Saturday, October 22, 2011

Codependency - Identifying Its Causes and Effects

Codependency is a condition brought on by growing up in a dysfunctional family and promoted by our culture. Children whose parents are unable to be fully present with them because they are unable to be fully present to themselves and each other, can be deeply affected. You grow up without seeing how to love with openness and spontaneity, as well as discipline. You gradually turn off your ability to be fully alive. You learn distorted ways to protect your self from abuse (i.e., core beliefs and coping patterns) that interfere with intimacy.
This process can take place subtly, much like water eroding a rock little by little. Eventually you adapt by burying your heart and denying that you need your parents' love in the way you really do.
Here are some doubts and concerns of clients which reflect the harm that codependency can cause in one's life:
-Did my parents really love me? Really, care for me? If they really loved me, why didn't they treat me with more dignity and caring? Why were they so distant, so self-absorbed and sometimes even abusive and violent?
I got burned growing up. My family hurt me so much, why should I give anyone else a chance to hurt me again?
-I feel drained and my helping others is never enough. I can't fix the problem and people just get mad at me for interfering.
-Is being intimate something I can learn or am I doomed to feel alone even when I am with others?
-Is it possible to have a good relationship? Sometimes I feel I give my heart but they want my soul. Recognize energy drainers.
These statements may sound familiar to you. You may have heard them said, or said them yourself. They reflect what I call the "Dilemma of Love".
The AMA has recognized codependency as a disease, meaning it has an onset, a progression, and a finality. When you try to take care of unhealthy parents and protect your family system, you have no time to be a child or learn, in age appropriate ways, how to be an adult. Your feelings and needs are frequently suppressed as they are too threatening. Your emotional growth becomes stunted. Subtly, you learn to play your role, follow the rules, doing what is expected of you. You feel you have to act this way to help your parents and family. Usually on an unconscious level you believe that if you truly love your family, your will keep trying to save it. As you continue to abandon yourself, you fall prey to the disease of codependency.
In her book, "Choicemaking", Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse calls codependency...
"... a specific condition characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence (emotionally, socially and sometimes physically) on a person or object. Eventually this dependence on another person becomes a pathological condition that affects the codependent in all other relationships." Anne Wilson Schaef has identified this same pathological condition in our society as a whole. She looks at how a society can operate as a dysfunctional system just as a family can.
Codependency now refers to people who are afflicted by their own addictive process. They may come from families in which there were no noticeable addictions. Everything may have looked fine on the surface, but the parents were emotionally unavailable to the children and to each other. Because addiction is built into our society, most people, regardless of their family background, need to recover from some form of addictiveness.
The prefix "co" in the term codependency means "in relation to" an addictive process. It reflects the reality, recognized by clinicians, that a family of addictive disorders exists that includes alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, sex addiction, and compulsive spending as well as compulsive deprivations such as anorexia nervosa, sexual anorexia, compulsive saving and hoarding, and some phobic responses. The most important new insight of all is that the compulsive deprivation of one substance or behavior often balances the excess of another-in the same person.
You can become addicted to substances, people, ideas, activities, behaviors or anything that takes away the pain of reality and gives you a sense of personal identity. The addictive process is the same regardless of the addiction. Therefore, to free your heart and become fully alive it is necessary to heal on two levels: to arrest your addictions, as well as to heal your underlying disease of codependency.
As with any other disease, if you do not seek help your codependency will progress. As you fall prey to addictions and continually live from a false self, you will eventually break down under the strain. Untreated codependency invariably leads to stress-related complications, physical illness, depression, anxiety and eventually death. Fortunately, although it is a chronic and fatal disease, it is also treatable.
It is especially challenging to treat because it can be subtle and insidious. You may have a successful career and look all together on the outside, but feel tense and uneasy on the inside. This can make it difficult for you to seek help. You may not be able to make sense of the way you feel and you may not see a cause for your pain. Codependents often say, "Everything's fine in my life. I'm married; I've got a family and great kids. I should be happy, but I feel so empty."
It is important for you to understand that you are not at fault for having this illness. It was passed on to you through the generations whether you wanted it or not.
It is possible to suffer from this even if your parents were not emotionally unavailable. This "late onset codependency" appears even if you come from a relatively healthy family but stay with an untreated partner, you find yourself caught up in the abuse cycle of a dysfunctional relationship. This means your partner lives by dysfunctional rules and you can develop codependent symptoms as an adult. This leaves you vulnerable to developing some degree of codependency. It is not a black or white situation. It is on a continuum.
As with any issue, your responsibility begins once you are aware you may have this illness and begin to research what how to treat your problems. At this point, you can begin to recover your personal power and choose the kind of life you want. There is so much hope today and as I have said, working with a really knowledgeable coach/counselor can bring you the freedom to be who you want to be
Dr Susan Ricketson holds a PhD in psychology and as the co-founder and Executive Director of Triad Recovery Center in Connecticut; she is a trained and seasoned family counselor who has worked with couples and individuals using body-mind integration and a holistic approach. Her specialties are codependency, bereavement counseling, addiction recovery, and mentor coaching. She has been mentor coaching for years, helping other coaches develop the sophisticated techniques needed to help other reach their goals.

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