Co-dependency can be passed down generation to generation. Another term for it is “relationship addiction,” as people with codependency have a high likelihood of engaging in relationships which are emotionally unhealthy or abusive. Co-dependent behavior patterns are learned by watching family members, then imitating the behavior (sometimes without even realizing).
A dysfunctional family is often the place of origin for codependency to take root. Underlying issues may occur including:
- addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, food, sex or gambling
- presence of physical, emotional or sexual abuse
- a family member who suffers from a chronic mental or physical illness
In addition, members of a dysfunctional family are not capable of recognizing problems exist. These issues are not confronted nor are they discussed. Emotions may be repressed and disregarded for their own needs. Behaviors develop which help the family members deny, ignore or avoid difficult emotions and detachment can occur. Emotional development of other family members may become stunted or inhibited due to the inability to properly express and work out emotions in a positive, healthy manner.
A person who is codependent often sacrifices the needs of self for that of others, particularly for someone who is ill or in active addiction. The welfare and safety of that person is jeopardized as they give up needs and desires for work, relationships and self to “help” the other person or people struggling.
Within a codependent relationship, some of the behaviors exhibited may include:
- exaggerated sense of responsibility for other’s actions
- confusion about love versus pity wherein a person tends to ‘love’ people who want or need to be rescued
- doing more than an equal share, all the time (going overboard)
- feelings of being hurt when efforts (going overboard) are not recognized
- unhealthy focus and dependence on relationships where the person will do anything to hold onto a relationship to avoid feeling abandoned
- guilty feelings when asserting own interests
- need or desire to control others
- fear of being abandoned or alone
- issues with boundaries
- poor communication
- difficulty making decisions
Roots often go back to a person’s childhood. Treatment typically involves looking into an individual’s early childhood, relationships, destructive patterns and familial issues. Education, individual and group therapy and self-discovery are ways to identify self-defeating behavior.
Understanding behavior is unhealthy is often the first step. From there, education about codependent behaviors often can help build knowledge and comprehension of how it affects interpersonal relationships and the self. Libraries, drug and alcohol abuse treatment centers, as well as mental health centers, offer educational materials and services for the public.