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Codependence

A term used to describe a person who is intimately involved with a person who is abusing or addicted to alcohol or another substance.

The concept of codependence was first developed in relation to alcohol and other substance abuse addictions. The alcoholic or drug abuser was the dependent, and the person involved with the dependent person in any intimate way (spouse, lover, child, sibling, etc.) was the codependent. The definition of the term has been expanded to include anyone showing an extreme degree of certain personality traits: denial, silent or even cheerful tolerance of unreasonable behavior from others, rigid loyalty to family rules, a need to control others, finding identity through relationships with others, a lack of personal boundaries, and low self-esteem. Some consider it a progressive disease, one which gets worse without treatment until the codependent becomes unable to function successfully in the world. Progressive codependence can lead to depression, isolation, self-destructive behavior (such as bulimia, anorexia, self-mutilation) or even suicide. There is a large self-help movement to help code-pendents take charge of themselves and heal their lives.

There is some criticism of the "codependence movement" by those who feel it is only a fad that encourages labeling and a weak, dependent, victim mentality that obscures more important underlying truths of oppression. Many critics claim the definition of codependence is too vague and the list of symptoms too long and broad to be meaningful. These critics believe that all families fit the "dysfunctional" label; by diagnosing a person as "codependent," all responsibility for the individual's dissatisfaction, shortcomings, and failures comes to rest on the individual and his or her family. Larger issues of cultural, societal, or institutional responsibility are ignored. However, some proponents of the codependence definition are widening their perspective to look at how society as a whole, as well as separate institutions within society, function in an addictive, dysfunctional, or codependent way.

Further Reading

Beattie, Melody. Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself. San Francisco: Hazelden/Harper Collins, 1987.

Johnson, Sonia. Wildfire: Igniting the She/Volution. Albuquerque, NM: Wildfire Books, 1989.

Katz, Dr. Stan J., and Eimee E. Liu. The Codependency Conspiracy: How to Break the Recovery Habit and Take Charge of Your Life. New York: Warner Books, 1991.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Abacus to Courage