By Robin Norwood in
Women who Love Too Much pages 7-8 (1985 original edition, 1997 reprint edition)
Edited by Irene Matiatos, Ph.D.
Codependence is a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family experiencing great emotional pain. In most cases alcoholism, chemical dependency, or other addictive disease is at the source of the family pain. Codependent behaviors are a set of coping behaviors that are passed from generation to generation–whether or not addiction is present–in order to survive. Although the original alcoholic/addicted person may have been a great-grandparent, family members across the next three or four generations learn a set of behaviors which help them deal with the emotional pain inherited from the original dysfunctional family unit. These behaviors, although designed to relieve pain, create pain! They constitute a deeply embedded “cognitive set” upon which codependency or dependency disorders are founded. Whether or not addiction existed in our nuclear family, codependency is a deeply rooted compulsive behavior that is born out of a dysfunctional family system. Individual family members may or may not develop addictions.
Symptoms of codependency (or dependency) disorders include: perfectionism, workaholism, procrastination, compulsive overeating, compulsive gambling, compulsive buying, compulsive lying, compulsive talking, compulsive sex, dependent relationships, over-possessive relationships. Other dependency disorders can revolve around acquiring status, prestige, material possessions, power or control over family members, co-workers, friends, authority figures, etc. People suffering from drug- or alcohol-related codependency disorders often experience themselves as being caught up in a treadmill existence. Whether or not goals are achieved there is a driven compulsion for more. An anxious feeling of incompleteness or emptiness remains no matter what is accomplished.
Health problems may also exist: migraine headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, colitis, ulcers, high blood pressure, and many other high stress-related physical illnesses. Stress related illness is not “only in your head.” It is stress-induced physical alteration of the body. It is real. Emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and hyperactivity may also be evident in codependent individuals. These disorders have a physical basis. They are chemical imbalances in the brain. In other words, our cognitive/emotional state impacts upon our physical being. We are a holistic mind-body system.
Codependent individuals experienced a traumatically empty childhood. Their present-day relationships are empty. They attempt to use others, their mates, friends, and children, as their source of identity, self-esteem, value and well being in an attempt to restore childhood emotional losses. Most codependent individuals are unaware that they are doing so. Having constructed a more idyllic existence, many codependent individuals are completely unaware that their childhood was troubled!
The following are statements portray relationally addictive people:
- We come from a dysfunctional home in which our emotional needs were not met.
- Having received little real nurturing ourselves, we try to vicariously fill this unmet need by becoming a caregiver, especially toward people who appear needy.
- Because we were never able to change our parents into the warm, loving care takers we longed for, we respond deeply to the emotionally unavailable person whom we find familiar and whom we try to change (to give us what we need) through our love.
- Terrified of abandonment, we will do anything to hold on to a relationship and avoid painful abandonment feelings. We first experienced these feelings while living with people who were never there emotionally for us. Most often, we were not aware that we were not getting what we needed!
- Almost nothing is too much trouble, takes too much time, or is too expensive if it will “help” the person we are involved with. Our thoughts are other-oriented rather than self-oriented.
- Accustomed to lack of love in personal relationships, we are willing to wait, hope and try harder to please.
- We are willing to take far more than 50 percent of the responsibility, guilt and blame in any relationship.
- Our self-esteem is critically low. Deep inside we do not believe we deserve to be happy. Rather, we believe we must earn the rightto enjoy life. We forget that we were all created equal and by the same maker.
- Having experienced little security in childhood, we have a desperate need to control people, outcomes, and relationships. We mask our efforts to control people and situations as “being helpful.”
- In a relationship we are more in touch with our dream of how it could be rather than with the reality of how it is. We don’t want to hear the little voice inside that tells us what is!
- We are addicted to a person, people, and/or to emotional pain. This is not because we enjoy pain, but it is familiar; we understand it; it is all we know.
- We may be emotionally and/or biochemically predisposed to addictions to substances, food, gambling, sex, etc.
- Drawn to people with problems or to chaotic, uncertain, or emotionally painful situations, we avoid focusing on our responsibility to ourselves: to become all of the potential we were given!
- Since we have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, it is easier to be concerned with others rather than with ourselves. This prevents us from looking at our ourselves. We give away our personal power!
- We may tend toward episodes of depression and/or anxiety. We try to forestall these episodes through the excitement of an emotionally unstable relationship or through addictive behaviors.
- We are not attracted to a person who is kind, stable, reliable, and interested in us. We find “nice” people boring or unattractive.
- We “stuff” our feelings and have lost the ability to identify or express what we feel.
- We tend to become isolated from people and become afraid of authority figures.
- We become approval seekers and lose our identity in the process.
- We can’t stand it when people are angry at us. We hate criticism! We get defensive and “explain” ourselves in an attempt to show the other person how they are wrong.
- Our world view is that of the victim. We sense and gravitate towards people whom we will allow ourselves to be victimized by.
- We judge ourselves harshly. We use a more lenient yardstick to judge others.
- We experience guilt when we stand up for ourselves. To avoid guilt, we give in to others.
- We confuse love and empathy/pity and tend to think we “love” people we can pity and rescue.
- We are reactors to life rather than creators of life.
Adaptation by Dr. Irene Matiatos 1998-03 The material on this website may be distributed freely for non-commercial or educational purposes provided that author credit is given. For commercial distribution, please contact the author at email@example.com