What is codependence? It’s a confusing term, for sure, and trying to pin down the exact meaning can be frustrating. Was it made up by magazine psychologists looking to make easy money? Is it a fad in the world of mental health? A marketing tool?
It doesn’t help that many experts have their own definitions. Some claim codependence is satisfying emotional needs by focusing on other people and their problems. Others believe codependence involves depending on others and gaining approval so their own lives will have value and meaning. Yet another expert may say sufferers have poisonous relationships with themselves.
At Maui Recovery, we like this definition: Codependence stems from growing up in a troubling environment. In other words, a child had to depend on an undependable caregiver. Maybe they were left in a hot car for long periods while a parent worked or shopped. Perhaps one parent struggled with a drug or alcohol addiction.
Our focus at Maui Recovery is on emotional dilemmas that form when people have tough childhoods.
People who endured abuse or neglect during childhood tend to pick up harmful behaviors. Some classic examples include caretaking, misery addiction, control addiction, people pleasing and approval seeking.
One pattern we tend to find among our codependent clients is categorical thinking, also known as black-and-white thinking. Something is good or bad, right or wrong – a middle ground doesn’t exist. This often leads to social problems. A codependent employee may quit after receiving constructive criticism from their boss. It’s all or nothing. Either they’re great, or they’re a failure.
Personalization is another issue we see. Everything is interpreted as a complaint or criticism directed towards them. The sufferer winds up feeling isolated, paranoid, and hostile. Consider this scenario: Arthur and Andy go to a community meeting. Andy discusses a littering problem in the area. Because Arthur is guilty of littering, he assumes Andy is talking about him personally. Offended, he leaves and never attends another meeting.
Codependent people can also suffer from obsessive over-analyzing and quickly wear themselves out.
People who grew up under traumatizing circumstances can also fall victim to “awfulizing.” They expect the worst to happen in any situation. Anything positive is negative, and disaster lurks around every corner. To them, this is perfectly normal. At Maui Recovery, we know they don’t know any other way to live. By ushering them through our recovery program with an understanding hand, we heighten their chances of breaking through the agonizing patterns that make up codependency.
Obsession: Addressing the next incident
Compulsion: Avoiding, fixing, and easing pain
When you think about caretaking, what comes to mind? Many people associate caretaking with helping those who are old or sick, like adult offspring assisting a parent. In this case, caretaking refers to individuals who are too busy focusing on the needs of others to do anything for themselves.
This addiction takes on several forms. For instance, the sufferer may feel compelled to “rescue” those around them because it nourishes their self-esteem. The more they do, the better they feel. Some have to control how others behave, even if doing so damages or completely destroys relationships. Enabling is another form of caretaking. Whatever it’s form, caretaking hurts our sense of who we are, weakens healthy relationships, and brings countless struggles.