(THE BOOK) Chapter 13: Codependency

A camel is a horse designed by a committee.  

                                                ~ Old joke

Codependency is a camel of a word.  

It was cobbled together in the 1970s (from “coalcoholic” and “chemical dependency”) to describe a cluster of symptoms clinicians were finding in family members of alcoholics, and later popularized by self-help writers like Melody Beattie.

What’s it mean?  Good question.

“Codependency” has been defined, but in so many different ways that there is no commonly accepted meaning.  

This I discovered while researching a talk I was once asked to give on the subject.  I found not one but six definitions of “codependency.”  Each contained a piece of the truth, and yet none seemed entirely adequate on its own.  

So I decided to share all six with my audience.  Which I did.  

When I’d finished, a man raised his hand and asked,”So what the hell is codependency?”

And in a burst of insight I answered: “Addiction to control.”

That has been my working definition of codependency ever since.

It’s also the best explanation I know for why family members of alcoholics experience the chronic emotional problems they face: guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, painful relationships, even their own substance abuse.

Here’s how it works: 

Living with an addict is unpredictable and scary.  Inevitably you wish, if only to protect yourself, that you could control their behavior or its consequences.  

It’s a short step from wishing that to actually trying to do it.  

Thus a codependent wife may hide her alcoholic husband’s liquor, or pour it down the sink, or lie to his boss about why he’s not working, or to his kids about why he’s not home, or to her family about why he never attends birthday parties, or to the neighbors about how she got her black eye.  

She may try to persuade, nag, beg, guilt, or threaten the alcoholic himself.  Or manage his moods by avoiding conflict, never complaining, never speaking up, never expressing her own thoughts, feelings or needs.

Over time this way of coping becomes second nature to her.  A way of handling all experiences, all feelings and all relationships.  An approach to living rooted in the belief that survival depends on controlling people, places and things.

This is the codependent approach.

It infects wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, parents, friends and coworkers of addicts.  

Nor does it end there.

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One response to “(THE BOOK) Chapter 13: Codependency

  • Simona

    This really sums up codependency! And your definition is right on! I totally see myself in the codependent role with my son’s drug addiction..thinking if I can control everything just so, then he will get and or stay well.

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