Society today has many views on what is a societal norm. Co-dependency is often not recognized by the people who exhibit its traits until their lives become unmanageable. It often comes to light in adult children when they are struggling with the challenges of inter-personal relationships and their life outside their families in general. Co-dependency is often linked to substance abuse and addictions in parents, or grandparents, or in their families of origin. The families become moderately to severely dysfunctional and pass this on generationally in the form of co-dependency.
One may find themselves looking around saying, “Why are my relationships not working?” “I have found someone, I like them, I like spending time with them but it doesn't last!” When people have an unusually tight relationship to their family of origin to the point that that family takes the place of time and energy that should be put into a personal relationship, then the relationship with a potential life partner will not last or if it does, it will be slanted.
In a manner of speaking people that should be a priority becomes an option for someone with co-dependency challenges in their family of origin. Another extreme is that co-dependents feel the need to be involved in every aspect of what the friend or potential life mate is doing. That is the controlling aspect. Just as devastating as inability to operate on their own is the need to desire or control. There is a difference between mutual respect and taking another into consideration and dependency. If one will not go out without the other, there is challenge. If one must go out with “someone” there is an issue. If one person is always feeling the need to decide for another without consideration of the others' needs wants or desires there is a challenge.
We all feel on some level responsibility and love for our families. At least most times. This feeling should be motivated by past history of respect, love, freedom and protection. A family is our “shelter” in the storm. For some though it is a jail and once the outside world is seen, the potential for what their lives could be played out in front of their eyes the discomfort grows. For these people the motivations for family are much different; Guilt, shame, secret keeping.
“What will I do when my parent dies?” is a very valid question for someone who has been enabled by the protective arms of their parents. If a child is given everything whether that be to help or to control their inability to function without that parent or parents becomes debilitating. Suddenly at some point the parent will either die or be unable to do for the child what he or she or both has done for years. The child will then be on its own. Unable to make decisions, unable to deal with the real world aspect of life.
In many instances a co-dependent may need someone to control or look after, in other instances it is the other extreme.
Helping a family member is one thing; controlling or enabling them is another. Problem? The parents enabling don't realize they are and the kids eat it up and manifest in a passive aggressive way. What do I mean by enabling?
Take for example a house or residence. A child wants to buy a house and the parents sign for it and take on the mortgage or hand over their house while holding the mortgage. If you're going to help, co sign but help your child (middle aged or young adult) to learn how to live their life. Don't control or enable. If you want to give your children a house, give it to them outright by all means. But to allow your child to make payments to you, or in a lot of cases, not make payments to you is not “helping” them. It is causing a dependence on you!
Further examples of co-dependent behaviour is when grown children are in their 30's or 40’s and still being controlled by a parent. Whether that means still living at home or having an open door walk right in policy. Those are boundaries that should be respected as would be respected between any other adult. If a person looks to a parent while in their 40's for permission to go out or the parent is controlling whether that person goes out or not is another example of emeshed boundaries that reflect co-dependency.
Siblings can cause show the same co-dependency challenges with each other. This will generally occur when one of the siblings has been a parent figure and taken care of the other sibling in the emotional or physical absence of a parent. This could also happen if one sibling was trying to protect another from a parent. Whether in terms of physical or emotional abuse. The come to trust only each other and the co-dependency grows from there.
A key sign in recognizing this co-dependency from the outside is that someone with a co-dependency challenge will outwardly behave as if life is grand but when it comes down to it and a friend or potential life partner is introduced to the family a very different story unfolds. This is also part of the reason that friendships and relationships are kept at a distance. There can be no real emotional reciprocity when the real person differs so greatly from the portrayed person.
When someone who has been affected by the dynamics of a dysfunctional family, full of emeshed boundaries and co-dependence, comes to the realization their life is unmanageable, that is when personal coaches and 12 step programs can be of a huge assistance to them. Coaching or 12 step programs are most effective when a person reaches for help. Because it is at that time that they recognize a need to change.
Are you one of those people? Take a close look at yourself; are you where you want to be? Are your life skills where you want them to be? If not, you may have some co-dependency challenges in front of you. Though they are challenges, they are by no means something that can not be overcome.