Codependency – Is it real?

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    Little Buddha

    After my first marriage ended, I went to see a therapist and described my relationship with my ex-wife. In short, she summed it up in one word, “codependent” – my ex-wife’s anxiety fueled me and gave my life purpose. I loved taking care of her.

    I wasn’t familiar with the concept of codependency, did a little of bit of research, and said “Okay, I’ll never get into another co-dependent relationship again”. I started on my journey of self-improvement – reading, exercise, diet, socializing, and meditation. All of this was done to ensure that I would never make the same mistakes again in my next relationship and ensure I find someone who didn’t need my help whatsoever. Someone who was completely independent.

    Little did I know that I wasn’t entirely out of the woods. Despite months of self-reflection and self-improvment, during a stressful period in my life, I fell back into old habits and many familiar characteristics resurfaced:

    – Overreacting to change.
    – Inability to see alternatives to situations, thus responding very impulsively.
    – Constantly seeking approval and affirmation.
    – Feelings of being different.
    – Confusion and sense of inadequacy.
    – Lack of self confidence in making decisions, no sense of power in making choices.
    – Feeling of fear, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, hurt, and shame which are denied.
    – Isolation and fear of people, resentment of authority figures.
    – Fear of anger or bottling anger up till it explodes.
    – Hypersensitivity to criticism.
    – Being addicted to excitement / drama. (Chaos making.)
    – Dependency upon others and fear of abandonment.
    – Avoidance of relationships to guard against abandonment fears.
    – Confusion between love and pity.
    – Tendency to look for “victims” to help.
    – Rigidity and need to control.
    – Lies, when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.

    I went to one Adult Children Anonymous meeting, it felt pretty good to share, and I’m willing to give their 12 step program a try.

    My question to the community is, do you believe co-dependency is real? Has anyone else dealt with these issues before? Has anyone participated in Adult Children Anonymous?

    The Ruminant

    Hi Little Buddha,

    Do I think codependency is real? Yes and no. These days I tend to see things more along the lines of immature/mature behaviour and thinking patterns in relationships (with oneself and with others). For example, co-dependents tend to have relationships with narcissists. Seeing those two as completely different ways of dealing with things can lead to missing out on the similarities, which is, both having very childish views of how relationships should work. A healthy, emotionally mature person isn’t going to have a relationship with neither a codependent nor a narcissist. Yet, those two (and a whole host of other personality disorders) tend to flock together. I have personally actively started to let go of the pathology and rather look at things at the maturity spectrum.

    As an example, your solution to finding out that you might be codependent was to never make the same mistake again and seek someone who absolutely doesn’t need your help and is completely independent. The solution in itself is a bit of an overreaction. I find immaturity to be very black and white and simplistic with extremes, whereas with maturity, the nuances start to matter a lot more. Trust me, you do not want to have a relationship with anyone who would call themselves “fiercely independent”, as an example. That’s just another way of being unable to be in a healthy relationship with others. In a healthy relationship, there is an appropriate amount of independence and dependence. A balanced approach.

    Please note that I’m not using the word “immature” as a derogatory term. It’s just that the raw emotional reactions are very…well “raw” 🙂 It’s how we start out, and with time and growth, if given the possibility, the way we experience things will mature, ripen. We develop boundaries, learn how to behave appropriately, understand and accept that there are differences between people, and so on. If someone hasn’t had a chance to develop their emotional maturity, those problems still exist in relationships, even as an adult. Also note that I don’t think it is binary, that either you’re completely immature or you’re really mature. It’s more of a scale and even mature people have moments of immaturity. When it comes to adult relationships, I think it’s more about how consistently people behave and are they able to learn and grow along the way. Moving from a reactionary way of living to a more mindful type of living, from rigidness to flexibility, from absolutes to nuances.

    I have been to Al-Anon meetings, which is a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics. My father was an alcoholic, and whilst I didn’t really blame his alcoholism for my relationship problems, the dysfunctional relationship patterns in my childhood obviously did create a lot of problems for me down the line. I wasn’t that taken by the 12 steps, nor am I convinced that it’s a good idea to focus on alcoholism as a disease. To me it was always more of a symptom, rather than a cause. Regardless, those meetings turned out to be incredibly valuable. Seeing my own behaviour and thinking patterns in other people was very enlightening. Also the atmosphere in general was very healing to me.

