The word co-dependency stems from the idea of chemical dependence. Chemical dependence has two main criterion:
1.The chemical is socially and/or occupationally harmful to the user (e.g., legal problems, relationship problems, work problems).
2.There is a presence of tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance is requiring more of a substance to get the desired effect. Withdrawal Symptoms means the body has a hard time adjusting to not having the chemical in your body (e.g., shakes, nausea, heart attack).
Co-dependency suggests that another person helps the person stay dependent on the chemical through direct and indirect means. For example, a wife may indirectly help a husband stay dependent by not bringing up his drinking problem. A husband may directly help his wife stay dependent by continuing to buy a lot of alcohol on the weekends so she can drink rather than have to argue all weekend.
Although co-dependency is usually associated with chemical addiction, co-dependency really is present in many types of relationship problems. For example, a wife may not bring up that her husband has an anger issue because she is afraid of commitment and knows that the anger keeps them comfortably distant. Thus, the wife helps the husband remain, in a way, dependent on his anger (the anger works for him) and her dependent on her distance. Or, a husband may help his wife remain distant by encouraging her to seek out friendships on the weekends so he doesn’t have to go on dates with her (they may both be dependent on emotional distance). If one really examines what co-dependency is, one may define co-dependency as the need to keep one’s self, relationship, and/or family in their comfort zone in an area that is slowly harming the individual and relationships in that family.
Here are some questions to help us deal with our own co-dependencies:
1. What issues are we afraid to bring up with our spouse?
2. What things do we do or say to remain comfortably distant?
3. What things do we do or say when a spouse.child tries to get close to us or help us that pushes them away?
4. How do we use anger, silence, time, and/or other interests in order to get back or achieve our own needs at the expense of others?
Hopefully, identifying some of our “co-dependent” areas can help us begin to identify how to change a co-dependent cycle into one in which relationships are healed, distances are shortened, and quality of life is improved. As I heard a wise man once say, “Sometimes we need to comfort the afflicted; sometimes we need to afflict the comfortable.”
About the Author: Dr. Jared DuPree is a licensed marriage and family therapist.