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The Incidence of Codependency

The Incidence of Codependency Among Preteens in The United States


Zahid Ramirez
The University of Texas at El Paso

The Incidence of Codependency

Since its first appearance in the late 20th century, codependency has been defined
differently by many psychologists. Unlike other psychological disorders that are entitled to one
definition, codependency does not have an operational definition but rather holds more than
twenty definitions. While the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines codependency as a
psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled by another who is
affected by a pathological condition (as in an addiction to alcohol or heroin); and in broader
terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of or control of another, Clark & Stoffels (1992)
Assessment of Codependency Behavior in Two Health Student Groups research article defines
codependency as A pattern of painful dependence on compulsive behaviors and others approval
in an attempt to find safety, self-worth, and identity (Rosenberg). Despite the many definitions
codependency has been given, all of them agree on two thingsthe unhealthy aspect of a
relationship and how much one person should do for another.
Codependency made its first public appearance in the 1980s, however, the concept of
the disorder itself existed well before then (Irvine). In the 1940s and 1950s, alcoholic and their
spouses gave life to codependency through the chemical dependency of the time. Alcoholics
(generally males) were unpredictable and gave the family a bad reputation for their potential
careless behaviors (Irvine). The spouses of these alcoholics bought liquor, hid liquor, and tried to
preserve peace with family and friends by making excuses for the addict; thus, coming to be
known as enablers and co-alcoholics (Irvine). The womans world revolved around her
partners drinking: while he depended on alcohol, she depended on him, hence the term
codependent.
As time passed, the definition of codependency expanded to describe not only the
spouses of alcoholics, but also all of the family members and loved ones of the alcoholic (Crester

The Incidence of Codependency

& Lombardo). Codependencys limits of diagnosing people who were in relationships with
alcoholics changed as well. The 1980s provided people with a sheer number of addictions,
which caused the definition of codependency to change once again to fit even more spouses of
addicts (Melody, 1987). Whereas before codependency was limited to diagnosing the spouses of
alcoholics, it eventually had the ability to diagnose spouses of workaholics, shopaholics, sex
addicts, compulsive eaters, or any other of the addictions that appeared (Irvine).
Feeling unfulfilled, disrespected, and undervalued are common feelings among
codependents (Rosenberg). Being unable to feel content with themselves, they seek the approval
and social praise of others; thus, coming to be known as people pleasers (Morgan). Due to the
satisfaction they gain from relationships with others, codependents are highly sensitive to input
from others (Arnold). In addition to feeling naturally discontent with themselves, codependents
have histories of focusing on the external world rather than the internal world (Arnold). Starting
at a young age, codependents try solve the problems of others or try to make them feel better
while simultaneously paying little heed to their own feelings and emotional needs. This abnormal
behavior exhibited from a young age becomes habitual and putting others before them becomes a
permanent behavior. In result to living a life in which others problems are more important than
their own, codependents cannot differentiate between the internal and external world. Just as
others joy becomes their own, so does their blue moods. Because they associate other peoples
problems and successes with their own, codependents are obsessed with controlling others
behaviors in order to obtain results that will make them feel good (Arnold). If people they know
fail, codependents believe they could have done something to make them succeed and will feel
guilty. Lacking the ability to make decisions based on what is best for themselves after receiving
input from the outside world, codependents may sometimes form walls to prevent receiving input

The Incidence of Codependency

(Arnold). For this reason, people diagnosed with codependency may sometimes seem to be
uncaring while in reality they care too much.
Researchers have long debated over the causes of codependency, claiming that
codependency not only develops because of an addict family member. In a 1996 study (Roehling
et al.) a weak correlation was found between codependency and alcoholism. In fact, after
controlling for the effects of parental abuse caused by alcoholism, the correlation completely
vanished. In Cullen and Carrs Codependency: An empirical study from a systemic perspective
(1999), kids who scored higher in codependency categories did not exhibit higher levels of
parents with substance abuse. Further supporting the idea that codependency stems from more
than substance abuse, a study published in 1994 (Carson & Baker) found that codependency is
correlated to childhood abuse, albeit physical, sexual, or emotional. Despite the many studies
suggesting that substance abuse is not a factor of causation, other studies have found high levels
of codependency associated with close relationships with a mentally ill parent, physically ill
parent, and/or alcoholic parent (Knudson & Terrell). The differences in opinions have called for
more research in this topic, but evidence yet ceases to be found that can settle once and for all
whether substance abuse is a definite causation.
Given all the scholarly contemplations, it is evident that codependency sprouts from
dysfunctional families. Regardless of what causes conflicts in these families, whether they are
caused by substance abuse or some other type of abuse, dysfunctional families are at a higher
risk of producing codependent individuals. Knowing of this problem which can affect any
family, it would be outrageous for the community to not do anything trying to prevent
codependent family members. In order to prevent codependent individuals, it is important to
make others understand that their personal conflicts, as insignificant as they may seem to others,

The Incidence of Codependency


are valid. In addition to making people aware of the validity of their problems, parents should
avoid giving children any additional responsibilities that may give them the role of an adult.
Giving an adult role, such as that of being a caregiver, to a child could result in that child
becoming more focused on the needs and emotions of others. By essentially putting the
happiness of others before their own, children are put on the path to codependency.

The Incidence of Codependency

References
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College Student Journal, 33(4), 629-629. Retrieved from EBSCO Host.
Knudson, T., & Terrell, H. (n.d.). Codependency, Perceived Interparental Conflict, and
Substance Abuse in the Family of Origin. The American Journal of Family
Therapy,

245-257. doi:10.1080

Rosenberg, R. (n.d.). The HumanMagnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us.
Irvine, L. (n.d.). Codependency and Recovery: Gender, Self, and Emotions in Popular Self-Help.
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Arnold, L. (n.d.). Codependency: Part I: Origins, Characteristics. AORN Journal, 51(5).
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Beattie, Melody. 1987. Codependent No More. Center City, MN: Harper/Hazelden.
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The Incidence of Codependency

Carson, A. T., & Baker, R. C. (1994). Psychological correlates of codependency in women.


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