Important Information about
Codependency, Denial, & Recovery
is a learned behavior that can be
passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral
condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually
satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are
one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.
The disorder was first
identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal
relationships in families of alcoholics. Codependent
behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display
this type of behavior.
Codependency Affect? Codependency often affects a spouse, a
parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or
drug misuse. Originally, codependent was a term used to describe partners
in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an
addicted person. Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships
with chronically or mentally ill individuals. Today, however, the term has
broadened to describe any codependent person from any dysfunctional family.
What is a Dysfunctional
Family and how does it lead to Codependency?
A dysfunctional family is
one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or
denied. Underlying problems may include any of the following:
- An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol,
relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
- The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
- The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic
mental or physical illness.
Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them
or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and
disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult
emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They
don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional
family are often inhibited. Attention and energy focus is on the family member who is
ill or addicted. The codependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs
to take care of a person who is sick. When codependents
place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose
contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.
How Do Codependent
People Behave? Codependents have low self-esteem and look
for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard
to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine
- and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like
workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity. They have good intentions. They try to take care of a
person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating. Codependents often
take on a martyr’s role and become “benefactors” to an individual in need. A
wife may cover for her alcoholic husband; a mother may make excuses for a
truant child; or a father may “pull some strings” to keep his child from
suffering the consequences of delinquent behavior. The problem is that these
repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a
destructive course and to become even more dependent on the unhealthy
caretaking of the “benefactor.” As this reliance increases, the codependent
develops a sense of reward and satisfaction from “being needed.” When the
caretaking becomes compulsive, the codependent feels as if he/she has no
choices and is helpless in the relationship, but is unable to break away from
the cycle of behavior that causes it. Codependents
view themselves as victims and are attracted to that same weakness in the love
and friendship relationships.
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of
- A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to
“love” people they can pity and rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
- A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The
co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the
feeling of abandonment
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy/boundaries
- Chronic anger
- Poor communications
- Difficulty making decisions
Hits Home The first step in changing unhealthy behavior is to understand it. It
is important for codependents and their family members to educate themselves
about the course and cycle of addiction and how it extends into their
relationships. A lot of change and growth is necessary for the
codependent and his or her family to recover. Any caretaking behavior that allows or enables abuse to continue in the
family needs to be recognized and stopped. The codependent must identify
and embrace his or her feelings and needs. This may include learning to say
“no,” to be loving yet tough, and learning to be self-reliant. People find
freedom, love, and serenity in their recovery.
Family Roles in Addiction & Codependency Though often unrealized, help
for codependency in alcohol and drug addiction treatment should be a family
affair. As people read through the addiction family roles information presented
here, they may often identify a person in their life who plays each role.
Roles, though present in situations without addiction, often become more
apparent when an addict is present.
Families are Systems in a balance like a mobile and family members will unknowingly take on
specific roles so the family with an addict can remain in balance.
The roles are: The Addict, The Hero, The Mascot, The Lost Child, The Scapegoat, The
Caretaker (Enabler). Each role is given a brief description for understanding
one basis of family addiction recovery. A summary follows with information on
how and why the roles lead to codependency.
The Addict The person with the addiction is the
center, and though the key to alcohol and drug addiction recovery, not
necessarily the most important in family recovery. The "world"
revolves around this person, causing the addict to become the center of
attention. As the roles are defined, the others unconsciously take on the rest
of the roles to complete the balance after the problem has been introduced.
The Hero The Hero is the one who needs to make
the family, and role players, look good. They ignore the problem and present
things in a positive manner as if the roles within the family did not exist.
The Hero is the perfectionist. If they overcome this role they can play an
important part in the addiction recovery process. The underlying feelings are fear, guilt, and shame. Hero's purpose: to
raise the esteem of the family.
