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Posted by on in Co-dependency

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Preface: I write this article from a purely opinion based standpoint. The only knowledge I have on co-dependency is personal experience of being an addict in a family made co-dependent by my behaviors. The information and ideas contained in this post were mainly gathered from pre-existing sources and addiction therapy literature. This post is by no means indicative of every family struggling with addiction, but instead is a common theme in such families.

The term ‘co-dependency’ is popular in addiction treatment and among therapists, but what does it mean exactly? Mental Health America defines co-dependency as follows, “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 codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.” In fact, the term was first created as a result of a study focused on the family structure of alcoholics. A co-dependent relationship takes away the serenity, energy, and well-being of at least one person involved. Often times a person in a co-dependent relationship will begin to place their whole identity on the other person, at the expense of their own health and sanity. In families dealing with addiction, the parents, spouse, or siblings of the addict can become a victim of a co-dependent relationship.


The ‘Survival Roles’

For families dealing with an addict, there is a pattern of roles that family members take on in order to preserve the integrity and safety of the family. Often they take on these roles unconsciously and researchers have come up with 5 standard roles that seem to occur in co-dependent families. They are as follows:

  1. Enabler: The enabler’s efforts are well-meaning, but are often counterproductive. They aim to help the addict but their actions allow the addict to continue his addictive behaviors. They may fund the addict, make excuses for them, or take over the addict’s responsibilities. The enabler seeks to protect the addict and does not want to confront the reality of the addiction. As a result, the enabler is often left hurt, exhausted, and angry. The addict is no closer to getting better, because they learn to think that the enabler will always be there to save them.
  2. Hero: The hero role of the family is played by the member who seeks to over-achieve or be extra responsible in order to make up for the behavior of the addict. To overcome the guilt and shame that addiction brings to a family, they seek success, money, and approval. The cost of being the hero of the family is that they rarely feel satisfied with themselves and sacrifice their emotional lives and energy into trying to maintain the family.
  3. Scapegoat: This role is most often played by a sibling of the addict or one of the parents. Their bad behavior is different than that of the addicts. The family will often take out their anger and frustration towards the addict on the scapegoat, because they are an easier target.
  4. Lost Child: The lost child is a sibling of the addict who either keeps a low profile or is neglected by the family. The addict can take up all the attention and effort of the family, leaving the lost child without much care or recognition. The family is so busy and stressed looking after or cleaning up after the addict, that the other siblings can get ignored. They can go unnoticed and disappear easily. As a result, they can feel unimportant or unloved.
  5. Mascot: The mascot is a contrast to the lost child. This is often a younger sibling who comes along in a family system made extremely dysfunctional by addiction. The parents react by coddling and protecting this child. They give all their support and approval to this child, seeing him as the ‘saving grace’ of the family. The family may withhold information about the addict from the mascot and downplay the dysfunctional status of the family. Eventually the mascot will discover the truth about their family dynamic and can feel pressured or betrayed by the family.
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Posted by on in Co-dependency

Loving someone is complicated; loving someone with an addiction is even more complicated.   I’ve been the wife of an addict and am the mother of a child with an addiction, so I know that the choices you are sometimes forced to make seem unbearable.  My codependence was at such an acute level when I started my healing journey that the term “flaming codependent” was not an exaggeration.

It took me quite a while to realize that there was nothing that I could do to control or change my loved ones.  And when that realization finally took hold of me, I vowed to take back my life. 

At first I thought that my healing journey involved just my relationships with my loved ones.  But that quickly lead to the realization that what I needed was a complete review of all my relationships and that included the one I had with myself. 

I began my journey as many others have by learning as much as I could about the addict and their addiction, attending Al Anon meetings, getting private counseling sessions, building my support network, taking the focus off of their lives and onto my own, etc, but there was still something missing.  The missing piece was in knowing how to truly nourish all of me, how to love myself.  So, I  started looking  at the foods that I was eating,  at the relationships that I was in, the career that I was in, the form of exercise that I was using and my own personal connection with Spirit.  That process continues today.

