Overcoming Codependent Relationships and Codependency Interventions

Overcoming Codependent Relationships and Codependency Interventions Header image
Last Edited: November 19, 2020

Bianka Fisk

Clinically Reviewed

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Understanding the roles of codependency in addiction and intervention.

As humans, we like to have routines and we create habits to make our everyday life convenient and comfortable. If our life revolves around someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, or any other type of harmful activity, we become accustomed to that and start to make it our habit to look after that person. That is described as being “codependent”. Intervention for Codependency is available and can help one achieve peace of mind.

What is a Codependent Relationship?

To understand codependency, you must first understand relationships. It doesn’t matter whether the relationship is that of a spouse, a relative, a friend, a coworker or any other kind of relationship. The same things occur:

  • They start to behave in the same way as the other person, taking on his or her qualities (and flaws).
  • They behave in such a way that enhances the other person’s qualities.
  • They behave in such a way that diminishes the other person’s qualities.

Where one is the addict, the other also becomes an addict, addicted to supporting the addict. At the same time, we enhance that person’s behavior, a process known as “enabling,” and by enabling, we actually make the situation worse. That is what codependency is all about: a psychological process through which we become addicted to the person, which actually enables them to remain addicted.

A Codependent Relationship Influences the Non-Addicted Person

Relationships inevitably change us because of these three behaviors. However, that doesn’t mean that there is no way out. By being aware of how we behave and change, we can also take control over it and make sure that the changes are positive ones and actually benefit both parties in that relationship. Instead of enabling the addiction, in other words, we fight them so that the real person once again comes out.

Codependency is defined as a pattern of behavior. Essentially, it means that you develop your identity and self-worth based on the approval of someone else. It is characterized by people making extreme sacrifices, putting their own self and overall well-being secondary to that of the person they are in a relationship with. It is an unhealthy attachment, in which the codependent partners no longer function on their own. Rather, they require the other person to fulfill them.

Codependency can happen to anyone. However, research has shown that those who come from abusive or neglected backgrounds are more likely to end up codependent. This is because, when growing up, these people were trained to believe that their needs were not important, and they put their own feelings and sense of self aside to please the abusive parent. Interestingly, once they reach adulthood, they replay these patterns. It is far more likely for these types of people to be attracted to people who are “needy”, and for “needy” people to be attracted to them.

Are You in a Codependent Relationship?

There are a few key signs to be aware of that could indicate that you are in a codependent relationship:

  • You find it impossible to feel happy and satisfied in your life unless it revolves around a specific individual.
  • You know that your partner is engaging in unhealthy behavior, but you stay in the relationship regardless.
  • You provide support to your partner even though this is detrimental to your own physical, emotional, and mental health.

It is also possible that people have started to tell you that you depend too much on your partner. Perhaps you feel that you would like some independence, but those feelings are causing conflict because you feel guilty if you try to create some distance. A predominating emotion in your life will be anxiety. Your focus will be either to try to change the way your partner is or to change yourself.

Codependent relationships are unhealthy relationships. They will not bring you any happiness, nor will you make the life of your partner any better in the long run. If your partner is suffering from an addiction, being codependent only means that you enable that addiction. What your partner needs is not for you to allow him or her to continue the habit, but for you to find help.

Therapeutic Interventions for Codependency

It can be incredibly difficult for people to acknowledge that they are codependent, and even more difficult to change it. This is because of the nature of codependency. For you to change, you need your partner to change first. Furthermore, codependency doesn’t happen overnight, but it is a habit that you have formed over the course of years. Nevertheless, it can be managed with a therapeutic codependent intervention. Learning about your codependency and how to manage it will improve your self-esteem immensely which in turn will greatly reduce the associated depression and anxiety. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to end your relationship, something that many codependents are fearful of, but when you finally sort out your codependent issues, you may want to end it.

Importance of Psychotherapy for Codependency

One way to address codependency is through psychotherapy. This will give you an opportunity to understand why you are overcompensating. It will enable you to see that you always put yourself last and that you feel the needs of everyone else are more important than your needs. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is very successful in achieving this, as is family therapy. Through CBT, you learn to recognize your negative thought patterns while incorporating new positive thought processes in place. Through family therapy, you learn to understand that you also have a support network of people around you who genuinely care about you. Perhaps the addicted individual can also take part in family therapy, which in turn means that you have a greater opportunity of not just breaking the cycle of codependency, but obtaining help for your loved one as well.

