Does Being Raised by an Alcoholic Automatically make you Codependent
Dear Morgan ~
I was raised by two alcoholics. One parent in the home – who was what you would call a functioning or functional alcoholic, and one parent outside the home, who was definitely not.
Neither of my parents physically abused me, actually, I think I was only spanked one time in my whole childhood. But, there was a lot of mental abuse, and physical and emotional withholding, if that makes sense. You see, I got my basic material needs met and I was never in fear of being physically hurt, but getting any affection, attention or support wasn’t really part of my childhood
You might say I always felt emotionally toyed with or neglected.
Anyway, the other day it came up in a conversation with a friend that I have a people pleaser personality. And when I asked what was meant b that, she said that I act codependent. So, I looked up codependence, and most of what I discovered is of course tied to enabling addicts and alcoholics.
What I wanted to know from you is if codependence is an automatic response to being raised by an alcoholic? Do you always have to become a codependent?
And if you are, is it something you can fix – or is it permanent?
San Antonio, TX
Hi Rebecca ~
First off, thank you for writing into me with your story. I know how much courage it can take to face our childhood traumas, especially those linked directly to Mom and Dad. So bravo to your for stepping up to face your demons and do the work.
Now, before I get into whether or not your specific situation makes you a codependent, let me start by saying that the last statistic I checked said something like 96% of ALL Americans are codependent to some extent. So, to address your first question, based solely on what you’ve shared, I’m going to go ahead and place my bet on the fact that you are most likely a codependent.
But, not to worry, codependency isn’t a life sentence or necessarily the worst thing in the world, once you better understand it, which I’m going to help you do.
Traditionally speaking, a “codependent” was the term used to describe someone in close relationship to or living with an addict… with similar behavioral patterns showing up when someone is involved with a chronically or mentally ill partner.
Today the term codependent is used to describe almost any person who grew up in a dysfunctional family,or has what you might call unusual domestic challenges within their home nucleus. Which is probably why almost ALL Americans now fall under this codependent umbrella to some degree or another.
Because really, who has the perfect life or family? No one I’ve ever met.
But, for further clarity, here are some of the more common traits of someone who is dealing with codependency:
+ Struggle with healthy intimacy/boundaries
+ Almost always feel like a victim, like others constantly take advantage of them
+ Take everything personally
+ Have an extreme need for approval and recognition
+ Have an unhealthy dependence on relationships
+ Lie to themselves and make excuses for others’ bad behavior
+ Fear rejection and being unlovable – can’t stand the idea of being abandoned
+ Have a huge sense of guilt when asserting themselves
+ Extremely people pleasing, to the point of being detrimental
So Rebecca, a powerful question for you would be, in addition to the people pleasing, how many of the other traits on this list do you relate to, because that answer will give you a keen insight on how deeply your codependency is affecting you. Meaning, the more of these things you resonate with, the more debilitating your codependency is, which is subsequently having a negative impact on your life and intimate relationships.
Now that we’re familiar with codependent traits, let’s take a look at how people get this way, because nobody becomes a codependent alone.
By definition, a dysfunctional family is one where one or more of its members suffer from fear, anger, pain or shame that is basically ignored or denied by the other members. The most common underlying issues typically being based on one of three things:
+ An addition; whether to drugs, alcohol, work, food, porn or gambling
+ Abuse; including physical, mental, emotional, financial or even sexual
+ Chronic or Mental Illness; where someone in the family is incompetent on their own
The key to understanding the dysfunction in all of these situations is to know that it isn’t necessarily about the issue that the family is facing; like the drugs, alcohol or mental illness, but rather how the family is dealing with it. Meaning, while in a healthy family they tend to face challenges head-on, in a dysfunctional family, they act like the problem isn’t happening or that it doesn’t exist – i.e. they deny reality. And while denying reality may have short term gain, in that these family members are keeping the peace, the real-world result of their choices is that they end up repressing their emotions and disregarding their needs, all to accommodate the addict.
In essence, they become survivors, developing behaviors that help them deny, ignore or avoid difficult situations and emotions. They have turned into people pleasers, often so out of touch with their own wants, needs and emotions that the only way they know how to operate is from a place where they consider how pleasing their choice would be to everyone else.
If I’m not mistaken, this is what you did in your childhood. Between learning certain behaviors to avoid awkward situations when your parents were under the influence and trying to figure out how to navigate their otherwise cold or flippant emotions, you became a full-blown codependent in order to survive your childhood. In essence, you learned to get love or attention by jumping through every hoop they set in front of you – and now it’s part of your internal programming as you show up to all your intimate relationships.
And I want you to know, this is a very common occurrence, so much so that it’s been captured perfectly in this somewhat famous internet quote I’ve seen floating around for years, which goes like this:
When a child stops being loved by its parents,
it doesn’t stop loving it’s parents, it stops loving itself.
This is how it sounds like you operated in your family – the being toyed with and neglected – but still wanting love.
So, now that we’ve identified that you are a codependent, what next? Well, as I stated earlier, codependency isn’t a life sentence, but rather a learned behavior, which means you have the power to reprogram yourself and release your codependent tendencies, as well as gain more autonomy over yourself, your life and especially of your relationships.
Here are some ways you can start making healthy shifts today:
+ Set healthy boundaries
When you’re feeling confident, write down a list of the things you will and will not tolerate from people, as well as your general expectations. This way when you feel someone pushing you beyond what’s comfortable, you can turn to your boundary list as a sort of guide on how to handle the situation.
+ Practice autonomy
Start doing things alone, including making decisions. When you are use to getting directions and validation from outside yourself, it can be hard to be your own person. Hence, I recommend going out alone, choosing the restaurant, movies, and activities you want to engage in. This way when people join you, you’ll have a strong conviction about what is pleasing to you.
+ Step out of comfort zone
Similar to the boundary setting and autonomy, this shift is to get you to think and behave differently. Just because something is familiar, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. So, I recommend stepping away from what is familiar and comfortable, and stepping towards things that look exciting, but you’ve been to apprehensive to try until now.
+ Affirmations + rewiring the subconscious brain
Because codependency is a learned behavior or program, it means that it can be written or reprogrammed over. A great way to do that is through repeated affirmations and mantras of new ideas and beliefs that you want your mind to accept as true. Like you’re a super valuable person, who’s wants and needs should always be considered too.
Thank you again for writing in with your questions, I hope that brings some light to the insights you needed to know about your codependency, which based on what you shared, I believe it did. And how to begin the healing process, which I hope the exercises and techniques I shared gives you some immediate relief, and a hopeful mindset for moving forward.
You are loved.