What is co-dependency? Part 1

Sobriety Navigator: What is Co-dependency? Part 1. 


Co-dependency: Trauma bonds formed in childhood.

Trauma bond:  Seeking the familiar, despite the consequences.

Setting the Stage for Co-Dependency

Children who grow up in environments where they are objectified, dismissed or taken for granted learn to objectify, minimize and devalue themselves.  In many instances they do the same to those around them. It is common for them to develop and display disdain, contempt and cynicism for people who may exhibit a genuine interest, affection and concern for them. Why wouldn’t they? The whole concept of genuine love, acceptance and approval is foreign to them.

Not all co-dependents are substance abusers, but all substance abusers are co-dependent. All addictions or other forms of behavior used to numb out are symptoms of co-dependency. A co-dependent will do just about anything to try to escape the pain, confusion, fear, shame and anger that is bottled up inside of them.

When it comes to other people, co-dependents do not have relationships; they either take hostages, or allow others to take them hostage. Co-dependents are often consumed with attempting to monitor and control the object of their relationships, whether with a child, spouse, relative, friend, or lover. They have fine-tuned (through their own experiences as a child) how to tap into the feelings of those around them and how to use this knowledge to their advantage.  This may take the form of emotional blackmail, threats, or abuse.  The control makes them feel whole and safe, if only for a short period of time. Or, the co-dependent may allow others to take them hostage and exploit them in a vain attempt to feel like they are of value, good, and worthwhile. 

In a reasonably healthy family system, children are taught healthy coping skills and healthy life skills for interpersonal relationships. They can then go out into the world and become active, reasonable, healthy participants in all areas of their lives. Learning healthy life skills and coping skills teaches children respect for themselves and to respect those around them. 

One of life’s most critical skills is learning and establishing healthy boundaries. Boundaries are the foundation for developing and experiencing individuality! People who have strong healthy boundaries know that their boundaries are as vital to their existence as the air that they breathe. Learning to develop and create one’s own personal and flexible boundaries keeps us safe and serene.  Personal boundaries also let us know when we are in unhealthy, uncomfortable or abusive situations. By having strong healthy boundaries of our own, we are sensitive to other people’s boundaries as well. The presence of boundaries forms the foundation for experiencing healthy relationships with others in all areas of our lives. 

Co-dependent behaviors are key indicators that these healthy dynamics and vital boundaries were not demonstrated or taught to them as children. Quite the contrary. In many instances boundaries would have been perceived as an affront to the power-over entitlement that many parents feel towards their children.

By Cynthia Peterson                                                                      

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