This can be difficult to discern at times. By its basic definition, Codependency is
“doing for others what they are capable of doing for themselves”.
Its root desire is to change the situation; but, its basic focus is not for myself, but for others. Unfortunately, most of this help was not wanted or requested. So, we are attempting to control others or other’s consequences. When we try to control others we are not effective. The fact is that we can only control ourselves. When we do not allow others to experience natural consequences for their actions they cannot learn from them and the behavior we are trying to change just gets worse. In that sense we become part of the problem. We start out by trying to eliminate their problem and we just increase it. Of course we are not trying to do that. Most codependents are very caring people and want to help. I say that because this world would be very bleak and cold without people who care for others. However, we need to know when to help and when our help is counterproductive. Other people’s problems are not OUR problem. It is theirs! If they don’t want help with their problem we need to respect that desire.
The issue to consider is responsibility. Others need to take responsibility for their problem first. Then we can possibly help along the way.
When we take responsibility for them we are working harder than they are on the problem and it remains unsolved.
For codependents we do this behavior without seeing what we are doing. We frame this behavior as helpful and kind. However, over time we feel exhausted and angry that the people we are trying to rescue don’t seem to appreciate all of our help. We are overwhelmed and they are benefiting. I remember when my son was in middle school. I would encourage him to get his things together for school the night before. He refused to do this regularly. When the morning arrived he would forget something. He would call home and tell me that I needed to come to school with his homework. Those were in the days of landline phones so the school secretary made most of these calls. I knew her on a first name basis. I saw her most of the week. One day it occurred to me that I was being codependent/doing for him what he was capable of doing on his own/taking responsibility for his behavior/enabling his unwise choices which were NOT getting any better because of MY behavior. I told him that there were going to be some changes and that I would not be going to school anymore. Of course, he tested my decision! He called desperately asking me to bring his homework to school. It was a hard decision to say “no” but it was the best decision I made. Miraculously, he seemed to remember his homework from that time on. He was learning responsibility and I was learning how to not go to school daily and be responsible for his choices. It was a hard lesson for both of us. However, both of us learned a valuable lesson through this situation.
When we are caring by nature we want to help. However, by the wrong actions we do not help at all.
These above behaviors are codependent behaviors so how does that differ from coping behavior? Looking at the above issue with my son I could have coped by yelling at him, shaming him, harassing him in the morning with demands and put-downs or coped with returning to school daily. These are NOT the way to cope with the situation. We have to step back and decide if we have options as to how to deal with the situation. We need to evaluate what we can do and what we cannot do. I could not make him get his things together at night, but I could cope by not taking his homework to him consistently. We all need to cope with life situations. But our coping needs to stay in the realm of what we can control. Even staying with that definition we might need to experiment with different ways to cope with the situation. It is always helpful to talk to others about what they are doing to deal with the situation or reading a book on the subject. When we face new situations we do not need to know all of the answers but we can explore other options to help.
Codependency is an addiction just like a chemical addiction. We need to acknowledge that it is not healthy behavior and be willing to find solutions without these types of actions.