Monday, August 3, 2009

Gimme a C! Codependent!

Codependent is a term that confuses many people. Some people believe they know what it means, but really do not have a full understanding of the codependent role. The word codependent has such a negative connotation, too. I mean, who really wants to willingly identify themselves as codependent? Most of us get there only after years of codependent behavior that has made our lives a wreck, and we acknowledge ourselves as codependent. By this time, we would almost graciously accept the label of Boo Boo the Fool just to get some relief! I'm hoping to shed some light on what exactly IS a codependent?

A cheerleading team has a captain and a co-captain. The co-captain is there to assist the captain with tasks that the captain cannot handle alone. The co-captain is the leader in situations where the captain is unable to perform his/her managerial duties for the team. I have never heard of someone say, "Oh, I want to be co-captain of my cheerleading squad!" The co-captain is generally someone who wanted to be captain, and didn't have the seniority, skills, clout, whatever, to be captain. It's somewhat the same with a CO-dependent. The co-dependent is there to assist the addict with tasks that the addict cannot handle alone, as a result of their addiction. The co-dependent has to step up and lead when the addict is unable to perform his/her duties, as a result of their addiction. No one ever says they want to grow up and be an addict, and no one ESPECIALLY says they want to grow up to be a CODEPENDENT!

We become co-dependents by default, that is, when we grow up in an unpredictable, scary, and/or chaotic environment, one where we have no developmentally appropriate level of control. Often these are environments where one or both parents/caregivers are addicts or codependent themselves. Children in these homes cannot predict from day to day what punishments might be, whether parents will be happy or raging, what might make a parent happy, if Dad or Mom will be high, or if anyone will be home to cook dinner. When we cannot be captain and have some measure of control, we are defaulted to codependent.

Let me preface by saying, there are NO perfect parents. We need only be good enough. Children need safety, unconditional warmth, someone who nurtures development of unique skills and traits, a caregiver who provides predictable structure and routine, and someone who listens/validates the child. When one or more of these are consistently not met, the child fails to develop emotionally. The body grows, but there is not a person in there!

The foundational definition of codependency is lack of self or lack of a relationship with self. Codependents are addicted to addicts, taking care of addicts, being angry at addicts, taking out revenge on addicts, getting abused by addicts, leaving addicts and finding new addicts. Codependents can even act out this addiction with other codependents, just to make things clear as mud here. Because no core identity really exists (apart from SHAME perhaps),codependents need the mirroring approval, acceptance, and needs of other people to give themselves a face or identity. Addicts love codependents because the codependent morphs into whatever being the addict requires him/her to be. If the addict needs money, the codependent can provide that. If the addict needs you to love him/her and not ever mention the addiction, codependents can do that. If the addict needs someone to defend and justify their behavior, codependents will do it! Codependents are blank slates upon which addicts can write out the person they need.

Codependents are as variant as the many ethnicities of the human race itself. They do not all look nor behave exactly the same. Some are bitter, unlovable people. Some are successful in their work (probably in a caretaking career, such as nursing or social work!), yet burn out or have multiple boundary and ethical violations on the job and are forced to do something else. Being a codependent is very hard and exhausting work. This is why in addition to the magical morphing trick they do, nearly all codependents beg for help from others with all the caretaking they do. If they are too proud to ask for help with the caretaking, they may play the martyr, do it ALL completely alone (without complaint, mind you) and wind up physically ill, mentally ill, or dead.

The life of a codependent is a tiring one and full of stress and misery, but there is hope! Codependents can heal and get well. They can overcome past wounds, develop a relationship with self, and soon the addict magnet stops working. I feel I've rambled on quite a bit for tonight, so maybe we'll get to that in another post! So, I guess the moral of this story is-- if you're not nominated as captain, then politely decline the co-captain position and just enjoy the away games and the pep rallies!

Photo above found at:


  1. Melissa,

    **waving a recovering codependent hand in hello and relief!**
    That was just way more fun than I thought I would have! Thanks for the co-captain analogy. I really enjoyed the way you explained that. I may have to steal it and use it to describe codependence in the future. It also might explain why I hated being captain of my dance team so much back in the day. Being truly in charge was no fun to me then. I wonder if it would be fun now....

  2. Yes, that's so true! We want to be in charge, then get stressed out and angry that we're in charge, lol. Thank God for recovery.

  3. This is one of the most interesting and clarifying explanations of codependence I've ever read.
    Sets one to thinking.