Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

What Is Codependency?

Back on my “Lady Codependency, A Good Samaritan?” post, Beyond Blue readers had quite the discussion on what, exactly, codependency means.
Reader Yames wrote this:

Codependency has virutally nothing to do with God or “blessings”. It has everything to do with letting yourself get involved with a person or in a situation that is, ultimately not good for you, but not feeling able to extricate yourself from the person/situation without feeling guilt, remorse or worse, feeling like you can’t live the life you deserve to live wihtout giving in to other’s demands/wishes/requests. This isn’t a story about being charitable, per se – it’s about being charitable when you don’t really feel you want to be and the guilt that comes about as a result if you don’t give in. It’s a terrible and frustrating position to be in. I’m not saying “don’t be charitable, don’t be giving of yourself”. I AM saying that you can establish boundaries for yourself, that you can say “NO” without guilt and that by doing so your life can be enriched, instead of overwhelmed by the feeling of “I’m not a good person because I didn’t abide by so-and-so’s wishes” or “I didn’t do enough”, etc. I know this is grossly oversimplified – but for most of the folks who posted – you’re missing the entire point!


Reader Patricia added this to the conversation:

Oh my God – it is not about being homeless! It is about feeling guilty or unworthy of what you have, could be money, looks, love, possesions…and giving in to what others ask of you because you tell yourself you sympathize with their plight and in fact you are the one with the problems! They make choices, one of which is to use you – and you comfort yourself by saying you are the better person. Then you ask yourself why people take advantage of you, convince yourself you are going to be stronger – you find yourself in a position in which you display strength – and then you fell guilty. You are locked in a cycle of tearing yourself down when other people aren’t actively doing it – and it is Hell.


And, finally, an anonymous reader described codepedency this way:

I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings here, but the article is about codependency. This is a type of personality disorder that has to do with the lack of healthy boundaries and a feeling of being responsible to everyone. It stems from a fear of being disliked or not being a good person and the biggest symptom is giving too much. This is unhealthy to both the giver and the receiver, for many reasons. The giver is often spread too thinly and is giving away out of guilt or the need to please and is in reality taking away from the people in his or her own life in order to do so. The receiver is hurt because he is getting from others instead of learning to take care of himself. If you have ever read anything about alcoholic families, one is the addict and the other the enabler or the co-dependent. It is the same situation. The co-dependent is partially responsible for keeping the alcoholic in the same self- destructive pattern. They do it to be accepted. It is not at all healthy. Several of the comments I read are clear indications that the point of this article was missed and that some of the readers think we have to give to everyone in order to be like Christ.
It is our adult responsibility to help others, but we need to be realistic enough to know when our help will go to good use, or when it will just serve to keep a drug addict or alcoholic or just a thief in the same pattern…by manipulating people into feeling pity or guilt in order to take enough money for another hit or another bottle of rot gut wine, or just to be taking for the fun of taking. If you feel that you might be risking the approval of God by not giving, then follow your conscience, but I feel that God wants me to use the brain he gave me to take care of myself while also being charitable in a wise manner.

  • Wendi

    For me this is a really grey area. Where do you draw the line? My parents have never been very responsible, have always mismanaged money, and now at the age of 76, are in danger of losing their home because they can’t pay the mortgage payment (originally purchased in 1954, refinanced a million times to get out of a tight spot over and over again, so they still have a huge mortgage with a huge monthly payment). So I give them money every month. A lot of money. I would rather not, but how can I just cut them loose? Isn’t one of the commandments to honor your parents? I get that I could just say “no,” and that I’m preventing them from experiencing the consequences of their actions, so that probably makes me codependent. But I do it because it seems to me that it’s the right thing for a daughter to do. They’re my parents, for heaven’s sake. My *adoptive* parents. Surely I owe them this in their old age. So I do it for me, because I have the ability to do something kind for someone; not for them. I don’t think things are as cut and dried in life as self-help books and well-meaning people would have us believe.

  • Glenn

    I have struggled with co-dependents my entire life. My entire family — Jewish guilt, shame, perfectionism and all — drove up off the wall for years. I was clearly able to see this was a boundary issue, as their boundaries were completely skewed!
    But the form of co-dependency that bugged me the worse was manifested in the many women I have met who refuse to leave abusive relationships. They used to burn my ears out with the same horror story over and over again, yet refuse to take action.
    It just got to the point I refused to listen to them anymore. I won’t support a person who refuses to take action and recover from co-dependency any more than I will an addict. I have a limited amount of time, and I won’t use it to support mediocrity!
    My commitment to others can only be as strong as their commitment to themselves. Otherwise, I would be acting co-dependently.

