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Coping Mechanisms of Codependents of Alcohol Addiction

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Compliance, low self esteem, control, and denial are the usual coping mechanisms of codependents of alcohol addiction. Regrettably, these coping mechanisms can be as psychologically harmful and crippling to the codependents as the physical and emotional problems that are experienced by the addict.

This information therefore points to the significance in treating not only the alcoholic, but also all of the members of the alcoholic's family.

Characteristics of Functional and Dysfunctional Families

In healthy, functional families, all members feel free to express their emotions, talk to one another, trust one another, and they feel free to tell the truth. Living in an unhealthy environment where family members feel as if they have to continuously "walk on egg shells," however, leads to anxiety and tension.

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In fact, stress levels and feelings of anxiety increase in such dysfunctional homes due to the rigid and inflexible beliefs, norms, and rules that are imposed on family members who are, in many respects, "held hostage" in the current family situation.

In many circumstances characterized by these dysfunctional living conditions, the result is that the codependent person or persons develop habitual self-defeating ways of coping in order to survive.

If this vicious cycle is not broken, unfortunately, the co-dependents gradually become out-of-touch with their own emotions.

A Definition of Codependency and Dysfunctional Messages

Codependency is a pattern of habitual self-defeating coping mechanisms. Codependency is usually a result of living in a home with someone who suffers from drug addiction or alcoholism.

In these dysfunctional homes, there are three messages that are not explicitly stated but nonetheless, reinforced everyday by unhealthy behaviors, actions, and beliefs. These three messages are:

  • Don't feel

  • Don't trust

  • Don't talk

Ironically, the co-dependent person also becomes "addicted." In this instance, however, it is not an addiction to a harmful substance, but rather to a destructive pattern of relating to other people in the dysfunctional household.

Due to the fact that the co-dependent eventually looses touch with his or her emotions, the co-dependent bases his or her self-worth and behaviors, not on his or her own feelings and actions, but rather on the opinions, needs, moods, and actions of the person who is an alcoholic or chemically dependent.

Ironically, these harmful relationship patterns, in many instances, are perpetuated even after the alcoholic or chemically addicted person becomes sober or "clean."

Certainly, when viewed from the outside, sobriety in the household would seem to lead to a less chaotic domestic situation. When viewed from the inside, however, the co-dependents may be more depressed and unhappy than ever because the earlier balance, no matter how damaging or detrimental, has been upset.

Codependent Coping Mechanisms

The following is a list of the coping mechanisms typically used by codependents. Under each method of coping, examples are provided:

Denial

  • I deny my own needs and feelings in the name of being unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.

  • I have a difficult time knowing what I feel.

  • I deny, change, or minimize how I truly feel.

Low Self Esteem

  • I value others' approval of my feelings, actions, and thinking over my own.

  • I do not see myself as a worthwhile or lovable person.

  • I have a hard time making decisions.

  • I critically judge everything I say, do, or think as "not good enough."

  • I feel self-conscious when I receive positive strokes or gifts from others.

  • I do not ask others to honor my wants or desires.

Compliance

  • I am afraid to express my own opinions and feelings, especially if they are different.

  • I ignore my own interests and desires in order to do what others want.

  • I turn to sex when I want love.

  • I am loyal to the point that I stay too long in destructive situations.

  • I value the opinions and feelings of others more than my own.

  • I do not assert my own values and integrity in order to avoid the anger and rejection of others.

  • I am overly sensitive to how others feel and adopt what they are feeling as my own.

Control

  • I become resentful when others refuse my help.

  • I use sex to get acceptance and approval.

  • I freely offer suggestions and advice without being asked by others.

  • I have to feel that I am needed before I can have a relationship with others.

  • I go overboard with favors and gifts for people I care about.

  • I believe other people are not capable of taking care of themselves.

  • I try to persuade others how they "should" think and feel.

  • I freely offer suggestions and advice without being asked by others.

Conclusion: Coping Mechanisms of Codependents of Alcohol Addiction

Codependency is a pattern of habitual self-defeating coping mechanisms that is usually the result of living in a home with someone who is an alcoholic or a drug addict.

In these dysfunctional homes, there are three messages that are not explicitly stated but nevertheless, reinforced everyday by unhealthy actions, beliefs, and behaviors: don't trust, don't talk, and don't feel.

Control, denial, low self esteem, and compliance are the typical coping mechanisms of codependents of alcohol addiction.

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People involved in codependency situations need to get professional help. If drugs or alcohol are part of the problem, those who are taking drugs or drinking also need to get professional help. If this describes you, then you need to be honest with yourself and admit that you have a drinking or a drug problem.

Once you have taken this step, consider making it a priority to talk with a drug and alcohol abuse professional about getting treatment as soon as possible.

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