The Mascot The Mascot's role is that of the
jester. They will often make inappropriate jokes about those involved. Though
they do bring humor to the family roles, it is often harmful humor, and they
sometimes hinder addiction recovery. The
underlying feelings are embarrassment, shame, and anger. Mascot's purpose: to
provide levity to the family; to relieve stress and tension by distracting
The Lost Child The Lost Child is the silent, "out
of the way" family member, and will never mention alcohol or recovery.
They are quiet and reserved, careful to not make problems. The Lost Child gives
up self needs and makes efforts to avoid any conversation regarding the
underlying roles. The underlying feelings
are guilt, loneliness, neglect, and anger. Lost child's purpose: does not place
added demands on the family system; he/she is low maintenance.
The Scapegoat The Scapegoat often acts out in front of
others. They will rebel, make noise, and divert attention from the person who
is addicted and their need for help in addiction recovery. The Scapegoat covers
or draws attention away from the real problem. The underlying feelings are
shame, guilt, and empty. Scrapegoat's purpose: puts the focus away from
alcohol/addiction thereby allowing the alcoholic/addict to continue
(Enabler) The Caretaker (Enabler)
makes all the other roles possible. They try to keep everyone happy and the
family in balance and avoid the issue. They make excuses for all behaviors and
actions, and never mention addiction recovery or getting help. The Caretaker
(Enabler) presents a situation without problems to the public. The underlying
feelings are inadequacy, fear, and helplessness. Caretaker's purpose: to
maintain appropriate appearances to the outside world.
More about Family System Roles and Rules
Healthy Family System:
worth is high.
is direct, clear, specific and honest and feelings are expressed.
are human, flexible and appropriate to change.
is natural to link and be open to society.
person has goals and plans to get there, and should be supported by the family.
Rules in a Dependent or Addicted Family
- Addict's use of alcohol/drugs is the most important thing
in a family life.
- Drug use in not the cause of family problems, it is
denial which is the root.
- Blaming others, don't make mention of it, covering
up, alibis, loyalty of family enablers.
- Nobody may discuss problem outside the family.
- Nobody says what they feel or think.
Addiction and the
Family Roles: How they lead to Codependency The parts played by family members lead
to codependency. Members make decisions concerning what the other person needs.
Codependency leads to aversion and lack of self orientation in a situation
where an addiction is present. Ultimately people "become" the part
they are playing.
Family Recovery The goal in alcohol and drug addiction recovery is to
bring each member as a whole into a situation where the problems can be dealt
with. Individual talents and abilities should be integrated into the situation,
allowing emotional honesty about the situation, without guilt or punishment.
The overall goal in overcoming codependency is to make
each person whole.
People become familiar with and dependent on the role
they play in families. In overcoming the family roles, you will begin to
overcome issues, and what could be classified as the addiction to the role.
While the conquering of the substance is important to the person with the
addiction, a point to remember is the substance(s) is not the key to family
recovery; removing the underlying roles are. In beginning recovery, each family member must become
proactive against the addiction to the role, and learn to become their true
self. The goal is for each to person to become independent, and then approach
the substance addiction recovery as a group of individuals, rather than as
people playing a part. Whole, independent people can freely contribute to the
recovery of the person overcoming the addiction, while a person playing a part
can only perform the role.
- Begin with yourself.
- Find, and write a list of your
strengths and weaknesses.
- Build on what you have.
- Let go of trying to be perfect
and realize all people have some weaknesses.
- A true person utilizes strengths, while building up their
Addiction recovery for the codependent role is tough. You
must be personally honest and decide what you like or dislike. This may be as
simple as defining how you wish things were, without playing the part, and
adding support or friends in areas, or as encompassing as rethinking the path
of your life. Refraining from forcing yourself to engage in activities,
because of the codependency, is important to successful recovery from the
addiction. There are many resources for codependent roles and overcoming these
roles. Please, be honest in deciding if you have an addiction to a specific
role in a relationship and find resources to help you in your recovery. As you begin to
understand, breaking the family role should become easier. Remember to be
understanding of others also.