Codependence describes a learned behavior in which individuals are only able to derive feelings of satisfaction or self-worth through their relationship with others, upon whom they are excessively emotionally or psychologically dependent.
The concept of codependence was first developed in relation to alcohol and other substance abuse addictions. The alcoholic or drug abuser was seen as the dependent, and the person involved with that dependent person in an intimate way (spouse, lover, child, sibling, etc.) was seen as the codependent. The definition of the term has been expanded to include individuals who show 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, deficient personal boundaries, and low self-esteem.
Some experts consider codependence to be a progressive disease. Without treatment, the codependent individual becomes unable to function successfully in the world. Progressive codependence can lead to depression, isolation, and self-destructive behavior such as bulimia, anorexia, self-mutilation, or even suicide. There is a large self-help movement devoted to helping codependent individuals take charge of themselves and heal their lives.
Considerable criticism of the codependence movement exists. Some psychologists posit that the term encourages a victim mentality that obscures more important underlying truths. Others claim the definition of codependence is too vague and the list of symptoms too long and broad to be meaningful. The label does not take into consideration the larger issues of cultural, societal, or institutional responsibility. Some proponents of the codependence definition have expanded their perspective to examine how the overarching society, as well as separate institutions within it, function in a dysfunctional or codependent manner.
See also Addiction/addictive personality ; Dependent personality disorder ; Dysfunctional family ; Selfhelp groups.
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