    I think you get out of them what you want to get out of them. I was there with some people who were kind of going through the motions and the 12 steps, but with a bit of intellectual and emotional dishonesty. There are a lot of people who say that they are working on themselves, but actually do not do the really hard parts. I found that it requires a lot of humility to accept that your ways of dealing with your emotions and other people and yourself are flawed. I mean, the whole behaviour patterns have emerged from the need to protect oneself from harm, and then you’d have to all of a sudden be exposed and vulnerable? It’s not easy and no amount of support group meetings will help unless you are willing to have a bit of trust and get to the core of issues.

    There are books on codependency, but I’ve taken a liking to David Richo, who doesn’t directly write about codependency, but I think his views are still valuable.

    Just, don’t be too hard on yourself. It takes time to change certain patterns, and there are a lot we’re not even aware of. We just think that they’re normal, because that’s how we’ve always behaved. But I think that with practicing patience and compassion, the right kind of patterns start to emerge.

    Little Buddha

    Thanks Ruminant. That was very helpful.

    My ex was definitely not narcissistic. In fact, it was I perhaps who has a bit of the narcissist. Does that make her the codepedent? Probably not 😉 And she wasn’t fiercely independent, I don’t think. She was a very strong woman, but I know she needed me in various ways. Unfortunately, I felt so inadequate and anxious, I wasn’t able to be there for her in the ways she needed me.

    I want to very much get to the core issues at hand and, it is through this program that I’m hoping to learn not to be too hard on myself – right now I’m wallowing in shame so deep and dark, I can barely see the sun. I’m willing to expose myself and be vulnerable, but I’m looking for healthy ways to do that – becoming a submissive panic stricken people pleaser is not healthy!

    Having gone through the program, would you say it helped you deal with issues related to shame and self-loathing?

    The Ruminant

    I wouldn’t get too hung up on the pathology. You are your own individual and your ex was her own individual. Some of the definitions might help when seeking help or trying to understand something, but the reason I’m gravitating more towards the idea of immaturity/maturity is exactly so that I would not start to place labels on people.

    I did not go through all the 12 steps. I did get a lot out of the experience, but things started to unfold for me so rapidly that the support group became kind of obsolete rather soon. There is indeed something in the program that I think might help with the shame. I think steps 4 and 5 would help you with that. That’s when you’ll make an inventory of wrongdoings and admit to them. We all have done all kinds of things that we regret, but have tried to bury deep down, deny or otherwise not process. Whilst I didn’t do it during the program, I have done my own work on looking at my past and myself with as much honesty as possible. It is so very helpful in letting go of the past and the shame.

    Also, throughout the meetings, you get to expose yourself in a safe setting. People are there only to listen and not judge nor comment. It really is very healing to go there and talk and let it out in front of other people. When you keep things in, they’ll blow out of proportion and become bigger than they really are. There is nothing that you could’ve done that could not be forgiven.

    When you are being authentic, there really is no need for shame anymore. Also, being authentic means that you accept yourself as you are, and there is no room for self-loathing in that scenario. You can’t deny yourself and be yourself in the same time.

    I had a bit of a spiritual experience during one of my meetings, when I finally felt and understood unconditional love. It changed me forever and it pretty much got rid of any self-loathing. I understood that it is I who has to allow myself to feel the love; I am the gatekeeper. Other people could do everything they can, but if I was not ready to feel loved, then it didn’t matter what others did. I think it was really a key to my recovery and gave me the strength to move on.

    The advice that I would give to you is to not think too much and just move forward with honesty. Simply practicing compassion and striving to be honest will do more than all the self-help books in the world. Life is actually really simple, but we tend to make it so very complex and difficult 🙂

    Little Buddha

    Thank you once again for your response.

    It was very helpful.


    The Problem – from ACA (Adult children anonymous no longer encompasses alcoholism, but all people who grew up in dysfunctional homes. The idea is – that we bring our survival skills learned as a child, into our adult lives. It does not mean we are childish in nature).

