Saturday, October 14, 2006

Co-Dependency and Enabling

Rhea writes:

Hello from a new reader, and a couple of comments.

I was meant to get on with my housework about two hours ago but
haven't been able to tear myself away from your archives ;o)

I'm English and am not familiar with some of the therapy / counselling terms you use. Can you explain (if you don't mind) what "co-dependency" and "enabling" mean, please?

Sometimes I see questions or comments that I want to reply to, but I put it off for a while. Rhea however is in a desperate situation. She might have to go back to housework!

Co-Dependency is a word that comes out of the recovery world (Alcoholics Anonymous/Al-Anon, etc.). The addict is the dependent, the person in the relationship with the dependent is the co-dependent.

A lot of people don't mean anything than that by it. Co-dependents ("codies") come in all shapes and sizes and have all sorts of problems. Codies are typically known for:
-needing to "help" others in order to feel good about themselves
-being attracted to people who have problems so that they can save them
-living their life through others

Hence the codie jokes. I thought that I had posted them on the blog before, but I can't find them so I will post them separately.

Enabling is a typically codependent behavior. Enabling looks like helping, but it is helping the addict continue to use. Calling the boss to say that your husband is sick, when he is actually hung-over is a common example. Rescuing, paying bills, lying, covering up, or any other form of protecting addicts from the consequences of their behavior is enabling.

It's so easy to fall into. You live with someone who is an alcoholic or an addict and you start spying, searching their rooms. You analyze them and figure out exactly what they need. I, for instance, could spin explanations for why Evan turns to drugs. I know what he needs to stay clean. I know what he is doing wrong and what he out to be doing. There are a couple of problems with this. The first, the theory goes, is that enabling only makes things worse; addicts need to hit "rock bottom." They will not admit that they are addicts and get help until they have got to that place and if we protect them from the consequences of their actions then we slow down the journey to that place.

The second problem with falling into this pattern is that you loose yourself and your own life. Everything becomes about the addict. You are happy if they are doing well; miserable if they are not. All your time goes into monitoring, protecting, manipulating.

A lot of recovering codies commit to not enabling. I understand why, but I don't find that to be a helpful way of thinking. My recovery has been about learning to take care of myself and not get obsessed with other people's problems. Being able to tell Evan that I think going to Scotland is a bad idea, but then NOT feeling like I have to talk endlessly with everyone else to figure out how to stop him. I can tell him what I think and then let him make his decision.

I think that worrying about whether enabling keeps me focused on the needs of the addict and STILL not taking care of me.

When I started therapy I wondered if I was going to get so healthy that I would no longer need to be a foster parent. What I am finding out is that I am getting healthy enough so that I can continue to be a foster parent. I have learned that I do take a lot of satisfaction out of helping and that there is nothing unhealthy about that, as long as I remember to take care of me.

next on Evan

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, that was very helpful.
    I shall be linking to your blog, if that's ok,


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