Sunday, August 11, 2013



Co-dependency is a learned behaviour formed by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behaviour, it can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioural condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. Also known as “relationship addiction” because it maintains a one-sided relationship that is emotionally destructive and/or abusive. It started with studies on families that have people living with an alcoholic or substance abuser. Today, the definition of co-dependency has expanded to describe dysfunctional patterns of living and problem solving developed during childhood by family rules. 

As co-dependent adults, there is a greater tendency to get involved in “toxic relationships”, in other words with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. The co-dependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires, setting themselves up for continued unfulfillment.

Even when the co-dependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the co-dependent person still operates within their own system. This creates problems that continue to recycle in the same relationship or into new relationships.

Dysfunction within the family can lead to co-dependency. When one member of the family suffers from fear, anger, pain or shame that is either ignored or denied, it can causes a family to become dysfunctional and the underlying problems can include:

·         An addiction of a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationship, work, food, sex or gambling.
·         The existence of a family member suffering from physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
·         The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.

The following are some of the symptoms of co-dependency:

  • Controlling behaviour
  • Distrust
  • Perfectionism
  • Avoidance of feelings
  • Intimacy problems
  • Caretaking behaviour
  • Hyper vigilance (heightened awareness for potential threat or danger)
  • Physical illness related to stress
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Over suppression by family members (i.e. not allowing to expose family dark secrets) 

General rules set-up within families that causes co-dependency may include the following:

  • It's not okay to talk about problems (i.e. family’s dark secrets)
  • Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep feelings to yourself
  • Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others; known in therapy as triangulation
  • Be strong, good, right, perfect (i.e. to exercise perfectionism)
  • Make us proud beyond realistic expectations
  • Don't be selfish (i.e. constantly giving without ever taking)
  • Do as I say not as I do (i.e. must follow instructions)
  • Don't rock the boat
  • Families that practices Confucian ideologies like Filial Piety or upholds unrealistic ancestral traditions
  • Not allowed to break the family traditions or rules (i.e. like not allowed to divorce)
  • Unhealthy family belief system 

Many families have one or more of these rules in place within the family. These kinds of rules can constrict and strain the free and healthy development of one’s self-esteem and coping. As a result, children being disempowered can develop non-helpful behaviour characteristics, problems solving skills, and reactions to situations in their adult life.


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