Thursday, April 29, 2010

Are they Co-Dependent or just Plain Clingy??

I had an excellent conversation this morning with an old friend about codependence. Or is it just "clingy?"

That is what we were trying to figure out.

Clearly, I am not a therapist. But I do have a friend who is one! I technically could consult her, but I would rather come up with my own "theories." LOL

Got to love it.

So - no, this is in no way certifiable, but it IS something I am fascinated with.

What is the definition of co-dependence? Apparently, it is a tendency to behave in ways that negatively impact one's relationships and quality of life. This behavior may be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, compliance, and/or control patterns.

Okay... but I need it spelled out a little more for me. I consulted a few resources and I found some interesting things that put it into perspective.

Codependents Anonymous offers these patterns and characteristics as a tool to aid in self-evaluation:

Denial Patterns:
I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
I minimize, alter or deny how I truly feel.
I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well being of others.

Low Self Esteem Patterns:

I have difficulty making decisions.
I judge everything I think, say or do harshly, as never "good enough."
I am embarrassed to receive recognition and praise or gifts.
I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
I value others' approval of my thinking, feelings and behavior over my own.
I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.

Compliance Patterns:

I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others' anger.
I am very sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
I value others' opinions and feelings more than my own and am afraid to express differing opinions and feelings of my own.
I put aside my own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.
I accept sex when I want love.

Control Patterns:

I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
I attempt to convince others of what they "should" think and how they "truly" feel.
I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.
I use sex to gain approval and acceptance.
I have to be "needed" in order to have a relationship with others.

Ewww.. I definitely have a few "friends" that fall into that category. ;-) WOW. Sooo.. where does this come from, and how can people break free from the patterns?
(If you did identify wil LOTS of the above patterns/statements.. there is some help/hope. There are various recovery paths for individuals who struggle with codependency.
For example, some may choose behavioral psychotherapy, sometimes accompanied by chemical therapy for accompanying depression.

There also exist support groups for codependency, such as Celebrate Recovery a Christian, Bible-based group, Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) and Al-Anon/Alateen, Nar-Anon, and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA), which are based on the twelve-step program model of Alcoholics Anonymous. Although the term codependency originated outside of twelve-step groups, it is now a common concept in many of them.

Many self-help guides have been written on the subject of codependency. One of the first was Codependent No More by Melody Beattie, published in 1987. Beattie has since written several other books on the subject. Other authors include Pia Melody (Facing Co-dependence) and Shirley Smith (Set yourself Free).)

What I want to know is what causes this?? According to it’s widely believed we become codependent through living in systems (families) with rules that hinder development to some degree. The system (usually parents and relatives) has been developed in response to some problem such as alcoholism, mental illness or some other secret or problem.

General rules set-up within families that may cause codependency may include:
It’s not okay to talk about problems
Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation
Be strong, good, right, perfect
Make us proud beyond realistic expectations
Don’t be selfish
Do as I say not as I do
It’s not okay to play or be playful
Don’t rock the boat.

Many families have one or more of these rules in place within the family. These kinds of rules can constrict and strain the free and healthy development of people’s self-esteem, and coping. As a result, children can develop non-helpful behavior characteristics, problems solving techniques, and reactions to situations in adult life.

One last thing - what if you are in a co-dependent relationship? I checked into that also. Web MD hooked me up with the following info:

Red Flags To Look For:

Red Flag No. 1: Do you become obsessed with fixing and rescuing needy people?

"Codependents are more oriented to other people's reality than their own," Cannon explains. "They can tell you what everybody else is feeling or needing but have no earthly idea what they want or need. They are the finder, fixer, and Mother Theresa. That is how they see themselves, and where they get their ego fix."

A person's motive for "doing good" indicates whether they are codependent or not, says Cannon. "Are you literally giving for fun and for free -- or to get some kind of payoff?" she asks. "If you're codependent, you're trying to be someone's savior to make yourself feel good. You give to them with an expectation of return. After all I've done for you, I get to tell you what to do with your life."

