Codependency is a term widely used in the chemical addiction field. Originally it was used to describe the person or persons who were affected, due to being involved with someone who is/was chemically addicted. The parent, spouse, sibling or loved one who is involved with the addict develops certain pattern of behaviors for coping that lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. The behaviors are reactions or adaptations to the trauma. Although these behaviors seem to help the individual cope, they become maladaptive and harmful.

Recent research shows us that you do not have to be in an addictive family to develop codependent behaviors. The condition can emerge from any family system where certain unwritten, even unspoken, rules exist. These rules make healthy growth difficult and change very challenging. Here is a list by Robert Subby of common characteristics of codependency:

  • Difficulty in actually identifying feelings - Am I angry? Am I sad,…
  • Difficulty expressing feelings - I am feeling hurt, but how would others feel if they knew how I feel? What would they think of me?
  • Difficulty in forming or maintaining close relationships
  • Perfectionism
  • Rigidity or being stuck in attitudes and behaviors
  • Difficulty adjusting to change
  • Feeling overly responsible for other people’s behavior or feelings
  • Constant need for other’s approval in order to feel good about self
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • General feelings of powerlessness over one’s life
  • A basic sense of shame and low self-esteem

Because many codependent people appear to be strong and self sufficient, it is hard to image them with these characteristics. They live with the fear of “If they really knew me, they would…” To change this codependent pattern of living, we need to make friends with and nurture the child that lives within all of us. It is that child that we lost through our unhealthy relationships.