  • Margaret

    Co-dependency is an addiction as strangling as any other! I grew up with an alcoholic family and after years of nearly worshipping my mother, had to finally accept that she–my same-sex role model–was the epitome of an enabler! I had always believed that my issues were with my father until after my mother passed away and my involvement in a group therapy workshop for the adult hildren of alcoholics led me to write a letter to my mother and simply let my long-buuried feelings flow through my pen! daddy was an abusive alcoholic, and as the family’s “scapegoat” due to the accident of birth order I was the one who suffered most frquently from his fists or–perhaps more damaging–his constant criticism of my worth as a person. While writing, I saw clearly that I held a deep seated and long-buried animosity for my beloved mother because she never left him to protect me and my sisters ( I have three) Working through all of those emotions allowed me to finally see my mother, warts and all,for the fine human being that she truly was, but also understand that she, too, had an illness which had effected my adult life and work through to forgiveness of her inability to do what she needed to do even with the support of AlAnon in her later life.
    In almost “textbook-like fashion, I ended up marrying a man who was also an adult child and who ended up being as abusive as my father. He never hit me, but by the time I’d found the inner strength to force him to leave me because of his many affairs ( I insisted he make a choice!) i was thoroughly convinced that he had been a “saint” to marry me in the first place because I was so unattractive and unworthy of love and had to return to counseling (individual this time before I could finally see that sex was his addiction and that I could have looked like Miss America and he would still have cheated on me; it was HIS failing, not my own (Co-dependency manifests itself by causing us to take on blame we haven’t earned) Thankfully, God blessed me by allowing me to find a therapist who truly understood the many twisted paths this condition takes, and I am now content–most of the –time–to be single once more. I say most of the time, because even knowledge of his illness hasn’t cured me of still loving him and missing the “good parts” of being married to such a handsome, sexy, kind (to everyone else!) man. I know in my head that i’m blessed that he wants absolutely nothing to do with me, because that frees me from the responsibility of having to marshall my resistence if he ever tried to reconcile; my heart would have a very hard time saying no to him even after the pain and humiliation of being betrayed in the most shattering way! His mistress at the time of our divorce (his presen-day wife) was eight months pregnant when our divorce finally progressed to the courtroom. Not only was she the sister of my best friend, she was also a member of the church in which my husband was serving as an assistant minister! talk about embarrassing; the entire congregation saw him turn from me and find “happiness” in her arms. My point is merely that like every addiction, co-dependency requires honest and vigilant monitoring once we’ve extricated ourselves from its most obvious manifestations. It always lurks in the sadows ready to claim our very souls again if we lower our defenses or put ourselves into situations where it can get a toehold. It is indeed a hellish place in which to live, but it’s only through the grace of God that those of us who’ve battled it can remain unfettered.
    To all of those who are currently struggling to free themselves from its hold on your lives–don’t stop! But keep yourselves aware that like with many addictions, there’s really no cure. It, too must be handed over to our higher Power and dealt with one day at a time!

  • ?

    Life seems like it would be great if it were separated into “do and don’t”. But life does have those gray areas that are the most difficult to discern. Even being a Mary has multiple shades.
    I believe that Mother Teresa had some advice that helps a little. Having no one to care, abandonment, etc. is a real push on poverty of the soul. It is not about money. How much Therese of the Child Jesus wanted to be a mssionary! Yet so many of us look to her for the model of daily life in the trenches. So..Therese, this spot on the internet fills a very real human suffering need.
    I also know that Mother Teresa mentioned that loving those closest to us, family, is the beginning place…I am assuming that we have to love ourselves YIKES because of the two great commandments :). For family, I am not talking about abusive relationships.
    For myself, I think I spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to be liked. The whole “like” issue is not blatantly obvious to me. It is insidiously wrapped around a lot of other issues. I don’t say yes to others very much. It is more a matter wrapped around pride. I like to be the best….best teacher, mother, wife etc,…. at the same time I have relinquished these drives to a depressive struggle. I am trying to isolate these crippling drive and face the honest me. I waste so much love when the “like-best-etc.” issue wrestles with me. Yet, maybe, that whole struggle is part of the face of God that I wear? I am so repulsed that “it” is about me…I have a hard time sorting the “whole” will of God…trying to be the me that loves in union with God’s will.
    So I have time right now to do some mental and soul sorting. I do pray, but I also have been checking here for real people and real experiences. I don’t plan on spending my life here but I am eternally grateful that this resource of people is available. I recognize that the multiple articles, support from other people, and the general impetus to move toward healing are a blessing!

