Loved ones can develop codependent, or co-addictive behaviors in response to an addict, which behaviors increase in complexity and severity over time.
What A Codependent or Co-Addict Experiences
Those in a relationship with an addict can end up feeling like they are crazy. They have often experienced distance, dysfunctional patterns, lies, criticism, and lack of responsibility and accountability of their partner. It is common for addicts to shift blame if there is an attempt to hold them accountable. Addicts can often twist information suggesting the loved one (codependent or co-addict) is over reacting, being sensitive, or complaining. Addicts can demonstrate manipulative behaviors to cover for their disease, with much of the impact falling on their loved ones.
Once they are out of the denial phase, codependents can wonder, how did I end up in this situation? They can reach a point where they feel overwhelmed and as though they cannot handle it for another minute. This experience of being overwhelmed can also come and go in cycles. This process over time can be described like a frog in boiling water. If you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly turn up the heat, the increase in temperature will not be as obviously noticed, but will be more subtle. When you place a frog in boiling water immediately, it would jump out or feel the pain of the heat more obviously and intensely. Codependents can find themselves in these situations, when the addictive behavior has progressed and the dysfunctional impact has increased over time. Individuals in these circumstances often do not recognize it as clearly.
Codependence does not occur in a vacuum. These behaviors are developed in direct response to an addict’s behaviors. That being said, there are factors that predispose one to codependency as well as addiction.
Relationship Functions in Codependent Relationships
In a marriage or partnership involving addiction, certain patterns can develop, referred to as over functioning and under functioning. The addict begins to under function, leaving responsibilities unattended, which are quickly picked up by the partner. Over time, stepping in and over functioning becomes an automatic response. The addict becomes less inclined to show initiative and likely feels a sense of inadequacy at some level. The couple becomes dysfunctional and imbalanced. This pattern will commonly result in feelings of resentment for both parties involved.
Enabling and Controlling – Key Components of an Active Codependent
The codependent who is in denial can also engage in enabling behaviors without realizing it. Protecting the addict from real consequences, stepping in to complete their responsibilities, providing excuses or cover to others when the addict falls short. The codependent partner can also put tremendous energy toward presenting to the world that everything is fine. This pressure builds and the codependent will eventually begin to feel out of control. This is a key point for codependents is learning that they cannot control their partner or their behavior. Nor is it their job to do so.
This is a key point for codependents is learning that they cannot control their partner or their behavior. Nor is it their job to do so.
Codependents can also take addictive behaviors of their partner personally. “If only I did….then maybe things would be better.” The “If only” syndrome is classic for codependents, as they somehow think that they can impact the choices their partners make, and if they don’t, they feel like a failure. This [codependent] pattern is crazy making because it is impossible to control what another person does. Putting tremendous effort into changing, watching, or trying to control another person can feel like pushing boulders uphill and making no progress. It can be exhausting.
This [codependent] pattern is crazy making because it is impossible to control what another person does.
How to Stop Codependent or Co-Addict Behaviors
In recovery, codependents are taught that they didn’t cause it, they can’t control it, and they can’t cure it. Codependents often recognize that they have a lot of recovery work to do themselves. Initially, much time will be spent focusing on all the “problems” of the addict and the dysfunction involved. However, in order to recover themselves, they will learn to shift the focus away from the addict and onto themselves. One step is awareness, understanding the codependent traits and how this contributes to the addictive cycle. Codependents can gain insight into how many of their behaviors were not “helpful” to the addict and could have even exacerbated the problems. Growth occurs when co-addicts can acknowledge and accept how their behavior can contribute greatly to the dysfunctional cycles in the relationship.
Codependent behaviors that increase outside the relationship can include tendencies of taking on too much, over committing, and feeling overwhelmed or unable to cope. Co-addicts have been described as trying to be “managers of the world,” or “masters of the universe.” If they don’t step in and handle it, who will? Again, this can lead to feelings of negativity and resentment toward people beyond the addict.
Letting Go Is an Essential Part of Codependent Recovery
An important part of recovery is acceptance and letting go; acceptance that some things are out of our control. The good news is that with this belief, co-addicts can feel some relief that they are not responsible for the actions of others. Additionally, there comes the realization that they are responsible for their own behaviors and feelings, regardless of what the addict does.
Key Reminders for Codependents
- Learn acceptance vs. approval
- Don’t cover or protect addict from consequences
- Don’t do for others what they can do themselves
- Watch for a tendency to over function or over commit
- Learn to say no
- Don’t over personalize
- Detach from behaviors, reactions, and moods of others
- Don’t dwell on the negative
- Get away from “if only” and “what if” statements
- Learn to trust yourself
- Establish and keep boundaries in relationships
- Keep the focus on yourself
- Abstain from obsessive thoughts
- Learn coping skills for anxiety
- Don’t accept responsibility for others’ reactions and feelings
- Watch for feelings of resentment
- Learn to identify your own feelings
- Don’t focus on the expectations of others (or assumed expectations)
- Evaluate your expectations
- Stop trying to change others
- Detach from unhealthy involvements or relationships
- Let go of obsessive worry about the addict
- Learn what self care is
- Practice self care