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Codependent Behavior

Codependence is a set of learned behaviors that basically evolves from chaos. It was first identified as a disorder by clinicians who were studying the structures of families with alcoholics. However, codependency has gradually become a more popularized expression. Codependency is frequently used when expressing stressful conditions. Some may casually refer to themselves as being codependent, but whether this is true for this individual or not, most people do not understand the nature of codependency. In fact, codependent behaviors originate within the family. In this respect, codependency may be considered hereditary. However, it also can be a learned behavior if one's family practices codependency.

Family Dysfunction

The more appropriate clinical term for the family's affliction is "dysfunction." Dysfunctional families engender codependency, and it is a contagious pathology. When broken down, it operates in a cycle that begins with somebody who is sick. This sick person, otherwise known as the identified patient, is the original source of the family's dysfunction; he or she is essentially the host for what will become an over-arching family malady. Typically alcoholics or individuals with chemical dependency issues unconsciously project their dysfunctional psyches onto their family members.

Codependency works almost like a plague within the family in the sense that if one person is codependent, everybody will become codependent in one fashion or another. In codependent families, the entire family dynamic pivots around the identified patient. In this sense, what affects the identified patient will almost inevitably have some effect on his or her other family members, whether a mother, father, brother, or sister.

Codependent Family Model

Once codependency crops up as a regular pattern in a family's structure, it gradually becomes deeply ingrained in the mind of each member of the family, so much so that codependent action becomes the instinctive response to sort of family turmoil, not only that which pertains to the identified patient. So, generally speaking, when the cycle of codependency becomes locked in the family's mode of behavior, the identified patient won't be the only one that can disrupt the family's order. In this vain, those who were originally the codependents within a family can become the identified patients. For example, perhaps in a family where the child is the traditional identified patient there might be a day when the mother will have her own issues that she can't cope with. Then, when the other family members respond to the mother's distress, their reactions are almost identical to the reactions they would exhibit in the times of the identified patient's distress. So, as we can see from this family model, codependent action becomes the only action for families of this sort.

Love vs. Codependency

There is a fine line between love and codependency, and the two often intermingle. Codependency is an unfortunate byproduct of affection. The codependent loves the identified patient in whatever capacity that he or she may, and this causes them to be concerned for the welfare of their loved one. Here is where codependency comes into play: These codependent family members in question love the identified patient to such an unhealthy extent that they learn to ignore their own needs and solely focus on the identified patient. From there, they can lose sight of, or just become completely detached altogether from their own identity, encompassing themselves in the world of the identified patient instead. They latch onto the identified patient like parasites, and the identified patient's world becomes their world. If the identified patient experiences happiness, it is also their happiness; likewise, the identified patient's misery becomes the misery of the codependent.

Codependent individuals only wish to help the identified patient but their altruism only works out to a sadly ironic twist of fate for them and the identified patient as well. As family members become more and more absorbed in the lives of their identified patients, they not only find that they themselves do not have the power to fix the problem, but they also find that they've compounded the problem by bringing their own dysfunction into the equation. The sum of the two (or more depending on how many family members get involved) is a total upheaval that derails the entire family. Albeit honest intentions are at play with codependency, but it also almost always backfires making codependency a very tragic family defect.


The ideal method for getting help with codependency is through counseling for the condition. The best thing that codependency treatment can do for codependent individuals is teach them about their condition and make them aware of their symptoms. Many of those in codependent systems and environments are likely to deny or just be completely oblivious to the fact that they are codependent. Co-dependence Anonymous (CODA) is a twelve-step program for people who are codependent and is a great place to find support.


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