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Codependency and Dysfunctional Families

Updated on July 14, 2015


Codependency can be defined as an addiction to people, behaviors, or things. A sense of control or lack of it, is central to everything a codependent does and thinks. It doesn't improve with time. Time tends to make the condition worse.

Codependency is classified as an addiction. Although it might not involve alcohol or drugs you are addicted to something such as unhealthy relationships, or control issues. Codependents must explore their lives and bring their relationships into clear focus. This includes evaluating your parents' relationship to you.

It's a false sense we can make ourselves happy by controlling people and events outside of ourselves. Today, codependency is an epidemic afflicting an average of 100, million Americans.

Dysfunctional families may have left you with many negative messages about yourself. These messages are like a recording playing over and over controlling your life. Part of recovery is creating new experiences to help override old misconceptions about yourself.

Accountability to others is an essential part of this process. A mentor, counselor, therapist, or support group can be extremely helpful.

Codependent or Dysfunctional Families

All families are somewhat codependent or dysfunctional. This is natural since none of us are perfect, including our parents who also make mistakes. They passed some of their childhood to us, and likewise we will likely do the same. But there are steps we can take to the break cycle.

Codependents Are Driven by Compulsions.

Compulsions are easy to identify if they are addiction to drugs or alcohol, sex, physical abuse of others, or eating disorders. Other compulsive behaviors, although equally real, are more difficult to identify: Being a workaholic, obsessive compulsive behavior, and the like. They are rarely seen as addicts; rather they are praised for their actions because they are the ones usually identified as “successful.”

  • Codependents commonly suffer low self-esteem. They have received few, if any affirming messages from parents or caregivers during childhood. They see themselves as inadequate, and have an insatiable need for approval by others.

  • They believe happiness depends upon others' behavior. They strive to fix unhappy aspects of their past by manipulating people and events. If they felt unloved and abandoned as children, they may be perfectionists as parents to compensate for past failures.

Many try to avoid this pain by trying to solve other people's problems. Since codependents can't even manage their own lives, they take upon themselves needless guilt.

Codependents are masters of denial. One of the first questions asked during a counseling session is how their childhood was. Usually they will respond with a story of how happy it was. Oddly enough, they then go on to describe a not so happy childhood. This tendency to deny seeming so helpful in the past, now becomes an obstacle to hurdle in their recovery.

Those afflicted with codependency worry about things they have no control over, however that doesn't stop them from trying. They can't accept the fact they are unable to control others.

Like a person with bipolar issues, their lives range from one extreme to another. Those who see only one side of the codependent's life, find it hard to believe the other extreme also coexists within them. The message is worth and dignity missed during childhood have left a big void in their life. Therefore, they look outside themselves for meaning and purpose.

Stages of Recovery

  1. Exploration and discovery. Be willing to explore your life and discover clues why you are the way you are.

  2. Relationship inventory. Bring relationships into clear focus. Don't pass judgment on events in your life by calling them right or wrong.

  3. Addiction Control. If you are codependent, you have an addiction. It may not involve alcohol or drugs, but you are addicted to something. Unhealthy relationships, controlling others, work, success, or excessive spending. Once a substance or behavior has become an addiction, the only solution is abstinence.

  4. New experiences. The next step in your recovery is to create new experiences based on new perceptions about yourself, other people, and life in general. They may include restructuring your relationships.

  5. Nurture and healing. Nurture and healing requires a process known in recovery circles as “re-parenting.” Re-parenting fills the void left by an emotionally deficient upbringing. You can't change the past, but you can find new sources of love and affirmation.


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