Codependency For Dummies
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There are three stages of codependency. The early stage begins when a person becomes attached to someone and develops an unhealthy dependency on that person. In the late stage of codependency, the codependent person's world has significantly narrowed, and their levels of health and functioning have severely declined.

This article deals with the important middle stage of codependency, where denial, painful emotions, and obsessive-compulsive behavioral patterns are prevalent. You increase attempts to control, while feeling more out of control. When in recovery, you reclaim independence, balance, and greater peace of mind.

The disease process of codependency

Without support, denial and isolation continue, and problems get worse. You may minimize and hide from yourself and other painful aspects of your relationship and withdraw from outside activities and friends. Meanwhile, your obsession with the relationship or addiction and accompanying anxiety, resentment, and guilt increase. You do more to help, enable, and control the other person or his or her addiction, and may even take over responsibilities that are not your own. As mood swings and conflict increase, some codependents turn to drugs, food, spending, or other addictive behavior to cope.

The recovery process of codependency

The middle stage is where most of the work of recovery takes place. You begin to practice nonattachment and grasp your powerlessness over others and your addiction. As the focus on yourself grows, so do self-responsibility, self-awareness, and self-examination, which are part of psychotherapy and Twelve Step programs. Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes that an alcoholic’s success in recovery is based upon rigorous self-honesty. This is also true for codependents and one of the Twelve Steps of Co-Dependents Anonymous.

Blaming others and external circumstances denies your power to effect change and achieve happiness. Even if you’re a victim of abuse, you find the power to change your circumstances and responses when the center of control shifts from the perpetrator to yourself. Self-examination also includes working through childhood issues that may have led to your codependency.

Although insight about your behavior is necessary, it’s insufficient for change. Decisions, actions, and risk-taking are required during the middle stage. They happen when you’re ready, and they can’t be forced. It’s hard to change even when you know things would improve, like taking a better job or moving to a desirable area. Taking risks where the ­outcome is uncertain requires courage — courage to venture from discomfort that’s familiar into new territory. This is one reason why support is essential.

During the middle stage, you make new friends, participate in outside activities, and are able to be assertive and set boundaries. As you become more emotionally independent, you take better care of yourself, and reactivity, enabling, and controlling behavior diminish.

The table shows the progression of codependency and recovery in the middle stage.

Middle Stage of Codependency and Recovery
Progression of Codependency Recovery from Codependency
Denies/minimizes painful aspects of relationship Understands powerlessness
Hides painful aspects of relationship from others Begins reliance on a spiritual source
Anxiety, guilt, and self-blame increase Begins to detach
Self-esteem lessens Self-awareness grows
Withdraws from outside family and friends Makes new friends
Obsessively watches the person and addiction Develops outside activities
Tries to control by nagging, blaming, manipulation Stops enabling and controlling
Anger and disappointment due to broken promises grows Learns assertiveness
Feels resentment at inability to control the person Takes responsibility for own self
Mood swings and increased conflict and violence occur Increases self-care and self-esteem
Enables and manages the person’s responsibilities Sets boundaries and becomes less reactive
Hides family secret (or addiction) Has more emotional independence
Uses food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, or work to cope Heals childhood wounds

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Darlene Lancer, JD, LMFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in relationships and codependency. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 28 years and coaches internationally. She's a sought-after speaker to professionals at national conferences and in the media.

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