How Co-dependency is Often Experienced

"Characteristics of Co-dependents: Modified from Schaef (1986)"

 "1. External referencing: distrusting own perceptions, lacking
     boundaries, believing one cannot survive without a
     relationship/addicted to relationships, fearing abandonment,
     believing in the perfect union.

 2. Caretaking: become indispensable, become a martyr

 3. Self-centeredness: personalizing all events, assuming
    responsibility for other's behavior.

 4. Over-controlling: increasing control efforts when chaos
    increases, attempting to control everything and everyone,
    controlling without caring for those controlled, believing
    that with more effort you can fix the addict/family.

 5. Feelings: unaware of feelings, distorting emotional
    experiences/accepting only acceptable feelings, fearfulness.

 6. Dishonesty: managing all impressions made, omitting/lying about
    the truth, rigidity.

 7. Gullibility:  being a bad judge of character, unwillingness to
    confront, over-trusting, accepting what fits the way on wishes
    the way things were.

 Lay symptoms of Co-dependence

 Changing who you are to please others
 Feeling responsible for meeting other people's needs at the
 expense of your own
 Low self-esteem
 Driven by compulsions

 Diagnostic Criteria

 a) Continued investment of self-esteem in the ability to
    influence/control feelings and behavior, both in oneself
    and in others, in the face of serious adverse consequences.

 b) Assumption of responsibility for meeting other's needs, to
    the exclusion of acknowledging one's needs.

 c) Anxiety and boundary distortions around intimacy and separation.

 d) Enmeshment in relationships with personality-disordered,
    chemically dependent, and impulse-disordered individuals.

 e) Exhibits at least three of the following:

     1. Excessive reliance on denial
     2. Constriction of emotions (with or without dramatic outbursts)
     3. Depression
     4. Hypervigilance
     5. Compulsions
     6. Anxiety
     7. Substance Abuse
     8. Recurrent victim of physical or sexual abuse
     9. Stress-related medical illness
    10. Has remained in a primary relationship with an active
        abuser for at least two years without seeking outside

Co-dependent personality


 Unassertive, does not pursue own rights, adapts rather than
 changing a bad situation
 Submission to others for predictability/security, self-
 Oversensitive to others' difficulties
 Puts up a front, hides "true self"
 Withdraws, isolates, loneliness

Roles Adopted:

 Rescuer:        protecting/covering for the addicted person by
                 making excuses absences or social mistakes
 Care Taker:     minimizes negative consequences in addicted
                 person's chemical dependency
 Joiner:         rationalizing or participating/assisting in
                 addicted person's chemical dependency
 Hero:           protecting the family's public image/draw
                 attention away from the addiction with enormous/
                 "superhuman"/self-sacrificing efforts
 Adjuster:       avoiding discussion of the addiction in hopes
                 it will disappear, hiding concern and confusion
                 with apathy


 Extreme family loyalty
 Family rules: "Don't talk, don't trust, don't feel"
 Distorted family image: happy, no problems, see only the good
 Over-developed sense of responsibility and concern for others
 Control is valued, lack of control is terrifying, order,
 stability, routine, regularity, peace, not chaos
 Only superficial relationships, no intimate ones as equality/
 equivalence is required for justice


 Excessive caretaking/dependency especially when stressed,
 undeserved loyalty
 Over-responsible/over-reliable (to compensate for the addict's
 irresponsibility), anticipate other's needs ("enabling"),
 need to control people and situations, rigidity
 Denial: ignore/rationalize/minimize problem, denies increased
 substance abuse
 Loss of daily structure: missing appointments, having meals
 at irregular times, not getting to bed or up on time
 Fails to complete tasks, follow through, make plans, easily
 overwhelmed with tasks, reactive not proactive
 Crisis orientation not long term, good in crisis situation/
 beginnings and endings but not in middles


 Low self-esteem: self blame for any problem/other's substance
 use, guilt-prone, shame and guilt, "I'm bad/no good",
 extreme/unproductive self criticism/flagellation, assumption of
 blame due to inconsistency of parental behavior
 Insecurity, low self-esteem, fear/belief in one's unloveability/
 insanity/badness/dirtiness, Powerlessness
 Shame at addiction, secretive, very reluctant to ask for help
 Acts in a way they believe normal, doesn't know what is
 normal behavior, emotional responses
 Anxious over not feeling/acting sufficiently "normal", feel
 different from anyone else you know
 Adopts extreme role models and standards which would be
 acceptable to a group with low self-esteem


 Depression, negativity, uncontrollable mood swings, no fun in life,
 dulled feeling, alexethymia, anhedonia, or enjoy only when at
 someone else's expense, seriousness life as series of problems
 and crises to be solved, tasks to be done, worry is normal,
 frequent resentments and anger, "Got a raw deal".


 Obsessive thinking, overreliance on analytical thinking,
 Delusions/Irrational beliefs: Amor omnia vincit
 (or at least substance abuse)
 Dishonest, lies, denial, unaware of dishonesty (behavior)
 is not the "real person"
 Low memory of childhood


 Physical, sexual, psychological abuse and neglect
 "addictive" behavior: eating disorders, substance abuse,
 obsessive-compulsive disorder
 Acting out for attention or approval


 Health problems: stress related disorders, lack of personal care
 Became addicted to cope with frustration and pain
 Neglected attention in childhood, "stroke starved", leads to
 denial of own needs

Ackerman (1986)

"The Clinician's Thesaurus 3"

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  • as of September 24, 2000