I am so happy to bring to you this month, Dana Zarcone. She has a lot to say and we're so lucky to have her here to share her perspective on codependency this month!
First off, I am very excited to be a guest writer for Rachel, because it is giving me an opportunity to talk about a very well known, but often misunderstood, topic … codependency.
The words codependent and codependency are thrown around all the time. However, most people who use them couldn’t really tell you what they mean. Even if they could come up with a definition, it wouldn’t be the same from one person to the next.
When I’ve asked my clients what they think codependency is they come up with interesting definitions such as “being married to an alcoholic”, “being in an unhealthy relationship”, or “when you spend most of your time taking care of someone else”. These are very different definitions. So which definition is right?
Well … all of them!
The History of Codependency
Believe it or not, this concept really isn’t that old because it didn’t come about until the late 70’s (okay, maybe I’m dating myself! Ouch!). At the time, it was a word used very specifically to describe a person who’s unable to cope with life in a healthy way as a result of living with someone who is chemically dependent. Chemically dependent meant addicted to alcohol or drugs.
This definition has evolved over time shifting from just chemical addiction to all types of addictions, or compulsions, including overeating, gambling, sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll! Well, okay – maybe not rock ‘n roll – but you get the gist!
As time went on, mental health professionals started noticing that people in close relationships with individuals who had these non-chemical addictions, developed the same unhealthy coping patterns as those who were in relationships with alcoholics. They started noticing the strong impact the addict had on the family and, conversely, the strong impact the family had on the addict. In essence, they had developed an unhealthy reciprocal relationship.
Fast forward to today, the concept of codependency has expanded even more. In addition to what’s described above, it also includes people in relationships with individuals who are emotionally or mentally disturbed, have a chronic illness, behavior problems, anger issues or are just flat out irresponsible. As a result, codependency impacts more of the general population than it had before.
It’s often referred to as a “relationship addiction” because the codependency comes from a place of control and neediness rather from a place of love and respect.
When I’m working with my clients I try to answer seven (7) questions:
- Do they communicate openly and honestly?
- Can they resolve conflict effectively?
- Do they have realistic expectations of one another?
- Can they express their feelings?
- Do they trust themselves and each other?
- Do they discuss their problems?
- Do they make decisions together?
If the answer to these questions are “no”, then they are most likely in a codependent relationship.
As you can see, codependency is a very tough concept to grasp because it is quite complex. However, I like to simplify things as much as possible so I am going to give you my definition:
“A codependent person is someone who has let another person’s behavior change the way they think, believe, behave and act in order to make the other person happy at the expense of their own mental, emotional or physical health.” ~ Dana Zarcone, Founder of Source Your Joy
Based on my studies, and my personal and professional experience, I am really comfortable defining it this way. While it’s somewhat of a “catch all”, it takes a rather complex issue and simplifies it by addressing the symptoms, cause, effect, patterns and pain.
The most important point to make here is that the definition doesn’t focus on the person with the addiction or compulsive behavior. Instead, it focuses on the person that’s in the relationship with them! The focus is on anybody that’s in an unhealthy relationship and has yet to define and maintain healthy boundaries.
The co-dependent pays a huge price. While trying to control, support, care for the other person, they give themselves away with the bath water. When the energy is spent focused on something or someone outside of themselves, they give away their power. The result is low self-esteem, low level of confidence, self-hatred, self-repression, feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, and an unhealthy tolerance for bizarre and narcissistic behavior. When you sum it up, the codependent has completely abandoned themselves.
Is Codependency a Disease?
Just as there is a difference of opinion on the definition, there are many differences of opinion as to whether codependency is a disease or not. Some consider it a chronic, progressive illness while others think that it is a typical, organic reaction to an unhealthy situation.
Personally, (yes, I’m a bit opinionated on this one) I don’t think it’s a disease at all. I think saying it’s a disease is a huge mistake. First, it makes the person think they’re sick. Second, it takes responsibility and accountability away from the codependent and allows them to play the victim. “I can’t help it. I have a disease”. Third, it allows the pharmaceutical companies, healthcare companies, and physicians to leverage this positioning and subscribe medications unnecessarily so they can benefit financially.
So, if it’s not a disease, how does someone become codependent?
As the old saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”!
Codependent behavior is the result of growing up in a dysfunctional family environment where they experienced pain, fear, rejection, or shame that was ignored, minimized or denied. This happens in families where there’s substance abuse; mental, emotional, sexual or physical abuse; mental illness; chronic criticism; or simply a non-loving environment. In this environment, individual needs are disregarded, issues don’t get discussed nor do they get resolved, feelings are repressed not expressed.
In essence, the codependent experienced some sort of disconnection or trauma in their early developmental years that has manifested in a fear of abandonment, rejection, and/or betrayal. As a result of these experiences, they feel worthless, unlovable … defective in some way. The coping mechanism is for the codependent to “fix”, help or control others as a way to feel worthy and loveable.
As you can see, codependency is the result of a cycle that can go on for generations if it’s not nipped in the bud.
It’s important to emphasize again that the codependent isn’t broken, sick, twisted, mentally ill … I could go on and on. It simply means that they’ve been wounded spiritually, emotionally and psychologically and, as a result, they have some real healing to do. In order to do this, they need to begin a very personal journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance and, eventually, self-love. When they start this journey they can begin to reclaim their power and enjoy life again on their terms!
Stay tuned because over the next few weeks we’ll explore this topic in more detail. Specifically, I’ll talk more about relationship boundaries, underlying issues of the codependent, and the recovery process.
Until next week …
Founder, Source Your Joy
Dana, the CEO and Founder of Source Your Joy, is known as a revolutionist in the personal development industry. She is passionate about helping her clients recover from depression, codependency, abuse, and anxiety. She’s a driving force in helping clients reclaim their personal power, unlock their greatest potential, and dance with life again. Dana has been working with clients for over 13 years. She has her M.S. in Psychotherapy and is a National Certified Counselor, Certified Energetic Practitioner and Certified Life Coach.