Hints, Tips & Advice

Caregivers and Codependency

The term “codependence” is clearly being overused in all walks of life; from caring for an alcoholic spouse to staying in a job with an abusive boss. It allows us to label ourselves (or others) rather than work at changing a bad situation. Yet, even such a negative term as codependence can be seen as a reason to look at the context in which the term developed. For example, a controlling caregiver may be seen as codependent due to her need to run their care recipient’s life. And, although there may be some truth lying within that statement, it could also be that the caregiver is truly finding it useful to handle most of the needs of her care recipient in order to offer the best possible personalized care.

Co-Dependents Anonymous, Inc. offers this statement,” Codependency is a tendency to behave in ways that negatively impact one’s relationship and quality of life. This behavior may be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, compliance, or control patterns.”

One issue with codependent behaviors/labels is their inherent lack of clear boundaries, such as C.L. Whitfield’s definition of codependence: “Any suffering and/or dysfunction that is associated with or results from focusing on the needs and behaviors of others.” That broad perspective leaves nearly nothing that could not fit into the codependence definition. Rather we should be focusing on the situation before caregiver burnout/labeling of codependency is evident. The question is not, “What is wrong within me?” But rather, “What can I do to change the situation I am in?”

There are certainly times when the use of the term codependency fits well, and with those times in mind, below you will find a listing of concerns that may drive a caregiver to seek counseling to help:

Denial Patterns:
•  I have difficulty identifying what I am feeling.
•  I minimize, alter, or deny how I truly feel.
•  I perceive myself as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.

Low Self-Esteem Patterns:
•  I have difficulty making decisions.
•  I judge everything I think, say, or do harshly, as never “good enough.”
•  I am embarrassed to receive recognition and praise or gifts.
•  I do not ask others to meet my needs or desires.
•  I value others’ approval of my thinking, feelings, and behaviors over my own.
•  I do not perceive myself as a lovable or worthwhile person.

Compliance Patterns:
•  I compromise my own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.
•  I am sensitive to how others are feeling and feel the same.
•  I am extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
•  I value others’ opinions and feelings more than my own and am afraid to express differing opinions and feelings of my own.
•  I put aside my own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.

Control Patterns:
•  I believe most other people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
•  I attempt to convince others of what they “should” think and how they “truly” feel.
•  I become resentful when others will not let me help them.
•  I freely offer others advice and directions without being asked.
•  I lavish gifts and favors on those I care about.
•  I have to be “needed” in order to have a relationship with others.

(Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence, Co-Dependents Anonymous, Inc., www.CoDA.org)

Whether you are of the school that says codependence in caregivers is a personal, internal issue that must be dealt with in counseling, or, you feel that codependence is a situational issue that can be handled by altering the environment from which the issue springs forth, caregivers must find a balance between their needs and the needs of their care recipients.

The fact remains: change must take place if you are to halt the potential burnout of your caregiver from some definition of codependence. Your role is to be aware of the situations your caregivers are in and do what is possible to help your caregivers be the best they can be without losing their loving nature.

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