Codependency is a popular concept. It’s been around for awhile now, and no one seems to take issue with it.
Codependency generally refers to the behaviors of someone who is in a relationship with a substance abuser, be it a spouse, parent, child or friend. What I take issue with is that the concept of codependency tends to assign equal blame for the addiction to the addict and the loved one.
Codependents try to take care of the addict, but the caretaking is said to be compulsive and self-serving. They cover for the addict, make excuses to bosses & others, clean up physical and interpersonal messes, and make repeated attempts to rescue addicts from the consequences of their destructive behaviors. They try to prevent their loved one from “hitting bottom”.
Codependents are assumed to continue these rescue attempts because they themselves get something out of it. That they enjoy the role of martyr or victim. That they get their rocks off feeling functionally and morally superior to an alcoholic or drug addict. That they enable the addictive behaviors, and that, without them, the person would probably have sobered up by now. Codependents are accused of confusing love and pity, of relationship addiction, of an extreme need for approval, recognition, and control, of poor communication skills, and of lying.
While I’m sure there are people in relationships with alcoholics who are some or all of these things, I have never met one. Who I have met are those who are desperate to save their husband or child from job loss, accidents, or death. This is made more difficult by the fact that all substance abusers lie. Narcissism (only considering oneself) and lying go hand in hand with addictive disease.
And while a codependent is accused of poor communication, it is frequently glossed over that an alcoholic’s primary relationship is with his bottle. An addict’s primary relationship is with his drug of choice. Every person or activity in his life plays second fiddle to the substance. It is nigh impossible to have a real relationship with an addict, let alone communicate with him.
Another sticky wicket is that fact that codependents are generally assumed to be women. When you think “codependent”, do you picture a man? Probably not. But caretaking and self-sacrifice are still encouraged and valued in women. Girls are still raised to be nurturing and to put the needs of others ahead of their own. Frequently “co-dependents” are simply living out their gender roles.
So, please, the next time you hear about a codependent relationship, or hear someone call themselves codependent, don’t just accept this on face value. Consider what the non-drinker is up against and how their options might be limited.