"Codependency is an addiction to trying to fix someone.  [Unfortunately] It keeps the relationship dysfunctional.  It always ends up with the loss of your own self.  and it always harms the other person if they don't have to take responsibility for what they are doing wrong." Lynne Namka, The Doormat Syndrome. 


As I’ve worked with it, CoDependence exists not only within relationships to people who are addicted, but to the Narcissistic, non-addicted as well.  Here, I’m using the term 'Co-Dependent' to describe the adaptive, but still dysfunctional strategies learned to survive within addictive, or otherwise dysfunctional families. Strategies of over-compliace, over adaption, become so engrained into the personality, we come to depend on them, to "know" them as a part of one's very identity itself.  This type of relationship is one of the most difficult and heartbreaking situations one can be in.  Maybe I misspoke myself: it is actually an easy relationship -  in that it works - until we discover that we’re living in one. Especially if we then want to change it! 

CoDependent relationships are mainly ‘one-way’ relationships characterized by a lack of reciprocity, where the CoDependent is the constant ‘giver’; the ‘host’ is the parasitic ‘taker.’  In it’s extreme, the codependent gives up every shred of autonomy; any sense of Self-directedness and may even ‘give over’ their entire sense of identity to the disordered ‘host(s).’ Growing up in these dysfunctional families can be extremely chaotic, lonely, and sometimes frightening. Does the following statement seem familiar in any way? “I never knew what I would have to deal with when s/he walked in the door!”. Even as children, we must learn to navigate and negotiate a world that can be thoroughly confusing or neglectful or abusive. So, we become creatively skillful at learning to accept, adapt, and overcome these insults. We may become the consummate “people pleaser.”

At what cost? Generally, at the expense of being free to embrace and express our real Self. In the hope of being accepted and loved, patterns of over-compliance become so familiar, so reflexive, that often we don’t even know that we’re not being ‘real.’  In fact over time, the very strategies that helped us survive, end up sucking the life out of us and are exhausting, aren’t they?  By the way: did you ever really get the love you wanted, as a result of using those strategies? CoDependence is the term used to describe those adaptive, often over-accommodating strategies used by people who grew up in addictive, disordered, or otherwise dysfunctional families. Do these seem familiar to you?

  • Low self esteem
  • Depression or anxiety or even resentment much of the time
  • Having thoughts like, “I don’t know who I am any more”
  • Feeling like a victim much of the time
  • Making excuses or apologizing for a significant other
  • Feeling like a “walking apology” yourself
  • A history of poor relationships:
    • even though you take responsibility for meeting everyone else's needs at the expense of your own
    • even though you change who you are to please others 
    • because you can be so compulsive about things
    • because you can be too aggressive or overly passive
    • having been bullied, or  you bullying others

As I intimate above, CoDependence usually has it’s roots in childhood and is, in my experience, entirely workable!  Initially, couples counseling may be encouraged periodically as an adjunct to your work and insight oriented therapy is usually the modality of choice.  The treatment plan will also include immediate, concrete, practical strategies for transforming ‘other-directed’ behaviors into those more Self-directed and personally empowering, within all of your relationships.

In the Lansing, Michigan area, please feel free to email or call me with any questions or comments at the address below.

Peter Roseman Psy.S.
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