Codependency, originally, was a term used to describe a set of behaviors or responses developed from living with an alcoholic or substance abuser.  The definition has changed over time to describe a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during childhood, usually as a result of family rules.  One of many definitions of codependency is: a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress.  The condition or fact of being codependent; specifically, a) tendency to place the needs and wants of others first and to the exclusion of acknowledging one’s own, b) continued investment of self-esteem in the ability to control both oneself and others, c) anxiety and boundary distortions relating to intimacy and separation, d) difficulty expressing feelings, e) excessive worry how others may respond to one’s feelings, f) undue fear of being hurt and/or rejected by others, g) self-esteem dependent on approval by others, h) tendency to ignore own values and attempt to adhere to the values of others.  (Westermeyer)

            Many people affected don’t realize the impact codependence has on their lives until they are adults and attempting to form and sustain stable relationships; even maintaining effective relationships with their children can be difficult.  Codependent individuals may have suspected something was wrong, before adulthood, but passed it off to adolescence or something similar.

Enabling is defined as reacting to a person in such a way to shield him or her from experiencing the full impact of the harmful consequences of behavior. Enabling behavior differs from helping in that it permits or allows the person to be irresponsible.  Enabling may take the form of protection someone from natural consequences of behavior, keeping secret about their behavior in order to keep peace, bailing them out of trouble, blaming others for dependent persons behavior, seeing the problem as a result of something else.  By protecting someone in this way, it also allows the enabler to escape dealing with the actual problem.  These are typical of behaviors that occur within a family where chemical dependency is occurring.

Within a family affected by chemical dependency, family members may start to adopt these behaviors in order to deal with the individual who is chemically dependent.  There are different roles as enablers and family members may fit one of these patterns or switch back and forth.  These roles, though created as an attempt to make things better, may actually contribute to the problem.  Enablers may play the role of a rescuer, a provoker, or a victim.  The rescuer enables by not allowing the offender to face the consequences of their actions.  The rescuer contributes to the behavior by being the caretaker.  The offender doesn’t need to change because he/she doesn’t feel the full affect of the behavior.  (

The provoker and the victim also contribute to the behavior.  Their reaction to the offenders behavior allows the offender to focus on their reaction rather than his/her own behavior.  In addition, both of these roles are designed to manipulate the offender with guilt.  This may push the offender to try to escape once again, by indulging in their drug of choice.

            Codependency and enabling will affect the family as a whole.  The family will become increasingly dysfunctional and find it difficult to get out of the rut they are in.  It takes the form of rescuing, worrying or obsessing over the other person. Mental energy is used to try to control the other person thus ignoring personal responsibility for one’s own problems.  Codependents get caught up in trying to save the relationship at the sacrifice of themselves. They choose to stay in a relationship with an  offender because they become caught up in the rescue.


            The family does not talk about the issue or acknowledge that it exists.  They live in an environment that is laden with fear, shame, guilt, and anger that is ignored.  Family members learn to repress their own emotions and disregard their own needs.  They become “survivors.”

They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t touch. They don’t confront. They don’t feel. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited.

Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to be themselves. They have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the caretaking becomes compulsive and defeating.  (Beattie)

To be a fully functioning adult and have mature loving relationships with family members, you need to take care of yourself, your needs and wants, follow your interests, develop your talents, and have your own friendships outside of the family. You need to say no to doing tasks that foster immaturity and dependence in others. Boundary setting serves family members to separate from you, learn to individuate (be separate individuals), take care of their own needs, to grow up, and be able to have healthy, mature, adult love relationships. As you set limits on what you give, you foster family members and close friends to have mature adult-to-adult relationships with you. Here you relate in a balanced give-and-take way, where you are not in the role of being the grownup who is giving all the time. If you do things for others beyond what is  appropriate, then you lower their self-esteem and actually stop them from being an fully functioning individual.  (Harrill)


Beattie, Melody. Beyond Codependency. N.p.: n.p., 1989.

Codependency.  11 Apr. 2006 ;http://;.

Codependency Resources.  11 Apr. 2006 ;http://;.

Harrill, Suanne. What is codependence and how does it affect my life?  11 Apr. 2006 ;http://;.

Westermeyer, Robert. The Codependency Idea:  When Caring Becomes a Disease. 11 Apr. 2006 ;http://;.


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