To many professionals in the treatment field and their clients, the term “codependency” can be confusing and unclear. Some clients even find the term offensive and/or say that it is a poor fit to describe them, according to Ann W. Smith MS, LPC, LMFT, NCC. Smith is the Executive Director of Breakthrough at Caron, which is a 5 ½ day residential personal growth workshop designed for those who are struggling with relationship patterns developed from early attachment injuries in core relationships. She explains the evolution of codependency starting in 1980 when the addiction field began to show interest in involving the family in addiction treatment. Soon after that time, Caron introduced a residential family program. She discusses the labels that were used before the term “codependency” came about. One of these labels was “co-alcoholic” and she says that this one didn’t stick because the term chemical dependency replaced alcoholism. Another label that was used early on was “chief enabler or ‘collateral,’” which were used for the spouse of an addict when their spouse was in treatment. As time went on, committees met and the terms “Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA)” and “codependency” began to emerge across the country around 1981. At the 1989 National Conference on Codependency, a commit of experts in the codependency field… came together to establish this definition: “Codependency is a pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behavior and on approval seeking, in an attempt to gain safety, identity and self-worth. Recovery is possible.” Although Smith was on the committee that developed this definition, she still felt that it was too general and that it couldn’t be applied to specific people. She explains the following definition of codependency that she created: “Codependency is a condition or state of being, that results from adapting to dysfunction (possibly addiction) in a significant other. Codependency is a learned response to stress which, over a person’s lifetime, can lead to the development of the following characteristics: External Focus, Repressed Feelings, Comfort with Crisis, Boundary Conflicts, Isolation, Stress related illness. By Shannon Brys, Associate Editor

It’s hard to give up the self-esteem connected to being codependent and appearing ‘right,’ which is probably a survival behavior learned from growing up in a crazy family. It feels like you will actually disappear. Melody Beattie

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