Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.
It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with co-dependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.
The disorder was first identified some years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Co-dependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.
Who Does Co-Dependency Affect?
Co-dependency often affects a spouse, a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker of a person afflicted with alcohol or drug dependence. Originally, co-dependent was a term used to describe partners in chemical dependency, persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person.
Similar patterns have been seen in people in relationships with chronically or mentally ill individuals. Today, however, the term has broadened to describe any co-dependent person from any dysfunctional family.
What is a Dysfunctional Family and How Does it Lead to Co-Dependency?
A dysfunctional family is one in which members suffer from fear, anger, pain, or shame that is ignored or denied. Underlying problems may include any of the following:
- An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
- The existence of physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual abuse.
- The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.
Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited.
Attention and energy focus on the family member who is ill or addicted. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of a person who is sick. When co-dependents place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.