There are many definitions used to talk about codependency today. The original concept of codependency was developed to acknowledge the response in behaviors people develop from living with an alcoholic or substance abuser. A number of attributes can be developed as a result of those conditions. However, over the years, codependency has expanded into a definition which describes a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving developed during early childhood by family rules.
One of the many definitions of codependency is: A set of maladaptive (1), compulsive (2) behaviors learned by family members in order to survive in a family which is experiencing a great deal of emotional pain and stress (3):
- Maladaptive — inability for a person to develop behaviors which get needs met.
- Compulsive — psychological state where a person acts against their own will or conscious desire in which to behave.
- Sources of great emotional pain and stress — chemical dependency, chronic mental illness, chronic physical illness, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, divorce, hypercritical or non-loving environment.
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 control everything within their relationship without addressing their own needs or desires, setting themselves up for continued disappointment.
Even when a codependent person encounters someone with healthy boundaries, the codependent persons still operates in their own system. They are not likely to get involved with people who have healthy boundaries. This of course creates problems that continue to recycle. If a person struggling with codependency continues to choose not to get involved with people who have healthy boundaries and coping skills, then the problem continues in each new relationship.