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"Co-dependency" is so named because it’s especially clear in the dynamics between an addict and a significant other. In this situation, the "co-dependent" is tightly engaged with the addict’s disease, trying desperately to change the other’s life. Trying to understand. Trying to please. Screaming. Crying. Begging. All in the service of "getting" the addict to be "good."
The "co-dependent" often appears to be the more functional partner, getting work done, making money, taking care of the family, keeping things under wraps. But make no mistake, she suffers every bit as much as the active addict.
I say "she" because girls, especially, are brought up to be pleasing, so it’s not surprising that a large percentage of "co-dependents" are female. Girls are trained to be more aware of an Other — usually a dysfunctional parent, sometimes a mentally ill sibling — than of themselves. It’s a survival mechanism, rooted in the need to be always on guard against danger. A co-dependent grows up highly competent, and almost always a little on edge. And very focused on being pleasing. Maybe if we’re "good," Mommy will smile, or Daddy will promise a bicycle. How much we NEED that smile!
It gets so that they’ll do pretty much anything in the hopes of getting a sign of affection from the person they care most about. She — or he — will soothe, placate, offer themselves up, just to keep peace at home. And that’s how their own lives go to waste.
There are those who don’t have what Alanon calls a "qualifier" — who are not actively in relationship with an addict — who nevertheless are crippled with the attitudes of the co-dependent. Some have grown up in "alcoholic" families without the presence of alcohol — but with all the dynamics of addiction. Black-and-white thinking. Perfectionism. Possibly the worst: the belief that emotions can be controlled.
"Co-dependency" is best treated as a "process addiction" — that is, an emotional dependence on something a person must have to survive . In this case, it’s an emotional dependence on a particular relationship.
Treatment and recovery in co-dependency involves first, an understanding that what is often considered "good" (putting another first) is, in fact, crippling. And second, learning to create emotional separation from the Other. To create a life of one's own.