We all know that stress causes problems with our health, puts a strain on our families and affects our work. Usually, we think of stress as coming from some outside source that affects our relationships. Certainly coping with addictions, persevering through recovery, and staying addiction free is stressful and requires understanding and special skills for our friends and families. What few of us realize is that the skills and insights we have about relationships can either alleviate stress and offer support and strength in addiction recovery or add to the many stressors that tempt to pull us down.
One of the biggest influences in the success or failure of continuing recovery is the Co-dependent relationship. This type of relationship, while seeming to be born of the best of intentions, in fact, puts a strain on the addict as well as their family members and friends, though for different reasons.
As a person dealing with addiction, when a parent, partner or friend is too enmeshed in our well-being we learn to be dependent on someone else worrying for us, picking up the bills, paying our way out of jail, keeping the amount of alcohol we drink in check. Being monitored in this way makes us feel victimized and infantilized. We learn to resent and depend on this phantom support even though it is not teaching us how to make our own way; it is not allowing us to see how devastating our own choices are to our lives and others. As long as the outcome of our choices is softened we are never allowed the stark reality of seeing them in the bright light of reality.
As a parent, friend or partner, we believe we are doing right by those we care about. We continuously wonder why they have not taken our efforts at preserving a decent life for them to heart and used the help to step up and step out of addiction. Being a co-dependent is seductive because it looks like we are being noble, doing great deeds, and suffering immeasurably because of someone else’s behavior. In truth co-dependents often get enmeshed in another’s life. Co-dependency, being overly responsible in another’s life, is an addiction. Perhaps it’s not an addiction to a substance but it is an addiction to a destructive pattern of relating that can often be traced back to the way they were treated as children; what kind of boundaries and rights they were or weren’t allowed to have and what kind of behavior was modeled around them.
While there may be a real need for say, your son to stop using drugs yet there is really nothing we can do to stop him from using. As a parent and as a codependent the best thing we can do is set a reasonable boundary that can be adhered to. Such as letting your son know that you are not providing money to him or getting him out of jail. These are choices that you can make that preserve your dignity and shows that you value yourself. Even though this may seem uncomfortable at first it sets proper limits on things you find objectionable.
Co-dependents don’t realize that they have choices and rights and tend to see options as black or white, all or nothing. While some boundaries need to be absolutely unbendable- such as the right to not be physically abused, others can be softer or negotiable. When we don’t set boundaries we leave ourselves open to disrespect, or abuse because we don’t value ourselves enough to act in our own best interest and often don’t know how to set limits in a way that is calm and clear rather than accusing and anxiety producing.
It is not unusual for co-dependent people dealing with addiction or co-dependent caregivers to have been raised in a dysfunctional family where there was ridicule, punishment, shame, or shut down if needs, wants and fears were expressed. In a family that did not know how to meet needs in a healthy way, we learned to get the time and attention we wanted by doing for others and taking on roles that were not meant for a child.
Healthy boundaries are learned. No one is born with them.
It is never too late to start demonstrating how we should be treated with respect, and we do this by giving ourselves the respect we deserve. It is never too late to learn that we are valuable, to tap into our own needs and learn how to express them with strength and certainty.
Life and Relationship Coach
The Inspired Living Center
Phone: (772) 359-8924