Author: Joan Miller, Ph.D., © 2001
| The word co-dependency
is typically used to describe people who gravitate toward unhealthy
relationships. Co-dependents live their lives through someone else.
They feel controlled by others and they also feel the need to control
Co-dependence is learned. It includes behaviors, feelings and beliefs
which lead to sacrificing values and personal needs in exchange for
love and approval of others. Co-dependents take responsibility for
others and neglect their own wants and needs. They are caretakers
out of the need to be perceived as worthwhile because they are desperate
for approval. This differs from caretakers who feel good about themselves
and help people out of choice. Most co-dependents appear to be strong
and in control. However, inside they often feel inadequate and scared,
and they desperately fear a loss of control. The need to control is
usually an attempt to reduce their anxiety. Most co-dependent people
have been raised in dysfunctional families. They were taught that
they were not important. They were encouraged to set aside their own
needs and wants, and take care of others. In most cases, they acted
adult-like as children. People experience co-dependency in different
ways. Typical characteristics include:
The job of recovering
co-dependents is to become "undependent." This involves learning to
love, accept, nurture and take care of themselves. It includes realizing
that they, alone, are the center of their own lives and that others,
although important, cannot exist in the center of their lives. It
also entails accepting responsibility for creating their own experiences
and feelings; and at the same time not taking responsibility for the
experiences and feelings of others. As co-dependents learn to love
and trust themselves, they will discover they have plenty of energy
to do what they want as well as to love others. If you would like
to read more, the following are books about co-dependency:
- An exaggerated
sense of responsibility and yet difficulty making decisions.
- A preoccupation
with others wants and problems, while neglecting themselves. This
includes being compassionate and loyal even to those who might
be hurtful to them. It also involves a difficulty knowing and
expressing their own feelings - and yet having sensitivity toward
others feelings. Others' attitudes determine their reaction and
other people are responsible for their happiness.
maintaining healthy relationships. Co-dependents have learned
that "love" and pain go together, and therefore they gravitate
to needy or abusive people. They fear being rejected and hurt.
They may appear nondemanding, but beneath this is a feeling of
urgency for love and approval. There is a reluctance to trust
others because that involves being vulnerable and/or asking for
help. There is also a fear of abandonment, rejection and loneliness,
and, therefore, the co-dependent will easily sacrifice their own
needs to keep the relationship going.
Co-dependents set inordinate expectations for themselves, thinking
that if they succeed they will gain worth. Because what others
do is a reflection of themselves, co-dependents also expect a
lot of others.
- Guilt, often
felt when co-dependents stand up for themselves or are criticized.
Co-dependents also experience discomfort when they are praised.
- A tendency
to use food, exercise, work, sex, excitement, and alcohol or drugs
to help deny problems and to numb uncomfortable feelings.
Note: We have linked
to the book titles recommended by Dr. Miller at Amazon.com for your
Co-dependency by Beattie
No More by Beattie
Dance of Anger by Lerner
the Child Within by Whitfield
Together by Kritsberg
to Love Yourself by Wegscheider-Cruse
Miss Perfect by LeBoutillier
in the Shuffle by Subby
Who Hate Women, and the Women Who Love Them by Forward and
from Co-dependency by Weiss
for Intimacy by Woititz
Who Love Too Much by Norwood
Copyright 2001 by Joan Miller, Ph.D.
Joan Miller, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in full-time independent
practice on Windy Hill Road in Marietta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta.
Educated at Greenville College, the University of Georgia, and Kent
State University, she has been an educator for eight years and a psychotherapist
for twenty-five years.
Dr. Miller has shared this article from her website. Her website can
be visited at: http://www.mindspring.com/~joanmiller/