Building healthy relationships and getting support from others is essential during recovery. However, people who are trying to get clean often struggle with codependent relationships. Codependency recovery programs allow people with addiction histories and their loved ones to establish balanced, constructive relationships.
What Is Codependency?
At first glance, codependency can look like a loving, helpful relationship. It occurs when one individual has a compulsion to help a loved one. The codependent person is the “fixer,” and their behaviors often seem giving and selfless.
From the codependent’s perspective, the goal may be to help their loved one get better. However, codependents usually act the way they do because they want to feel loved. Receiving gratitude and appreciation from the other person satisfies this desire.
In reality, a codependent person struggles when their partner takes responsibility for their own life. When the other person takes control of their boundaries, actions and emotions, they don’t need the codependent’s help anymore. Therefore, a codependent doesn’t really want to help the other person. Subconsciously, they want the other person to continue to need them, because they lose their sense of value when they can’t be the helper.
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What Is Codependency in Addiction?
People in recovery are highly susceptible to being involved in codependent relationships. They must put their needs first, and they’re attracted to people who can help them do that. When a codependent person overextends themselves to satisfy the person with the addiction, they may seem like a savior. The person who struggles with substance abuse latches on to the unhealthy support that they receive from their loved one, perpetuating the codependency and negatively impacting their recovery.
Examples of Codependency in Addiction
Codependency often starts when someone is in active addiction. While someone is using, they may do anything to continue their habit. They harm themselves and their loved ones in the process. But a codependent friend or partner will step up and try anything to keep the person with the substance abuse disorder in their lives. This often results in enabling behavior that ultimately traps the addict in their negative patterns.
Some examples of codependency in addiction include:
- Making excuses for the user’s problematic behavior
- Assuming responsibilities that the user isn’t handling themselves
- Cleaning up the user’s financial, social, school and career messes
- Protecting the user from negative consequences of their actions
- Offering unsolicited advice or assistance
- Avoiding conflict or difficult conversations
- Blaming others for the loved one’s addiction
- Trying to control or manipulate the person with the addiction through “helpful” actions
- Attempting to repair relationships that are damaged by the user’s substance abuse
- Putting their lives at risk to take care of the person with the addiction
When the Person With the Addiction Is the Codependent One
The individual who struggles with addiction may also be the codependent one. They may distract themselves by focusing on others’ needs, putting their own on the back burner. This can look like:
- Neglecting healthy routines, such as eating and sleeping, to take care of someone else
- Dropping everything to show up for the other person
- Setting aside your interests to pursue your partner’s hobbies
- Leaving behind your supportive social circle to hang out with the other person’s friends
- Becoming consumed with the relationship instead of focusing on recovery
- Resenting the other person because you do more for them than they do for you
Qualities of Codependency
Sometimes, it can be difficult to determine if you or another person in a relationship is codependent. There can be a fine line between healthy dependency and codependency. Understanding the symptoms of codependency can help you identify whether you’re in a problematic relationship.
Here are some signs that you’re codependent:
- You only feel purposeful and loved when you’re helping or rescuing someone.
- You sacrifice your feelings and needs to avoid conflict.
- You’re critical of yourself and put yourself down.
- You have low self-esteem.
- You have a hard time setting boundaries.
- You suppress your emotions.
- You never feel good enough.
- You are extremely hard-working and responsible.
- You like to be in control and get anxious when you’re not.
- You have difficulty asking for help.
- You have trouble establishing strong trust or deep intimacy with others.
- You act out of character to avoid being rejected or abandoned.
- You don’t feel ok if your loved one is struggling.
Why Are Codependent Relationships Harmful in Recovery?
Support, assistance and understanding are vital for healthy relationships. Therefore, you might wonder why codependent relationships are dangerous in recovery.
While you need people who have your back while you’re going through recovery, you need to take control of your own life. If a loved one is trying to control you, even if their actions seem to be in your best interest, you can have trouble asserting yourself. A major part of recovery involves identifying and regulating your emotions. When someone else takes on this responsibility for you, you don’t get to practice the skills that you learn in addiction recovery treatment.
To be successful in recovery, you must establish and maintain boundaries. If a codependent loved one oversteps your boundaries in the name of helping you, you may struggle to identify what a healthy boundary looks like. If you’re the codependent one, you might also have a warped sense of what a constructive boundary is.
Ultimately, codependents are harmful in relationships because they don’t allow you to establish true trust and intimacy with others. They rely on superficial elements, such as how much help one person needs and how much assistance the other person can deliver.
Codependency recovery requires you to detach from those superficial elements. But that doesn’t mean that you have to disconnect from your loved one. Both parties in a codependent relationship can benefit from therapy to learn what a positive relationship entails. As you practice meeting your own needs, you’ll be better able to support others without dealing with the impacts of manipulation, enabling behaviors and control.
Family involvement plays a major role in the addiction recovery process at Burning Tree Ranch. We focus on helping the individual in recovery and their family members move through their journeys separately. We also emphasize the importance of removing all expectations and assumptions so that everybody can truly heal. Codependency recovery is part of substance abuse treatment that significantly impacts your chances of success.