Codependence can be found in many troubled relationships. The term is useful, but it’s often misunderstood or confused with something else. Some people even make light of it. So what does it mean? Think of codependence as the result of a child growing up with little or no affection. When that child grows up, they’re emotionally deprived and constantly seek approval.

They want affirmation and affection so badly, they do things excessively (spend money, eat, work) in an attempt to get them. They use whatever they can get their hands on to fill the void. This is a dangerous approach to life – the harder the push, the harder the damage. The very things they do to feel good end up destroying them.

Addiction is usually associated with alcohol and drugs, but there are plenty of “clean” and “legal” addictions hiding in plain sight. The general public doesn’t see the signs of a shopping problem. It’s even possible to harbor an addiction to religion!

If it helps, think of these hidden addictions as preoccupations. To some people, they’re obsessions. However you frame them, they can damage a family just as much as a drug addiction or alcoholism.

If you put the child of an alcoholic and the child of a workaholic in the same room, you’d soon discover their emotional problems are nearly identical. Whether mommy is passed out or drunk, at the office or the bar, it makes no difference. She is unavailable to her kids.

Our childhoods are greatly affected by the actions of our parents and caregivers. When a young person doesn’t get the love and attention they need, there are consequences. Neglect stunts their social and emotional growth. They don’t learn how to form happy, healthy relationships.

When that troubled child reaches adulthood and marries, they may use their spouse or children to feed their self-esteem. They seek assurance from them, but they don’t necessarily give assurance in return. This sets up a vicious cycle that could span generations.

If you depended on an undependable person as a child, chances are you may be struggling with codependence. This isn’t a sign that you’re a terrible person. When you recognize your codependence, you’re not saying you’re weak or crazy. All it means is your environment made you who you are.

The marks we carry from our childhood have devastating effects that include the ability to have normal relationships. If you didn’t grow up with an alcoholic in the family but feel sad nonetheless, try to find out what may have happened. What addiction or trauma wounded you? How has it damaged your emotional stability?

Of course, this doesn’t give you the excuse to blame every adult you ever ran into as a child. They learned neediness from their own childhoods and probably did what they could for you. The only way to recover is to stop blaming other people for your problems and take action to secure a better future.