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Codependency - how harmful is it?

Co-dependency is a term that was originally used to describe behaviours frequently demonstrated by those in a relationship with an alcoholic. Over time, this has come to encompass not just relations with someone who is addicted to alcohol, but a variety of other conditions, too.

Whether one partner has a substance abuse problem, a mental health concern or simply doesn't show much interest in the relationship, the other, co-dependent partner makes the relationship more important to them than they are to themself. They may think they can "fix" their partner or the relationship itself, but they will neglect their own needs and emotional wellbeing in order to try and save the partnership.

The co-dependent partner suffers from low self-esteem, and may prefer to stay in a destructive relationship rather than be alone. They may put up with behaviour that borders on abusive, as they try and keep their relationship together. A relationship like this is very one sided, and can be detrimental to both partners. Someone who has an addiction will always put that first, and may not see the damage they are inflicting. Part of the nature of addiction is that it goes before everything else, and their relationship will always come second to their habit.

When there are children involved, co-dependency may stem from a determination not to split the family unit. The co-dependent partner may come from a broken home and are keen not to have their children grow up in the same environment or situation. They may have led themselves to believe that bringing up their children together is the ultimate goal, no matter how unhappy this may make them. Where the co-dependency is present with an addiction, it gets complicated. Children are vulnerable to their parent's problems and may suffer from low self-esteem. Children of addicts are more likely to suffer from neglect or abuse. They are also more likely to become addicts themselves in the future, either from a genetic predisposition, or the fact that they see alcohol or drugs as part of everyday life, having seen their parents do it.

Counselling is essential to treat co-dependency issues. The co-dependent partner must learn to value themselves more highly. Reasons for low self-esteem must be identified and resolved.

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