One of the first things that I learned how to do was to breathe.  This helped to calm my mind and body, especially when I started feeling like a hamster on a wheel that I couldn’t get off of.  This simple exercise helped me a lot and still does today.


Posted by on in Co-dependency

Many years ago a friend asked me the following question.  Initially I was going to ignore the question because how does someone answer a question like this?  My only other thought about it was, "Why is she asking ME!"  I didn't consider it again but about a week later I was out running (yes, I used to jog back then), not thinking about anything, & suddenly this huge profound answer dropped into my mind.  "That's it," I said to myself, "That's what Unconditional Love is."  I believe it to be Divine inspiration because this clarity came out of nowhere & I have never heard Love put this way before so I know it didn't originate from me.  I immediately stopped & went home & began to type into my computer the following insight.  Over the years I've shared this with many others & at workshops & it seems to resonate with others.  I hope that it is helpful to you too.     Just Love,

Barefoot Bill 

THE QUESTION:I've come across an interesting term, and wonder if I can tap into your wordsmith skills for assistance?  How do you define "unconditional friendship?"  How do you think one practices such a thing?  If you've got the time, I'd appreciate your input.  Peace & Love,


MY RESPONSE:I smell more!  I see unconditional love & unconditional friendship as the same.  But, based on what you've given me (& what my Heart is prompting me to respond with) I offer the following as the three parts of what constitutes unconditional love, which I think generally apply except in a few rare cases (like a marriage partner or with our children):


Posted by on in none

Someone once told me to expect that any and all relationships I had prior to entering recovery would change dramtically should I continue working a recovery program. In fact, recovery and working the steps can set the foundation for being able to find something that had evaded not just me, but most of us, namely a healthy, loving, and lasting relationship. Here's what I learned along the way - The 4 A's of what most of us are looking for.


Posted by on in none

Cross addiction or multiple addictions is a fact of life inherent within the recovering community. Many of us come to the rooms of a 12-step program or treatment facility intending to tackle our alcohol and drug problem, or perhaps our eating disorder. However, many of us realize we have other addictions to manage. Putting off the need to tackle the remaining addiction(s) has brought many of us back to our primary addiction.


Posted by on in Co-dependency

We heal by remembering, literally bringing back
into the wholeness of our being
that which we have lost by hiding it
from ourselves.
Joan Borysenko

When my mother first started reading my initial manuscript for Gifts From The Child Within, she looked up at me and asked, "What do you mean in the Introduction by my being a co-dependent?" My mother, being an intelligent and well-read person, caught me by surprise with her genuine lack of knowledge about the meaning of codependence. I found myself somewhat embarrassed about the necessity to explain to my mother, what for most of my life, I saw her doing with hers.

I realized I had few words to describe to her just what being codependent meant. I tried using phases such as, "too dependent on her husband," "not caring enough about herself," and "restricting her own life because of her husband's demands." These broken sentences came easily but still did not touch on the real feelings I associated with the term codependent. Finally, I looked at her and said softly, "Mom, it just means that you cared so much for Daddy that somewhere along the way you lost yourself." She understood and accepting this definition, lowered her head to continue reading.

The surge of interest in the recovery field has led us to this nebulous issue of "codependence." Some leading experts claim we all have a codependent-self, a side of us which withdraws, avoids, and denies our true Self. Others maintain codependence is a disease or illness which requires psychological methodologies and sometimes medical intervention! To assume an illness one must demonstrate a physiological, psychological, or emotional dysfunction; therefore, to label one who nurtures and cares deeply for others codependent under this rationale would commit 99% of our female population to pathology! Only when one is nurturing others to the exclusion of themselves can the ill effects of codependency be labeled unhealthy.

One of the latest definitions of what constitutes a codependent personality comes from a group of professionals who spent several hours of deliberation to confirm:  "Co-dependency is a pattern of painful dependency on compulsive behaviors and on approval from others in an attempt to find safety, self-worth and identity. Recovery is possible." This is a good working definition; however, we must remember, codependency is an individual game played by two. We must not forget it takes two to form a codependent relationship.


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