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Codependency is a mental illness most likely caused by either alcohol abusive parents or unhealthy relationships. This illness causes the person to become solely dependent on others and can grow worse if not treated by a professional or self-help support group.

Someone who is codependent will relate to most if not all of these feelings: (1) feel like a failure (2) cannot make any friends (3) have a lot of friends, but none are real close (4) do not take compliments (5) hard time expressing his feelings (6) afraid of losing his friends (7) all decisions are wrong (8) better to be a giver than a taker (9) must make others happy even if he is not happy (10) feel responsible for solving other people's problems. These are only a few of the many symptoms of a codependent person. It is normal to feel unsure or uncomfortable sometimes, but if this happens all the time, the person needs help (Septien 11).

It is said that people become codependent by living in families with rules that can hurt development in some way or another. Some codependents come from families that have alcohol problems or secrets within the family. If a parent does not allow his child to talk about his problems, express himself, or just play, the child can become codependent. Some parents expect so much of their child that if he does not meet their expectations, the he becomes a failure. These rules do not allow the child to think freely or develop his own self-esteem. No one chooses to be codependent, yet he is born into a family in which codependency is a normal way of life. A healthy family shows love, acceptance, safety, the need to express yourself, guidance, support, encouragement, and privacy. When given this environment, children are able to grow and develop into happy, confident, responsible adults. Unhealthy families are those that do not relate to each other positively. Codependency starts with alcohol abusive parents who pay no attention to their children's growth. They do not allow the children to express how they feel, and the children are constantly cleaning up after and taking care of their parents. As long as they please their parents, the children feel happy. Serious family problems can cause confusion. Everyone has mixed feelings, which causes them to lose confidence in the family or themselves. As fear, guilt, blame, and low self-esteem take hold, codependency begins.

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Shame is a feeling of disgrace. When parents scold their child for something done wrong, the child knows the parents are unhappy with him. He may feel unloved or worry that his parents will leave him. A good parent makes sure his child knows that he is only angry at what the child did. The parent lets the child know he is still loved and forgives him. A bad parent never explains to the child that he is not mad at him but rather what he did. He does not let the child know he is still loved, let alone forgive him. As a result, the child learns to feel shame as a way of life (Gale).

An example of a codependent relationship is shown in some music lyrics from "Stay" by Madonna. The song says:

"You, you make my life much brighter
You're always on my mind
You, you make my load much lighter
I'll always want you to
Stay, stay darling
But if you go I'd rather think of dying instead
I never want you to leave
`Cause I know that I can make you love me
Love me, love, love, love, love me, love me"
These lyrics show that the girl is completely dependent on her lover, mentioning that she would rather think of dying than losing him. By hearing the lyrics, one would figure out the guy does not love the girl as much as she loves him, so she will do anything to make him happy and, in turn, love her back.

There are eight major areas of codependent behavior that control the person with the illness.

Low self-esteem is one area and probably the most obvious. A codependent feels as if he has no value as a human being. He can go far above and beyond his expectation and yet never feel it is enough. He feels he is not as good as others, making him try and cover up his low self-esteem by pointing out the faults of others.

"I'll do whatever you want" is an example of other self-esteem. A codependent will look to others to see how he should feel about himself. He is only happy when others are happy with him. Of course, it is not wrong for people to be pleased with you, but a codependent feels abandoned if his friends or family are not happy.

Going to extremes is when the codependent either gives too much or not at all. As people pleasers, a codependent person goes out of his way to help someone or take on responsibilities. Soon enough, he burns out. Feeling used, he gives up trying to please. At this time, he will pull away from people altogether because he has nothing left to give. Denying true feelings is caused by the confusion the codependent has about his feelings. He only is concerned with how others feel about him not how he feels about himself. A codependent may seem happy on the outside, but inside, his true feelings are eating away at him.

Another area is the control and manipulation of others. As a codependent may lose control over his own feelings, he is an expert at trying to control others. He will play mind games with others to gain control. A few ways are that he will make others feel sorry for him, apologize for everything, avoid confrontation, never say directly what he wants, and go along with almost anything someone says. By using these games, the codependent frees himself from having to communicate and express his own feelings. His sole happiness comes from this idea that he is in control.

A codependent has problems with getting close. He needs people, but will not get too close because he is afraid of intimacy. He thinks if people know what he is really like, they will not like him. He never focuses on the positive side of a relationship, but instead worries about getting hurt and disappointment. He fears being dumped, so he keeps others at a distance.

Another area is powerlessness. The codependent person lets others decide how he should feel or act. At times, he does what he thinks others want him to do. Since he is always looking on the outside, he has no control of his inside feelings. Addictions and compulsions are a way out for a codependent. Feeling empty inside, he tries to find relief in becoming addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs. Some people excess in watching TV, shopping, overeating, overwork, or perfectionism. (16-23)

Once someone knows that he is codependent, there are ways to recover from this illness. First, the codependent must claim his feelings. He must remember that none of his feelings are right or wrong, good or bad. His feelings are just his natural reactions that need to be experienced openly. Once he has recognized his feelings, he needs to express them with other people. He should talk about what he feels instead of trying to always please others. Not everyone will agree with him, but it is not wrong to have your own opinions. Good communication is vital for healthy relationships. When two people express themselves, there is a give-and-take between them. No one is in control. Communication requires talking and listening both. Codependents need to set boundaries in relationships. Boundaries are important in making the person know what he feels, needs, and wants. A codependent person needs to allow some people to get close and keep some at a distance. Boundaries help him know where one person stops and where he begins. The last step to healing is learning to trust. A codependent person loses the ability to trust himself. To get closer to people, he needs to learn to trust again. The more he understands himself, the better he will be able to place his trust in those who deserve it (Septien 43-50).

There are also self-help support groups for codependents called CODA groups. A codependent can find more information through his local alcoholism services or go to an ACA group (adult children of alcoholics) which deals with similar problems as that of the CODA. Because of codependency being a mental illness, there is no exact number on how many people suffer from it. In fact, most people do not even know they are codependent until they acknowledge that they have a problem and seek help.


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