“Codependent” S’Mores: Misused, Overused, Misunderstood

The term codependent, now a fixture in our language for decades, is often misused, overused, and misunderstood. What’s it really supposed to be about?


Darlene Lancer (author of Codependency For Dummies): “Many codependents believe their happiness depends upon another person, a relationship, or finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. That focuses your thinking and behavior around someone you can’t control. This is codependency. You react to something external, rather than your internal cues. Addicts are codependent, too. Their lives revolve around their addiction – be it food, work, drugs, or sex” (whatiscodependency.com).

Shawn Meghan Burn, PhD, Psychology Today: “Broadly speaking…one person’s help supports (enables) the other’s underachievement, irresponsibility, immaturity, addiction, procrastination, or poor mental or physical health.”

Charles L. Whitfield, author of Co-Dependence: Healing the Human Condition: “Co-dependence is the most common of all addictions: the addiction to looking elsewhere. We believe that something outside of ourselves—that is, outside of our True Self—can give us happiness and fulfillment. The ‘elsewhere’ may be people, places, things, or behaviors or experiences. Whatever it is, we may neglect our own selves for it.”


The following three jokes (and others) have circulated online, including on codependency recovery sites:

  • You’re codependent for sure if, when you die, someone else’s life flashes in front of your eyes.
  • You’re codependent for sure when you wake up in the morning and say to your mate: “Good morning, how am I?”
  • Q. Why does a codependent buy two copies of every self-help book?
    A. One to read and one to pass on to someone who really needs it.

Melody Beattie, author of Codependent No More: “…(S)aying ‘If you loved me you wouldn’t drink’ to an alcoholic makes as much sense as saying ‘If you loved me, you wouldn’t cough’ to someone who has pneumonia. Pneumonia victims will cough until they get appropriate treatment for their illness. Alcoholics will drink until they get the same. When people with a compulsive disorder do whatever it is they are compelled to do, they are not saying they don’t love you—they are saying they don’t love themselves.”


Advice from Melody Beattie:

The more we work through our family of origin issues, the less we will find ourselves needing to work through them with the people we’re attracted to. Finishing our business from the past helps us form new and healthier relationships. The more we overcome our need to be excessive caretakers, the less we will find ourselves attracted to people who need to be constantly taken care of. The more we learn to love and respect ourselves, the more we will become attracted to people who will love and respect us and who we can safely love and respect. This is a slow process. We need to be patient with ourselves. The type of people we find ourselves attracted to does not change overnight. Being attracted to dysfunctional people can linger long and well into recovery. That does not mean we need to allow it to control us. The fact is, we will initiate and maintain relationships with people we need to be with until we learn what it is we need to learn—no matter how long we’ve been recovering. No matter who we find ourselves relating to, and what we discover happening in the relationship, the issue is still about us, and not about the other person. That is the heart, the hope, and the power of recovery.

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