Red Flag No. 2: Are you easily absorbed in the pain and problems of other people?

"Codependent people can be obsessed with the pain and suffering of the other person," Cannon tells WebMD. "That allows them to sacrifice themselves. It's really learned self-defeating behavior."

It's why women in helping professions burn out, McKee adds. "They get super absorbed in the pain of others. They have trouble setting limits in taking in that pain. Some empathy is wonderful. But when you can feel the pain more than the person in pain feels it, it hurts you."

Red Flag No. 3: Are you trying to control someone? Is someone trying to control you?

Neediness is a hallmark of a codependent relationship. One person's happiness depends on having the other person right there -- right now. Not letting you hang out with friends, calling frequently to check up on you, having to be with you all the time -- these are controlling behaviors, says McKee.

"If you get close to someone else, it's very threatening to them," he explains. "They're calling you all the time when you're away: Do you still love me? Are you still there for me? It's a very unhappy way to live."

Red Flag No. 4: Do you do more than your share -- all of the time?

What's the difference between a hard worker and a workaholic? "Motive and consequences," says Cannon. "In those gray areas of addiction -- workaholism, housecleaning, perfectionism, religion, computer games -- those are the telling signs. Is your family suffering because of what you're doing? Are you suffering?"

"Many codependent people were the favorite child because they did more -- took care of the sick parent, got straight A's, cleaned the house," McKee adds. "Now, they feel like a martyr, victimized by doing it all. The martyr has a sense of gratification, but it's not a soul-satisfying gratification."

Red Flag No. 5: Are you always seeking approval and recognition?
Low-self esteem is a mark of codependence. "Shame is the core of the whole thing. Neglected children view themselves as dumb, stupid, worthless, and defective," says Cannon. "It's ingrained into the fabric of their character. It's because the message they got as children was -- I don't matter. I'm not important. I'm not worth taking care of."

As an adult, a codependent person judges themselves harshly, says McKee. "When they get recognition, they are embarrassed. They have difficulty asking others to meet their needs. They don't believe they are worthwhile."

There is no strong sense of self, McKee tells WebMD. "Ask them who they are, and men will give their job title. Women will say I'm a wife, partner, daughter, mother -- they define themselves in terms of relationships. A healthy person would say, 'I'm an independent and adventurous person.' There's nothing wrong with being proud of your job or relationships, but a healthy person should be able to identify characteristics beyond that."

Red Flag No. 6: Would you do anything to hold on to a relationship? Do you fear being abandoned?

During childhood, the codependent person felt abandoned by a parent, so they learn to fear it, McKee explains. "They are not really good at bonding. They don't know how to bond in a constructive way that has a healthy dependency between two independent people. They don't feel able to express their own feelings, express a difference in opinion, so bonding never quite works."

People who put up with abuse "are usually bright, attractive, intelligent women," he tells WebMD. "The abuse ranges from emotional to sexual and physical abuse. Why do they go back? Because they feel so terrible about themselves... that nobody else would want them."

Sooo.. There are Five Steps to ending the dysfuction:

Step 1 - Co-dependency is when a person acts against their own personal beliefs, wants, needs, and desires to please someone else.

The first step is realizing this is happening and when exactly it is occurring. If you've ever done something for someone and really didn't want to do it because you didn't want to upset the other person, you were acting in a co-dependent manner.

Step 2 - The second step of overcoming a co-dependent relationship after understanding that one is taking place, is to begin taking action.

Stop care taking, or taking care of other people. Your friends or significant others are fully capable of taking care of themselves. There is a huge difference between caring about someone (healthy) and caring for someone (unhealthy).

Children are an exception when they are very small, but even they have the ability to make their own choices and care for themselves to a large degree at a rather young age. Caring for someone actually lowers the other person's self-esteem as they can come to believe they are incapable of taking care of themselves.

