Codependence is a type of maladaptive relationship in which two people have an unhealthy reliance upon one another. These relationships can form in families, at work, between friends, or elsewhere. The codependent person takes the role of a rescuer or confidant for someone struggling with issues such as irresponsibility, immaturity, underachievement, mental health disorders, or substance abuse. They support and unintentionally enable the other person’s problems, deriving emotional satisfaction and security from their ability to care of the other person’s needs.
Attaching themselves to someone with ongoing life difficulties can create problems in their own lives. Poor self-esteem and a misplaced sense of loyalty can keep codependent people locked into relationships long past the point where they are healthy or functional. This relationship is damaging to both individuals, sheltering them from having to make necessary changes and move forward with their lives.
Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) identifies common signs and symptoms of codependence:
- Denial, such as difficulty acknowledging your own feelings or the feelings of others
- Low self-esteem, such as harsh self-judgment or needing validation from others
- Compliance, such as staying in exploitative or harmful situations for too long or putting others’ needs above your own
- Control issues, such as trying to manipulate the feelings or actions of others or believing that others are unable to take care of themselves
- Avoidance, such as suppressing true feelings or avoiding intimacy with others
Codependence can arise as a natural response to growing up in a household with an alcoholic and/or abusive parent, found research in Substance Use & Misuse. A study in Genetic, Social and General Psychology Monographs also found that children of parents with mental or physical illness were also more likely to be codependent. In such a situation, a child has to learn specific strategies for managing their parent’s unpredictable emotional availability in order to get their needs met. However, as an adult trying to form healthy relationships, such interpersonal behaviors can be maladaptive or dysfunctional.
Although codependence is not listed as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), it often coexists with listed psychiatric conditions like major depression, found a study in Archives of Psychiatric Nursing.
Principles of Co-Dependents Anonymous
CoDA was founded to provide a specific support network for people struggling with codependence, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA). CoDA does not offer therapy but is instead a network of self-motivated individuals coming together to form meetings that offer mutual support to its members. Meetings might take place in churches, community centers, libraries, hospitals, or clinics. Members don’t have to pay dues or go through an admissions process – groups are open to anyone with a genuine desire to learn to have healthy relationships. At meetings, members can share their stories, hear the stories of other people like them, and learn more about codependence.
Like AA, CoDA embraces 12 traditions, which focus on self-sufficiency, neutrality, and helping its members form healthy relationships. Alongside these traditions are 12 Steps to recovery, which give 12-Step programs like AA and CoDA their name. To “work the program,” participants attend regular meetings and progress through the 12 Steps. This involves accepting that their lives have gotten out of control and that submission to God or a higher power can help, honest self-reflection on their own flaws, making amends for harm they’ve caused others, and, once healthy, helping others go through this process as well.
During the process of recovery, members will often find a sponsor – a more-experienced member who can offer advice and guidance. The relationship with their sponsor is less that of a typical friendship and more of a mentoring relationship – they are both participating in the program for a specific reason.
Sponsoring less-experienced members can be a part of service, which is a major aspect of 12-Step programs. Service might also consist of organizing other CoDA groups, volunteering, or other outreach in the community. By performing such services, CoDA members have a meaningful and structured group activity in their lives, and can also work to make amends for any past behaviors.
CoDA also offers 12 promises to its members who work the program, focusing around self-forgiveness, confidence, healing, and the ability to form healthy relationships.
What Happens in a CoDA Meeting?
A CoDA meeting, as described in Codependent Forevermore: The Invention of Self in a Twelve Step Group, might consist of:
- Meeting in a rented room and setting up a circle of chairs and a table of literature. Since codependence often co-occurs with behavioral addictions, like eating addiction, CoDA meetings usually don’t offer food so as to refrain from enabling this addiction.
- Opening introductions, using first names only.
- The Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” –Reinhold Niebuhr
- A statement of CoDA’s purpose, greeting for newcomers, and general announcements.
- Rewards for anniversaries. For example, someone might receive a bronze token for their one-year anniversary of attending CoDA meetings.
- Collection of donations – CoDA groups are supposed to be self-sufficient. Donations are voluntary.
- A volunteer, often pre-arranged, shares their story of codependence and recovery and concludes with a topic for group discussion. The group either splits apart into smaller groups or stays together and takes turns sharing their own thoughts. During sharing, other members do not respond or offer advice to the speaker – “crosstalk” can often be critical or judgmental, which is counterproductive.
- Closing affirmations and prayers.
- Break-down and put-away. Some members may choose to keep talking afterwards outside or in nearby coffee shops or restaurants.
Finding a Co-Dependents Anonymous Meeting
If you’re looking for a meeting, CoDA has an international locator tool. If online support would better suit your needs, then go to Online CoDA, which offers meetings in chat rooms as well as discussion forums.
Some FRN treatment locations offer care that’s grounded in 12-Step principles and may host on-site 12-Step meetings. We understand how difficult it can be when you’re entangled in unhealthy relationships, and we want to help you learn new strategies for building healthy ones. If you’re wary of the spiritual theme in 12-Step programs, don’t worry – we feature fully secular group therapy as well. Give us a call today to learn more about what we offer.