Are you thinking, “That sounds absurd! How can caring for someone else possibly be toxic?” If so, then please read on because you are on the right track toward a happier and healthier life while achieving more fulfilling relationships.

By now we’ve all heard the term codependency, which originally popped up in the late 70’s and early 80’s. It was then considered to be a condition suffered by the spouse or other family members of individuals with alcohol and/or drug problems. It was thought that the codependent’s beliefs and actions allowed the addict to continue drinking or using drugs without feeling the negative life-consequences otherwise experienced. This “loving” behavior manifested by family members and spouses of the addicted actually enabled the addict to continue using, mostly at the codependent’s expense.

Codependency means so much more than enabling someone you love, and today this idea has expanded to include adults who may or may not have lived with an addict. Codependency can more accurately be defined as the tendency to put others’ needs before your own; accommodating to others to such a degree that you tend to discount or ignore your own feelings, desires, and basic needs. Your self-esteem depends largely on how well you please, take care of, and/or solve problems for someone else (or many others). In a sense, you are only able to see yourself through the “role” you have with others.

I often hear codependents say, “I don’t know how to separate who I am with what I can do.”

The consequences of maintaining a codependent approach to life is a lot of resentment, frustration, and unmet personal needs. When these feelings and needs remain unconscious, they often resurface as anxiety.

Codependents typically learned this behavior while growing up in order to survive in an environment that involved great emotional pain and stress.

A few common characteristics of codependents are: doing more than their share; accepting responsibility for the actions of others; being unable to go without approval and recognition; feeling guilt when asserting themselves; fearing change; mistrusting others; being unable to identify their own emotions;  having a heightened fear of abandonment; and/or having difficulty with boundaries, intimacy, and control.  In addition, codependents can suffer physical illness related to stress.

The road away from codependency can be challenging yet fully rewarding. It requires hard work with a strong dedication to healthier thinking and loving. Self-help books, personal therapy, and support groups are all great tools in learning how to stop being a toxic caretaker and start enjoying the rewards life and relationships are intended to offer.

Need Help?

If you would like to speak to a therapist about this subject or about any other issue you may be experiencing, contact the Maria Droste Access Center at 303-867-4600.

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by Gary Alexander, MS, LMFT, LAC