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Codependence (or codependency) is a psychological condition in which someone exhibits too much, and often inappropriate, caring for other people's struggles.
Codependents may try to change, or feel shame about their most private thoughts and feelings if they conflict with this person's struggle. A classic example would be a wife making excuses for a husband's excessive drinking and perhaps running interference for him by doing things such as calling in sick for him when he is hung over. Such behaviors, which may well lessen conflict and ease tension within the family in the short term, are counterproductive in the long term, since, in this case, the wife is actually supporting ("enabling") the husband's drinking behavior.
Codependence can also be a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing great emotional pain and stress caused, for example, by a family member's alcoholism or other addiction, sexual or other abuse within the family, a family members' chronic illness, or forces external to the family, such as poverty.
As adults, codependent people have a greater tendency to get involved in relationships with people who are perhaps unreliable, emotionally unavailable, or needy. The codependent person tries to provide and control everything within the relationship without addressing their own needs or desires, they set themselves up for continued unfulfillment.
Symptoms of codependence are: controlling behavior, distrust, perfectionism, avoidance of feelings, intimacy problems, caretaking behavior, hypervigilance or physical illness related to stress. Codependence is often accompanied by depression, as the codependent person succumbs to feelings of extreme frustration or sadness over his or her inability to make changes in the other person's (or persons') life.
Individuals who are suffering from codependence may seek assistance through various verbal therapies, sometimes accompanied by chemical therapy for accompanying depression. In addition, there exist support groups for codependency; some of these are Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) and Al-Anon/Alateen, both of which are based on the 12-Step model created by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Many books have been written on the subject of codependence, including the work of Melody Beattie, who has become one of the standard-bearers for the codependence self-help industry. She is also the author of Codependent No More among many other volumes. It should, however, be noted that not all mental health professionals are of the same mind about codependency or its standard methods of treatment. Katz & Liu, in "The Codependency Conspiracy: How to Break the Recovery Habit and Take Charge of Your Life" state that codependence is over-diagnosed, and that many people who could be helped with shorter-term treatments instead become dependent on long-term self-help programs.
- 'A Brief History of Codependence and a Look at the Psychological Literature', in: P. Mellody e.a., Facing Codependence, New York etc.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989, ISBN 0062505890, 207-217 (= Appendix).
- 'Cluster C Personality Disorders', in: Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV, Washington: American Psychiatric Association, 4th ed. 1994, ISBN 0890420629, 662-673.
- 'Codependence', in: Benjamin J. Sadock & Virginia A. Sadock (eds), Kaplan & Sadock's Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry on CD, Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 7th ed. 2000, ISBN 0781721415, 20703-20707.
- Co-Dependents Anonymous, Phoenix: Co-Dependents Anonymous, 1st ed. 1999, ISBN 0964710501, 3-6.de:Co-Abhängigkeit
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