ever attract AND keep anyone around that is any healthier than you are. Please feel free to share your experience and solutions that have helped you work thru your codependency as recognizing and sharing what helped you move away from continued enabling and dysfunctional behavior I’m sure will benefit those still struggling with their “significant other”.  Sometimes letting go is the only way to move on.  In our friend’s case as in many whom I shared with for many years, one healthy person raising children is far better than 2 unhealthy people together. Bravo, it is and will keep getting better as long as you work to resolve what got or kept you in codependent behavior in the first place.

To Ask Rickhead a question, please email: askrickhead [at] topicisland [dot] com

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31 Responses to “Codependency: The Generic Dysfunction of the 90’s”

  1. highspeed32 says:

    July 27th, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    Being a new blogger, I would like to tell you that you have given me much knowledge about it. Thanks for everything.

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