Because codependency is hard to define, many people have misconceptions about what it is and more importantly how much it can hurt us. Of all the false things people believe to be true about codependency, here are the top four most commonly believed myths.
Myth #1: Codependency is when someone has an addiction and a mental illness.
According to SAMHSA, almost one in four people with a mental illness also struggle with an alcohol or substance addiction. This is called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Codependency does not mean a person is dependent on two or more substances or has two or more diagnoses. (1)
Myth #2: Codependency only affects women.
Both men and women can become codependent, although it is more common in women. Expert author of Codependent No More, Melody Beattie explains:
"Some of us learned these (codependent) behaviors as children. Other people learned them later in life. We may have learned some of these things from our interpretation of religion. Some women were taught these behaviors were desirable feminine attributes. Wherever we learned to do these things, most of us learned our lessons well. (2)"
Myth #3: Codependents don’t get addicted.
Back in the 60s when the term codependency was first coined, therapists recognized that when someone was addicted, their spouse or partner almost always responded with similar codependent behaviors. (3) Thus, the terms dependent and codependent were born. In fact, Melody Beattie, one of the world’s most famous codependents, was a recovering alcoholic and addict before she ever became aware of codependency.
Similarly, Sarah, an addictions counselor, explains:
"It was insane. I was totally codependent, trying to save him and fix him. By the time I finished school to be an alcoholism counselor, I was drinking and using pills heavily. My boyfriend had been through two more treatment centers and was still using drugs…If it wasn’t for the Twelve Step program, I’d probably be dead today. Insane if not dead."
Myth #4: Codependents don’t need to recover.
This myth is one of the most dangerous. Addiction is a family disease that effects generations long after the addicts find sobriety. Why? Because both codependency and addiction can become deeply rooted patterns of behavior that feed each other. Codependents are known for being over-responsible, manipulating and controlling. They often have weak boundaries and enable unacceptable behavior. This isn’t a judgement meant to shame anyone.
When parents, spouses, siblings, and friends love someone who is addicted, fear kicks into overdrive. Many of these codependent responses are necessary to help keep everyone alive and as safe as possible. These behaviors seem like great ideas, but unfortunately, addiction seems to thrive in these conditions. Everyone’s lives become more and more unmanageable.
What is a codependent?
Melody Beattie says,
“A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.”
Beattie goes on to explain that the “other” person doesn’t have to be addicted. He or she can be a child, parent, sibling, grandparent, spouse, client or best friend. He or she may be addicted, have a mental or physical illness or need our help in some way. (4)
Codependents need recovery.
Are you starting to think you might be codependent? Or more likely, are you still being controlled, manipulated, and “protected” by a codependent? AA’s 12 steps are the same 12 steps codependents can use to find their own path to recovery. Twelve step programs like Al-anon and Celebrate Recovery both offer hope to people suffering from codependency. Having your controlling codependent crash your Sunday night CR meeting might not be ideal, so it’s OK to lovingly point them to other meetings.
All of Purpose House's recovery residences are right in the middle of a rich recovery community. Sarasota and Manatee counties have many Celebrate Recovery meetings and more than 40 Al-anon meetings each week. You can also find CoDA (Co-Dependents Anonymous) and ACA (Adult Child of Alcoholics) meetings. All these programs help people overcome codependency. Most importantly, all of these programs help every member of the family heal.
Foundations Recovery Network. Important Statistics on Dual Diagnosis.
Beattie, Melody. Codependent No More. Center City, Hazeldon, 1986, page 39.
Beattie, Melody. Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1990, pages 32-33.
Beattie, Melody. Codependent No More. Center City, Hazeldon, 1986, page 3