Growing Beyond Those Patterns of Co-Dependency and Enabling

Posted by | Relapse Prevention, Treatment Programs, Wellness | March 30, 2015

There are many types of addictions that makes almost everyone an addict to something. Addictions can include work, sex, sleep, procrastination, food, pain, caffeine, alcohol, irresponsibility, and violence. Anyone can become addicted to anything, especially when it brings a sense of pleasure or a positive result.

Even co-dependency can be an addiction. Codependent relationships often include a dysfunctional relying upon the other person in the relationship. One or more of those in the relationship feel powerless to the events that are going on their life. The belief in being powerless in life leads to a dysfunctional relying on the other person for things that one can and should do on their own. When someone is codependent on another in a relationship, it will become more and more difficult for that person to find his or her own power. The dependence upon the other person becomes a form of addiction.

Central to the roles of a family with addiction is codependency and powerlessness. As children in those families grow up and enter relationships, those same patterns can exist, even if neither one in the relationship experiences addiction. The same is true with experiences of powerlessness.  To the extent that powerlessness is woven into the fabric of a family’s daily functioning, it can lead to patterns of caretaking, low self-worth, controlling, denial, poor communication, weak boundaries, anger, and lack of trust. Fortunately, becoming aware of the ways that addiction affects the entire family facilitate healing family relationships.

It can also heal adult relationships in which there are dysfunctional patterns from one’s early family life. Another pattern that is common with families of addiction and codependent relationships is enabling. The underlying belief in being powerless seems to attract an enabler who in turn believes that no one else can perform a task as well as they can. Enablers tend to take control of a situation thinking that they are being helpful without seeing that it would be more healthy to allow the other person to do that task on his or her own.

To enable means to assist, facilitate, or make possible. However, the pattern of enabling in a relationship can be indirectly harmful and unhealthy. It’s common to see one of the partners in a relationship do things for the other that he or she could be and should be doing for himself. To help someone is to assist in a task that he or she cannot do alone, such as calling the pharmacy when your spouse has lost his voice from strep throat. Enabling is completing a task that he can do on his own, such as paying the bills for an addict who hasn’t worked because of his addiction.  Although enabling is common among families with addictions, it is a dysfunctional pattern that can occur in any family or relationship.

For instance, if you are in a relationship where neither of you are struggling with addiction, enabling might still exist in your relationship. For example, let’s say your partner sees that you’re unable to save money. You try to save money but are spending it frivolously week after week. Instead of encouraging your ability to save money, your partner tries to “save you” and by giving you money and encouraging your spending. Over time, you might become dependent upon your partner for financial means versus learning how to become financially responsible yourself. Furthermore, the fact that your partner enables your spending habits (and the fact that you go along with it) undermines your financial power.

One of the best ways to grow beyond any pattern or dysfunctional dynamic is to become aware of it first. Then, you might ask yourself:

–Am I enabling my partner in any way?
–Is my partner enabling me in any way?
–Is there a power I possess that is not being expressed because of any dependencies I have on others?
–Is there a power my partner possesses that is not being expressed because of any dependencies he or she has on me?

These are some beginning questions to uncover whether there codependency or enabling in your relationships. Once you’re aware of it, then the next step is to make different choices inside the relationship. In the example above, you might find the power within you to save some money. You might refuse to rely on your partner for financial means.  Once you’re aware of something, you can make different choices. And making different choices is the foundation for a creating a whole new life.

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