Before further discussion about codependency as an addiction, let's briefly re-establish a working definition of addiction: An addiction is a relationship with a means of relief. Where there is addiction, there is pain from unmet emotional needs. It is the need to relieve that pain that drives the addiction. (The Relationship Model of Addiction™(TRMA™).
Denial and other defense mechanisms render the pain and source of the pain unconscious. Where there is addiction, there is the irresistible lure of the relationship that serves as a means of relief and loss of control -- the inability to pull away despite increasing problems and steady progression of deterioration on all levels. Denial is always operating as the 'addiction's best friend,' capable of altering perception and eliminating awareness, making it impossible to realistically assess the level of involvement or severity of resultant problems.
What distinguishes codependency from chemical process addictions (i.e. gambling, porn or sex) is that codependents get 'hooked' on other people in an anguished effort to recover something that had been missing emotionally from their own upbringing. Addiction to other people is far more complicated than other types of addictions because they are relationships between people, in which communication exchanges are emotionally charged and multi-layered.
What is codependency?
Codependency is a deep, longstanding pattern of considering others before yourself, and caring more about their needs than your own.
A codependent relationship is a highly imbalanced one. The focus is on the other person, not on oneself, and comes at the expense of oneself. Codependents often find themselves depending on others who fail to provide very little, if any emotional nourishment, who are unstable and consumed with their own problems, and who are often in the throes of some kind of addiction themselves.
Codependents' behavior often occurs in the guise of caring or loving. Codependents are known to put themselves into the role of savior or hero, desperately "needing to be needed," to feel important and that they matter. Denial makes it impossible for the codependent person to be conscious of his/her feelings of shame and worthlessness which are rooted at the core of their motivation. They can't see when they're over-involved or loving too much, and that they are "going down with the ship."
As is the case with other addictions, the emotional holes codependents are trying to fill only get bigger as they exhaust themselves in the process. Their hunger becomes internalized, that is, turns into negative self-feelings. "I am a failure." "I am worthless." "I am unlovable". "I don't matter." They are trying in vain to affirm they are worthy, needed, wanted, loved and can make a difference, when deep down they believe that they are not.
Are you codependent?
The following questions can help you determine whether or not you are.
Do you feel you have to hide your feelings?
Do you feel like no matter how hard you try, it's never quite good enough?
Do you think that if you were a better parent, spouse, sibling, son or daughter, or friend, things would be better?
Do you feel like you work harder or expend more energy than your partner to keep the relationship going?
Do you believe a bad relationship is better than no relationship?
Is it hard for you to say "no?"
Do you tend to avoid confrontation at all costs?
Do you feel helpless or trapped in your relationship?
Are you preoccupied with your partner's addiction or other problems?
Do you make excuses or cover up your partner's behavior to other people?
Does embarrassment make you want to avoid being around other people?
Do you often make threats to leave the relationship, but never carry them out?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, consider the possibility that you are codependent or have codependent tendencies. While codependent behavior may be deep seated and longstanding, understanding codependency as an addiction and recognizing one's own tendencies is the first step on the path of recovery.