    Many of us found that we had several characteristics in common as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic household. We had come to feel isolated, uneasy with other people, and especially authority figures. To protect ourselves, we became people pleasers, even though we lost our own identities in the process. All the same, we would mistake any personal criticism as a threat. We either became alcoholics ourselves or married them or both. Failing that, we found another compulsive personality, such as a workaholic, to fulfill our sick need for abandonment. We lived life from the standpoint of victims. Having an over-developed sense of responsibility, we preferred to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. We somehow got guilt feelings when we stood up for ourselves rather than giving in to others. Thus, we became reactors, rather than actors, letting others take the initiative. We were dependent personalities — terrified of abandonment — willing to do almost anything to hold onto a relationship in order not to be abandoned emotionally. Yet we kept choosing insecure relationships because they matched our childhood relationship with alcoholic parents. These symptoms of the family disease of alcoholism made us “co-victims” — those who take on the characteristics of the disease without necessarily ever taking a drink. We learned to keep our feelings down as children and kept them buried as adults. As a result of this conditioning, we confused love with pity, tending to love those we could rescue. Even more self defeating, we became addicted to excitement in all our affairs, preferring constant upset to workable relationships. This is a description, not an indictment.

    *************** This is from ‘The problem & The Solution’ portion of the ACA literature.

    I have a lot of personal experience with this particular program – some alanon, which to me is sort of a ‘scratching the surface’ room.

    I am an Adult Child. That doesn’t mean that I am helpless. It doesn’t mean that I am incompetent. It doesn’t mean that I live in the past or that I think like an infant. It means that I still have a tendency to meet the demands of adult life with survival skills I learned as a child. It is not a matter of maturity and it is certainly not a disorder. Our capacity for normal living is exactly the same as everyone else, just as an IQ determines your capacity to learn. For some, without the opportunity to learn to have emotional health, we develop survival skills – also called ‘symptoms of the dysfunction’ such as the symptom of codependency; controlling (alanon issues) or addictions/compulsions (escape). They are all symptoms of the same underlying dysfunctional start to life – and the root causes of all 64 symptoms (12 step programs) such as – the mentioned codependency, controlling, Over eating, (OA) Exercise addictions, addictions to anything – even spirituality oddly and ironically enough – as it IS a spiritual program — are dealt with in ACA. I am a member of MIP ACA online and find it enlightening along with this site. There are always up sides and down sides to anything in the school of life. Having an open mind and heart and soul to all of it seems to be healthiest. Our goal here is not to ‘be appropriate’ as that is the sort of thing many of us suffered the shame that brought us to these symptoms in the first place. What we are really learning is that who we are is appropriate. Our true being, or true self is acceptable, loveable and wonderful as is. There is no need to worry what others think of us, or try to fit ourselves into some ‘appropriate’ box. We get to just Be.

    love & peace to all – I appreciate this thread oxoxoxoxoo


    Some of the literature still refers specifically to alcholism, but as humanity and recovery progresses – so do we. We have dropped the alcoholism notion although it is still considered like anything else as the program is holistic in it’s approach – and spiritual in nature. Due to the fact that ACA only dropped the ‘alcholics’ part in 2006 officially – some of the literature is still catching up – such as this ‘The Problem’ piece above.


    For me codependency has been very real. I am slowly (this year) letting go and learning my way out of my co dependent relationship. Which is extremely difficult given the fact that we still live together. Being co dependent is horrific. It makes you physically ill from emotions and feelings. Who knew. My codependency is with an alcoholic and drug user. I would literally make myself so physically sick with worry and having to take care of him in every way possible that I could no longer function as myself. I took it upon myself after my therapist looked at me and she told me: “As a therapist I could recommend millions of ways and things to help you, but as a woman, as a person, as a friend I could tell you this. You are going to kill yourself doing this to yourself. Your son is going to be a depressed and anxious boy if you continue to submit yourself to this. Get a grip on life and start the process of letting go. You want to be with this man, fine. But it has to be different, it has to change. YOU have to change.” Those words drilled into my head like nothing else ever had. I looked at my son that day when I got home and hugged him so tight. My heart broke to realize the damage I was doing to him. So I got a grip on life. I took every tool that I had been given by my therapist, books, meetings, whatever, and finally put it to use. I started attending Nar Anon meetings and it changed my life. Sure I still struggle but boy have I come a long way in just a few months. You have to know that you cant help people. Especially those that cannot help themselves. I know my story is not the same as yours but I can associate with what you are feeling. I can only suggest to continue your meetings. They are wonderful and so very helpful. It has changed my life around when I didn’t think anything else could.

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