Many people who love an alcoholic or addict begin to lose themselves in the relationship. They frequently struggle to control or change the person they love and after a while they become reactive and may barely be able to remember their own goals and dreams. In many cases, loving an addict affects people to their core and overtakes their lives.
When this happens, the addict is no longer the only sick person in the relationship. The other person has developed a disorder called codependency.
How do you know if you have developed this disorder? One way to describe it is that codependency is an unhealthy way of relating in which you have made your relationship more important than your own well-being. You may not be addicted to drugs or alcohol yourself, but you are addicted to the addict. You revolve your life around drama and unpredictability. You forget how to focus on anything except the addict.
There are many other characteristics of people who are codependent. You may have all of these characteristics or only one or two.
- Low self-esteem – Codependents often don’t feel very good about themselves, and they look outside themselves for someone to let them know they are OK. People may feel unlovable deep down even if they appear to be self-assured.
- Strong nurturing tendencies – If you like taking care of other people and tend to put their needs ahead of your own, you may have a problem with codependency. You may put a lot of energy into fixing other people, solving their problems or trying to do things for them that they should do for themselves.
- Desire to be in control – What do codependents get out of remaining in dysfunctional relationships? In many cases, they have a strong desire to be in control. By taking care of an addict or another person who appears incapable of managing his or her own life, the codependent gets to run the show.
- Desire to be please others – If you’re a codependent, you may spend a lot of time desperately seeking approval from other people. You may bail the addict out of his problems or lie for him or try to solve all of his problems because you don’t know how else to get love.
- Being reactive – Are you a bundle of emotions all the time? Do you spend a lot of time and energy imagining the worst possible outcome of things that happen? Do you find yourself reacting to what you think other people are thinking? If you are a codependent, you may fly off the handle because you think someone gave you a “dirty look,” or you may pick up on emotions that other people are feeling because you are so other-centered.
- Failure to set healthy boundaries – You may have a hard time distinguishing where other people end and you begin. You may obsess about other people’s problems as if they were your own.
- Dependence – If you are a codependent, the thought of not having someone to revolve your life around feels like the end of the world. You may have a strong fear of abandonment, or you may panic at the thought of rejection. You may remain in a painful or abusive relationship because you are terribly afraid of being alone.
- Often experiencing negative emotions – You may be filled with a lot of negative emotions. You may be sad, angry, depressed, resentful, fearful, irritable or anxious. Life may seem to be full of one disappointment after another and you may feel hopeless. Or you may be so weary of feeling negative emotions that you have learned to numb out your feelings.
Codependents often deny that they have any kind of a disorder. They believe their problems are caused by others, so they continually obsess about fixing the other person. But if you’re a codependent, the only person you can fix is you.
If you recognize yourself in some of these behaviors, consider attending a meeting, try Codependents Anonymous or Al-Anon. You can also approach a therapist or minister to talk about your behavior patterns or struggles. Recognizing that you have a problem with codependency is the first step toward self-love and healing.