Seek Help and Support for Codependency

By Darlene Lancer

Codependent relationships and families tend to be closed, meaning that you become isolated from outside information and the community. The best way to recover is to step beyond the family, because those relationships are restrictive.

In cases where addiction is involved, often shame and fear prevent people from reaching out. In an abusive relationship, the abuser maintains control, distrusts outsiders, and disallows external influence. It’s important not to believe or give in to messages of distrust and fear. Instead, find out all you can and get help. Even if there’s neither abuse nor addiction involved, codependents need to open their minds, which have become fixated on another person and negative thoughts.

The following are suggestions that have helped thousands of codependents. Some or none of them may feel right for you. Aim to suspend your doubts and give them a try. Utilize what resonates with you and ignore what doesn’t.

Support is critical

Paradoxically, you need outside support to look inside of you. It takes self-discipline to not get dissuaded or distracted. Support is critical to help sustain your effort over time to make lasting change and gives you the following: information, encouragement, validation, empowerment, friendship, insight, and hope. Support also reminds you of your goals and what’s possible. The biggest challenge is to stay focused on yourself. Support can do that, too.

Change also entails discomfort — whether it’s a new perception of reality or of yourself, fear of the unknown or people’s reactions, or the confusion and incompetence of tackling something for the first time. You may feel guilty, awkward, and anxious. It’s easy to become discouraged and swayed by old habits. Your codependent self will fight change tooth and nail to stop your progress. You need continual support and self-awareness to prevent slipping backwards. Perseverance pays off.

The best help comes from people experienced with codependency, whether it comes in the form of a Twelve Step program, counselor, or psychotherapist. Other forms of support include family and friends, but often they have a codependent perspective and may have contributed to the problem in the first place. They may encourage your denial or, worse, blame you for your problems.

Getting help from outside your family system is crucial in order to transform your beliefs and behavior. Online communities may be a good way to start, but beware that you may be getting wrong advice. It’s preferable to find an online Twelve Step meeting.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts or are currently in an abusive relationship, call a hotline and seek therapy.

Both therapy and meetings have different advantages and shouldn’t be thought of as mutually exclusive options, where you can engage in one in lieu of the other. Instead, think of them as additional forms of help. Your recovery will be easier and faster with greater support. Both psychotherapy and Twelve Step meetings address issues regarding relationships, spirituality, addiction, behavior modification, and boundaries.

Attend Twelve Step meetings

Attending Twelve Step meetings is the ideal way to begin recovery. Each has its own flavor. Some meetings have speakers, some review literature, and some are only participation, but you’re not required to share. If you don’t like one meeting, attend another. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Information: You gain information from the shared experience of long-time members and from literature tailored to your problem.

  • Encouragement: You may feel helpless when you first enter a Twelve Step program. You may have tried everything else, but nothing worked, and you no longer believe in change. Meetings can inspire you through success stories, real-life lessons, and from the experiences and strength of other members.

  • Personal guidance: You make friends who understand what you’re going through. They share their experiences, guidance, and offer telephone support. You can get a sponsor — someone to call for advice and support between meetings.

  • Motivation: Perhaps you resolve to make a change or get excited about an idea but soon lose interest or motivation. This is where a support system comes in. Listening to others can encourage and motivate you to continue on the path of change.

  • Anonymity: Meetings are anonymous and maintain privacy.

  • Free: Meetings are free. Donations are strictly voluntary.

  • Spirituality: Meetings have a spiritual flavor, and members mention God or a Higher Power; however, they don’t discuss religion or require that you share their philosophy.

  • Meetings are daily: You can find meetings to fit your schedule, generally from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. every day.

Seek psychotherapy

Another form of support is psychotherapy, commonly referred to as therapy, with a licensed mental health professional knowledgeable about codependency and addiction. Mental health professionals include licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical professional counselors, and licensed clinical social workers. They typically have a master’s degree and may have doctorates.

Some states license other counselors who require a master’s degree, such as alcohol and drug counselors. Psychologists have doctorates, and psychiatrists are medical doctors who can write prescriptions. A psychoanalyst holds a degree awarded by a psychoanalytic organization after intensive study.

Ask any professional you consult about his or her credentials and if he or she is experienced working with codependency and symptoms. In addition to providing encouragement, personal guidance, and motivation, the benefits of psychotherapy include these:

  • Individual consultations: You get individual attention to address your particular situation, beliefs, and feelings. Your individual history, reactions, thinking, and behavioral patterns can be understood, examined, and replaced with new patterns.

  • Expert, objective guidance: A trained professional is more objective and has greater professional knowledge and experience than a friend, sponsor, or meeting member. Also, psychotherapy can help you avoid confusing Twelve Step concepts of powerless with helplessness, acceptance with passivity, or a moral inventory with self-criticism.

  • Intimacy: The personal and intimate nature of the therapeutic process enhances intimacy skills.

  • Privacy: Some people are uncomfortable with sharing in a group setting, or they desire greater confidentiality.

  • Deeper issues can be healed: A professional can address issues related to your family of origin, abuse, trauma, mood disorders, shame, intimacy, and low self-esteem.

  • Non-spiritual: Some people are uncomfortable with the spiritual nature of Twelve Step programs and prefer counseling.

  • Couples counseling: This is an opportunity to work on issues with your partner concerning intimacy, parenting, sexuality, and communication. You can get objective feedback about what’s happening between the two of you. It also provides a safe place to admit things to each other.

Utilize coaches and counselors

Some coaches and counselors have great skills and can provide motivation and support. They can hold you accountable when learning new behavior and achieving business and personal goals, such as assertiveness, meditation, dating, and weight loss. Find someone who is familiar with addiction and codependency.

These professionals are not governed by the same ethical rules about boundaries that regulate licensed mental health professionals. Be alert to any behavior that causes you discomfort. A coach or counselor (or licensed professional, for that matter) may be violating your boundaries and thus be unable to teach you how to establish and protect your own boundaries. Keep in mind that they aren’t trained to help you with emotional, intimacy, and trauma issues.