Step 3 - When you begin taking action, the other person(s) in the co-dependent relationship will notice.

You now must learn to become assertive and stand up for yourself. This is not about being selfish and it is not about being aggressive about standing up for yourself. It is about expressing your feelings openly and letting others know how you feel about having to "take care of" others. You do this by stating your boundaries of what you feel is acceptable and what is not.

 You can only take care of yourself and your own personal happiness must come first. If you are not happy and healthy, how are you supposed to function in everyday life and all of your relationships? The short answer is you can't.

Step 4 - Once you begin being assertive about changing the unhealthy relationship and others take notice and begin to cooperate, show your appreciation for their efforts. Doing so is a positive reinforcement and will encourage the other person to continue to change for the better.

Step 5 - If the other person continues to violate your personal boundaries, restate what you feel is right and that you will not allow it to continue.

This does NOT necessarily mean ending the relationship, it means that you will not be a full participant in everything while it continues to go on. For example, if a fight ensues, you would state you are not going to be a part of it and you would remove yourself from the situation by going for a walk, drive, or even going out to catch a movie or cup of coffee. You can substitute any negative behavior that violates your boundaries with the fight in the example above. Let the other person know there are consequences to their actions and that you will not tolerate the behavior any longer.

There you have it - Co Dependency 101. I am sure we all have a friend or two in our life that is "clingy" and feels the need to take care of us. I can think of 2 or 3 off the top of my head. Come to think of it - some of that "drama" I was experiencing was coming from a co-dependent person. She sucked me into her need to burrow and "direct/produce/star" in my life.

Maybe your signifigant other has put you in a co-dependent relationship. Maybe YOU are the one who is co-dependent. Either way - it takes two. We have to remember that.

I hope this helps.. and, after my conversation with my other friend (who is clearly NOT codependent) .. interesting, don't you think? ;-)

Ohh.. the conversations I have with people before 9am.. lol.


Tori Cooper said...

Hi Nicole! Thank you for stopping by my blog this last weekend... :-D I really find your blog intriguing... so I decided I'm going to stick around!

About your post- I struggled with co-dependence the majority of my life- it really is a process to overcome co-dependency because it really becomes part of the fiber of your being. I do believe there is hope for anyone who struggles with co-dependency. Essentially co-dependency constitutes weak boundaries.

My co-dependency stemmed from childhood & how my parents raised me... they raised me to be co-dependent upon them. They were very religious and controlling in many aspects. I was to be submissive and obedient at all cost. I was a good kid- but I felt expected to please my parents and do what they wanted. I remember being 22 and feeling subjected to their control and rule. I gave them that kind of power. At 22, they started to get physically abusive towards me because I was starting to learn how to think for myself (college was teaching me critical thinking)... and so I moved out (without permission). It was the hardest thing to do but I had to do it. I felt cruel for separating myself from my abuser but felt peace too because I knew it was the right thing to do.

Like you said, it takes 2- it wasn't right for them to do that, but it also wasn't right for me to let them. I had to come to the point where I was "sick & tired of being sick & tired" and I had to separate myself physically, emotionally, mentally from them in order to seek healing. It has been hard on them but I think beneficial in the long run. At 22, I was lost- I didn't know who I was- my identity was tied into my parents and what they wanted and what they thought. At 22, I embarked on a journey to figure out who I was- because at that point I was clueless.

I have so much more to say about this topic but will stop here... I could go on and on...

I am currently in Celebrate Recovery (as you described above) and am seeing results. I am growing so much in the group & would recommend it to anyone who struggles with co-dependency/alcoholism or addictions of any sort.

Thank you for sharing!

Nicole said...


First of all, thank you so much for sharing your story. I truly appreciate it. Yes, and I am enjoying your blog also! I look forward to getting to know you, and to many posts of yours!

As for co-dependency, I think more of us fall into this category than not.

I am so happy you are in recovery and God Bless you!


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