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Understanding co-dependency

Buzz . . . Buzz . . . Buzz . . . Your alarm is blaring. So is your head. As you reach to hit the snooze button, you think to yourself, "Do I have the strength to make it through another day?" As the clock continues to tick, you realize it is the sound of your life ticking away, and you have virtually no control over it.

Although at times we all awake with little or no energy to face the day, a person who feels this way regularly may exhibit some co-dependency traits.

According to Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a social worker who provides treatment to co-dependent people, co-dependency is:

"a specific condition that is characterized by a preoccupation and extreme dependence (emotionally, socially and sometimes physically) on a person or object. Eventually, this dependence on another person becomes a pathological condition that affects the co-dependent in all relationships. . . and is characterized by delusions/denial, compulsions, frozen feelings, low self-esteem and stress-related medical complications."

People with co-dependency traits live their lives passively rather than actively. They are people-pleasers who become so engrossed in the needs of others, they lose their own identities. Helping others gives them a false sense of security and self-worth.

One of the prices people pay for co-dependency can be their health. Stress-related disorders such as constipation, diarrhea, ulcers, sleep disorders, nervousness and an inability to express intimacy or sexuality are common.

Professionals who treat co-dependency liken it to a life preserver. It's appropriate for a person in danger of drowning to hang onto a life preserver to survive. Once safely ashore, however, if the person continues to wear the life preserver, it's inappropriate. People who are co-dependent develop short-term survival techniques --- very similar to a life preserver --- and continue to use them for many years.

Characteristics of the co-dependent person

  1. Overdeveloped sense of responsibility. Co-dependent people find it easier to be concerned with others, rather than themselves. This enables co-dependents not to look too closely at their own faults.
  2. "Stuffing" feelings. Co-dependent people hide their feelings about their traumatic childhoods from others and from themselves. They have lost the ability to see or express their feelings, because it hurts too much.
  3. Isolation. Co-dependent people tend to isolate themselves from others. They are usually afraid of people and of authority figures.
  4. Approval-seeking. Co-dependent people will go to great lengths to win the approval of others, to the point where they lose their own identities.
  5. Fear of angry people and personal criticism.
  6. Victim mentality. Co-dependent people view themselves as victims and are attracted by that weakness in love and friendship relationships.
  7. Low self-esteem.
  8. Fear of abandonment. Co-dependent people are terrified of being abandoned. They will do anything to hold onto a relationship in order not to re-experience the painful abandonment feelings they first had during childhood, when parents or others were never emotionally there for them.
  9. Guilt. Co-dependent people feel guilty when they stand up for themselves instead of giving in to others.

The Chemical Dependency Recovery Program offers for people with the disease of chemical dependency and those close to them. For more information, call Baptist Health Counseling at (502) 896-7105 or toll-free 1-800-478-1105. Help is available 24 hours a day.