  • Peg

    Wendi, great post. You said what my heart was thinking.

  • Dee Patrick

    I am a 54 year old widow back into the scene of dating. I cannot believe the men out there that have ‘used’ me for many reasons. The saying goes like this, ‘No-one can use you without you letting them’. I am a giver – but I am at the point that there will be NO MORE!! Because I live in a beautiful home, landscaped yard, also, beautiful, I take care of what God has given me! It takes a lot of work – but God has seen me through!! Who are these men to think today, women should take care of them??? … and I am asking God ‘why’ have you sent ALL these men in to my life!
    These men have watched me do the physical labor here, only to just watch! No help – What has happened to the generation of responsible men?? The Bible states that we ALL should ‘take care’ of the widows and orphans -No, I don’t want them to take care of me, just want someone to be compatible with me and at least offer to help in any way! That has to be so pleasing to God to help those, for whatever reason, that can’t help themselves, or the work load is pretty heavy for them! Our God cannot be real happy with His People!
    You can’t imagine how happy I am when someone offers to help me.
    In relationships, I am almost always the ‘giver’. …But I have learned … to receive …you have to give of yourself!

  • Audrey

    I have been reading some of these remarks this morning and I’m another one who has let people walk all over me ,Do this ,do that ,be,be be,do,do,do!I’v walked all over my self trying to be a a good person only to be sitting here in a lonely ,deprived world of I hate and guilt!I’m miserable all the time and my health is failing because I hate!I feel so alone ,I don’t have anyone to talk to .I’v pulled away from everyone ,I trust no ONE!After being married five time’s ,three sons and lots of grandchildren ,My life is still empty.
    I don’t talk much to anyone anymore,I feel like paronoia has grasped my inner self to the point of tears most of the time!
    I live alone now,No man will ever enter my heart again.My past has me pinned down to nothing!Thats it for now.I’ll be back to talk again!Thanks for your time !

  • mary

    Audrey get a GRIP! You have learned from your experience…take all you know and all your energy and put it into a positive form for you “YOURSELF” (this once). Bury the hate in the back yard; as for the burdens on your soul…give them all away…turn it over to God and let the positive energy flow.

  • krys

    Audrey — Easier said than done (as witnessed by Mary’s comments, who obviously is not in the midst of what you are going through right now)
    I’m sure you beat yourself up emotionally more than anyone else could at this point. I pray that you can find a great spiritually/12 step oriented therapist in your area… nurture youself with kindness and talk to someone you feel you can trust – please be gentle with yourself and you will ultimately get to the point of feeling more positive, creating healthy boundaries. Get anything by Melody Beatie to read or listen to in the meantime – Praying for you! I’ve been there… Turning it over to God is a process. Don’t forget to BREATHE!!!! When a person breaks a leg, the healing takes time — so too with emotional issues. You don’t need a drill seargant to tell you to “snap out of it” — That would not have worked for me… The positive energy will arrive in time and you WILL move forward. Please believe that.

  • krys

    Specifically for Margaret!!
    You Go Girl!!!
    There is a great (and funny) 12 step tape out there by Patty O who says she carries her character defects in a little red wagon which she drags behind her and at any point in time she has the choice to reach back there and grab one if she wants– (wants to take the pain back, you know what I mean).
    Loved your comments… you are truly recovering, like me, one day at a time! With constant vigilance on a daily basis now, I’m working on “leaving those tendencies in the wagon”!

  • krys

    Love ya Deb!!! Thanks for all your support!

  • Prescilla

    I agree with the anonymous writer. Since I am a recovered alcoholic/addict for almost 3 yrs now, I see and deal with people like this often. I’ve attended CODA/AA/NA/ALANON and have a better understanding of what codependancy is. Alanon, in my opinion, does the best job in helping people to realize where their codependency(s) are in their lives. The 12-step program works if the person is willing to learn a new way of thinking.

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