Codependency: When You Give Until It Hurts

Frederick A. Levy LCSW

Do You:

Feel responsible for others?
Never have time for you?
Feel that life never lets up?
Never have time for fun?
Give past the point of pain?
Wonder if it will ever be your turn?
Barely have time to read this list?

then read on!


What is codependency?

Codependency is an disorder that describes the compulsive need to take care of other people at the expense of appropriate and necessary self care. Codependents have a difficult time recognizing their own feelings and needs, and sometimes feel "swallowed up" by the people around them.

Where does codependency come from?

Codependency originally described the condition of spouses and family members of alcoholics. As alcohol continued to cause progressively worsening problems, the rest of the family found that they needed to assume more and more responsibility in order to keep the family afloat. Survivors of alcoholic homes discovered that this pattern of survival became a way of life, going far beyond the life of the family. For Adult Children of Alcoholics, caretaking and rescuing others became the only life imaginable.

In time, therapists discovered that codependency could also emerge from families with other severe problems, such as: sexual abuse; drug addiction; chronic illnesses; a variety of addictive and/or compulsive behaviors (such as gambling); and rigid, authoritarian rules with a "no talk rule" around the expression of feelings. As they emerged from these backgrounds, codependents learned that their well being and sense of safety depended on controlling the behavior of others.

What is codependent behavior?

As a rule, codependents have difficulty identifying what they need. They often can't tell what they feel; sometimes they just feel numb - too numb to sense their own fear. They can justify rescuing others in the name of love and concern, but don't seem to know their own limits.

As a result, codependents can be prone to depression, physical illness, or job "burnout." They routinely overtax themselves, feeling guilty if they take time for their own self care. They seem incapable of relaxing, but seem forever to be giving, rarely allowing themselves to receive. Their friendships consist of caseloads of needy people; yet, codependents rarely feel that they are doing enough for others. They have a hard time saying "no." In the work setting, they may put in endless overtime (sometimes without pay), but fear they are frauds and incompetents, feeling grateful they still have jobs.

They may go from one unsatisfying relationship to another, mystified at how they fall prey to such an endless stream of "losers." Most ironically, codependents may themselves suffer from compulsive and addictive patterns, including addictions to: destructive relationships; work; overeating and other eating disorders; excitement and chaos; and sometimes substance abuse. They fee sad, deeply alone, drained, and often desperate. They wish that someone could hear their pain.

What treatments are available for codependency?

Codependency can be treated with a variety of treatment strategies, including: individual; marital; family; and group therapies. Thousands have been helped through 12 Step self help groups, especially Adult Children of Alcoholics groups through Al-Anon, and CODA (Codependency Anonymous). In the safety of therapy and/or self help, Survivors can: share their pain; identify patterns of coping that maintain codependency; raise self esteem; and learn new ways of addressing their concerns. Help provides a place where Survivors can stop having to control others and finally reclaim their lives.

Copyright Fred Levy, LCSW all rights reserved