Life can be difficult enough without a loved one struggling with addiction. However, there’s a set of challenges, unfortunate incidents and emotions when addiction and its side effects are unwelcome guests in your life and home. When you’re constantly maneuvering to keep everything together for your family, it can be difficult to step back and notice your own role in the situation and evaluate the possibility that you may be in a codependent relationship.
What is codependence?
Codependence is a personality type characterized by enabling behavior and difficulty setting and/or maintaining healthy boundaries. People who are codependent display excessive reliance on other people for approval and might engage in dishonest or manipulative behavior. They also tend to live in a perpetual state of crisis. Codependency often begins as a coping mechanism for those who grew up in families with addiction, trauma, sickness, death or chaos. The fear of rupture in the family system is so great that some members adapt by sacrificing their own needs and desires to please others and stabilize the family system.
How do you know if you’re in a codependent relationship? Answering “yes” to five or more of the following “20 Questions for Codependents” indicates that you are:
- Did you ever lose time from work due to your relationship with an addicted person?
- Have your relationships ever made your life unhappy?
- Have your relationships ever affected your reputation?
- Have you ever felt remorse after manipulating a situation?
- Did you ever control situations to get money to pay debts or household bills or to otherwise solve financial difficulties that belong to someone else?
- Has your involvement in a relationship caused a decrease in your personal ambition or efficiency?
- After a fight or disagreement, have you ever felt you must “get even”?
- After winning an argument, have you ever had a strong urge to restate your point?
- Did you often stay in a relationship until your last hope was gone?
- Did you ever borrow money to finance another person’s addiction or associated crisis?
- Have you ever sold anything to finance another person’s addiction or associated crisis?
- Were you ever reluctant to purchase necessary items because it might cause a disagreement?
- Did your relationships ever make you care less for your welfare or that of your family?
- Did you ever stay in a degrading or dangerous situation longer than you planned?
- Have you ever dragged old hurts into discussions about current items?
- Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance someone’s addiction?
- Did your relationships cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?
- Did arguments, disappointments or frustrations ever create within you an urge to change someone else?
- Did you ever have an idea that if loved ones would only see things your way, life would be much better?
- Have you ever considered self-destructive acts (such as suicide or self-harm) as a result of your reactions or relationships?
The How and Why of Healing
In a codependent relationship, you may unintentionally prolong your partner’s addiction by protecting them from experiencing the consequences of their using behavior. There’s an instinctual need to restore the status quo, which affects the relationships of everyone in your family, including your children. Those necessary adaptations become a form of collusion or co-addiction.
Recovering from codependent relationships is about separating your feelings for the addict from their self-destructive behavior. Detaching from or adapting your behavior so that you don’t take responsibility for the addict’s behavior and its consequences accomplishes two important goals: It restores healthy boundaries among members of the system, and it unites your children and the rest of your family in a way that creates positive pressure on the addict to seek help.
Recognizing and recovering from codependency also directs you and your children to take responsibility for your own behavior and keep the focus on yourselves. By “staying in their own lane,” family members avoid the co-addictive tendency of trying to change or control the addict’s behavior.
Here are some tips to help promote your own and your children’s healing:
- Surround yourself with external support. If you are struggling to understand someone you love or having trouble dealing with his or her actions, it is essential to have some support outside of your home environment. Find a close friend or a therapist with whom you can talk, and offer the same support system to your kids.
- Remember that you don’t have power over others. This is such an important thing to keep in mind if you want to improve your relationships (or just live a positive life in general). Realize this and you will free yourself from a lot of mental anguish.
- Focus on the positives of the addict. If you or your children are struggling with resentments toward the addict, take a moment and concentrate instead on the things you like/love/admire about that person. Also, focus on positives about yourself. It is easy to get caught up in the negativity and chaos of the addict. It is important for the codependent person to detach from that negativity and focus on his or her own positive aspects: strength, resilience and tenacity.
What is the most important thing to consider when you’re healing from a codependent relationship? Remember who you are. There are times we get so tangled in our loved one’s affairs that we lose track of who and what we are and intend to be in this life. Set and maintain healthy boundaries to prevent this from happening. Spend one-on-one time with your children and work on developing your own personal goals and skills.
Only by separating ourselves from the addict are we able to stay mindful of who we are as an individual. The preflight instructions before every plane ride tell the adult to take care of themselves before helping others when it comes to administering oxygen or assistance. The same is true for loving someone who struggles with addiction — you must be healthy to help them get healthy.
About the author: Dr. Rod Amiri specializes in addiction psychiatry. He is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Board of Addiction Medicine. He has received the Patients’ Choice award every year since 2008, representing less than 5 percent of active physicians in the United States. He serves patients and families at Malibu Hills Treatment Center, a luxury rehab facility located in Malibu, California.