Many of us care deeply about someone with a chemical dependency. That person might be a friend, parent, spouse, or child. Our love for the dependent person can turn into codependency. This happens when we react to the person’s behavior and try to control it. Codependent habits often go unnoticed, but they can cause great damage. They may actually help the dependent person stay addicted and they can stop the codependent person from living a fulfilling life.
Do you think you might have codependent habits? If so, learning about codependency is your first step toward a happier life. This knowledge can help your dependent loved one too. Changing your habits may help them get healthy.
What are the signs?
Codependency comes in many forms, but the focus on others stays the same. The codependent pays lots of attention to the actions and feelings of others. As they do this, they neglect their own needs. The codependent is always reacting, rather than acting for themselves.
Common signs of codependency include:
- Worry and anxiety
- Bending over backward to take care of others
- Not knowing or not trusting one’s own feelings
- Feeling guilty for not doing enough
- Feeling isolated or depressed
- Staying in bad relationships (or sabotaging good ones)
- Trouble with emotional intimacy or sex
- Lack of energy
- Low self-esteem
What are the effects?
A codependent person often tries to rescue the dependent person. They may lie to cover up for the person's actions. They might lend them money or take over their responsibilities. This makes it easier for the abuser to keep on using.
The codependent may also try to control the abuser's habits. They might nag, plead, or hide the abuser's alcohol or drugs. The codependent may act out of love, and struggles to make the abuser change, but the only person they can change or control is them.
The abuser must choose to work toward recovery. Meanwhile, the codependent person can make choices for their own life and health.
How can I recover?
Recovering from codependency sounds simple, but it takes time and effort. The key is to learn to take care of yourself and let others take care of themselves.
To do this, you'll need to tune into your own feelings and behaviors. You'll need to detach yourself from other people's problems. You'll have to learn to love yourself and take responsibility for your own needs. Detaching doesn't mean you don't care about your loved one. It means that you're putting your energy to better use.
Loving a chemically dependent person can be terribly painful. It can affect your life for years. Recovering from codependency is a process. It means accepting, letting go of pain, and finding ways to be happy.
Recovery may be easier with outside help. Consider working with a therapist with experience in substance use disorder and codependency, or contact your local chapter of Al-Anon.
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