Therapeutic interventions for codependency have a number of different goals. These are:

  • To improve your self-care. Your focus has, for too long, been on helping others fulfill their needs. As a result, your own needs will have been neglected. This can have dangerous consequences. In order to enjoy overall well-being, you must learn how to look after yourself.
  • To help you set boundaries. The goal of breaking through a codependency is not to end relationships, it is to make sure you can enjoy life as well. You will learn to become self-reliant, investing some of your energy and time into you, instead of into someone else.
  • To give you support. You will get support from people lending an encouraging ear. They will not, however, try to fix you. That is something only you can do. A therapist will provide you with advice, but it is up to you to decide whether or not you want to implement those suggestions.
  • To show you other ways to care. Codependent people are compassionate and caring people. They must learn, however, to behave in a way that is healthy and productive. As such, a therapist may point you towards volunteering jobs, where you can care for those who need it and go home at the end of the day, instead of being in an endless situation of looking after people who doesn’t want to look after themselves.
  • To learn about patterns in your family. Doing this will ensure that you understand what the different family dynamics are, and where these patterns came from and have gone to as well.

It is becoming increasingly common for codependent people to take part in group counseling sessions. In fact, there is even a Co-Dependents Anonymous group, which follows the 12-step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Similarly, Al-Anon, which is the brand of the AA that supports those in relationships with alcoholics, is also available to ensure you can break from your codependency.

Why Should You Go to Al-Anon or Nar-Anon?

If you care about people who are addicted, it tremendously affects your life. You probably spend much of your day thinking about them, what they have done and are doing and how you can help them. It is normal to have negative and conflicting emotions as well, including anxiety, fear, rage and anger. You may even get sick with worry and become codependent.

After being stuck in this cycle for a while, you will start to realize that you aren’t making a difference, and that for all your best intentions, nothing has changed. At this point, if not before actually, you may come to the realization that whether the person you are in a relationship with gets help becomes almost irrelevant. What matters more is that you get the help that you need. And when you get to this point, you can go to Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.

What Is Al-Anon?

Al-Anon is a branch of AA, working specifically with those who have been affected by the behaviors of people who are addicted to alcohol. The focus is on those who are in a loving relationship with an alcoholic, and less on children, friends, or coworkers.

What Is Nar-Anon?

Nar-Anon is basically the same, only a brand of the Narcotics Anonymous, where the focus is on the significant other of a person who is addicted to narcotics.

What Happens When You Attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon?

When you attend Al-Anon or Nar-Anon, you can get vital help, regardless of what the current situation of the addiction of your loved one is. Additionally, you can get help from these groups even if you are no longer in a relationship with the addicted person. The focus is not on what your relationship is, or how it is functioning. What matters is that you have been affected by their drug addiction or alcoholism, and you can get help with this.

Both Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are spiritual in nature, although that does not mean that they are religious. Both focus on the 12-step approach. During the program, you will learn to put your trust in a higher power. However, you get to decide what that higher power is, be that God, energy, or anything else that feels right for you. For many, for instance, the higher power is the group itself. Again, who your personal higher power doesn’t matter, what matters is that you learn that there are others like you and that you can get help.

During your Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings, you will talk about your experiences, what your strengths are, and what your hopes are for the future. Nobody will tell you that you should behave in a certain way. Rather, you will be supported to detach yourself from the issues that the addicted person has created in your life, allowing you to place a renewed focus on yourself and your own life. You can achieve this through beginners’ meetings, speaker meetings, step meetings, discussion meetings, online meetings, and more.

When you attend these meetings, you will not be given the skills to fix addicted people, however. You will understand that you have no power over the choices that they make. You cannot fix addiction, and there is a chance that they will never achieve sobriety. But that is not your fault nor your responsibility. What you will learn, however, is that your happiness does not depend on the actions of another. The focus of these groups is on you, not on the addicted person. Hence, you will learn to set goals and dreams just for you.

The biggest reason for you to go to these groups is that they will teach you how to regain control over your own life. By being surrounded by your peers, people who truly understand and will not judge you, you can turn your life around. You can learn how to look after yourself again. Sometimes, this can lead to the addicted people becoming inspired by your progress and try to achieve sobriety for themselves. On the other hand, this may drive the addicted people away. And sometimes, it won’t change anything for the addicted person. But that doesn’t matter because the focus of these groups is on you, not on them. It is about making you happy, as you deserve to be.