Addiction and Codependency: Do You Go Along to Get Along?

Codependency has become not only a buzzword in the addiction field in recent years but has also morphed into a huge industry, with lots of books and articles and support groups now available for those who have trouble setting and maintaining healthy personal boundaries.  When I first became aware of this term, I was in my first year of recovery from drug addiction – nearly 36 years ago – and I knew there was something very wrong in my life, especially with my friendships and romantic entanglements.  At that time, there was only one support group, Codependents Anonymous (CoDA) and the ground-breaking book by Melody Beattie, Codependent No More.  As I listened to other people’s struggles in CoDA, I heard my own story.  And when I read Codependent No More, I saw myself on pretty much every page.  I didn’t know how Ms. Beattie could understand me so well!

Things are very different today – there is so much more information, so many more books and self-help groups.  We have so much more awareness now of what it means to be codependent and how that gets started for people.  But way back then, when I was new to recovery from codependency, I had to figure out a lot of things myself.  Maybe that wasn’t really such a bad thing; though perhaps more difficult, my hard-won understandings became seared in my brain, never to be forgotten.  I’ve worked hard for them!

Today I have a much more intricate understanding of codependency – how it forms, what keeps it going – and how to move past it.  Knowing all of this has definitely made my life both easier and more enjoyable, because many of the boundaries I choose to set and maintain have become non-negotiable for me in my relationships with others.  I love having this kind of clarity; it’s begun to feel kind of like a super-power for me and it is the basis of my self-respect – which I believe is the most important thing we either have or don’t have.  

I wish a deep and lasting feeling of self-respect for everyone reading this.

Are You Terrified of Conflict?

Perhaps the most basic tenet I’ve discovered about codependency is that most, if not all, people who struggle with this addictive behaviour do so because they are terrified of conflict.  Although conflict is a fact of life for all of us, many of us don’t know how to deal with conflict in healthy ways – usually because we have never learned that incredibly important interpersonal skill.  This type of emotional dysfunction generally gets its start in childhood, often because so many of us grow up in homes where conflict could lead to violence, abuse, or perhaps the dreaded silent treatment — which was a recurring mainstay of my family life.  Sometimes it would go on for days in my home.  I’ve often wondered which is worse – being hit or being ignored.  Today I know they are both very difficult outcomes of growing up in emotionally stunted families.  And when I go back a bit, I see that my parents’ parents had their own dysfunctions, so nothing healthy was taught in terms of how to have relationships that work well.  

It’s a little like that gift that keeps on giving.

But even if we’ve grown up in families that left devastating scars – like I did – I believe we all have choices about whether to continue those familiar but untenable behaviours or to find some ways to recover from it.  If you want to choose recovery, or if you’re already in that mode, then read on.  I may have a solution or two for you.

Going Along to Get Along:

When we grow up in homes where conflict is penalized, when we’re not allowed to be who we are or speak our truth without negative consequences that make our heads spin, we invariably make the choice to go along to get along.  Let’s face it, it’s just easier than making waves that could physically or emotionally cripple us.  And most of the time, as children, we aren’t even aware that we are making this choice – we simply do it.  We find ourselves agreeing and colluding with people we definitely wouldn’t agree with if the situation we were in was different.  And as we continue to do this – as we continue to please others at the expense of our own selves – we become the epitome of codependent.  We put other people’s needs ahead of our own on a fairly consistent basis, as our comfort zone becomes living on the back burner and not knowing who we really are.

And that’s how we lose ourselves – sometimes for a very long time.

But we can learn a different way – I am living proof of this.  Conflict doesn’t have to be so scary when we know how to handle it.  We are adults now, and as such we can decide what’s best for us.  We can learn how to set – and maintain – healthy, self-respectful boundaries with those in our lives who act like bullies.  They are the ones who will attempt to manipulate us with the threat of conflict, especially if they know that is a trigger for us. 

We can now learn how to say, “The way you’re behaving is not ok with me.  If you are not willing to behave differently with me, I will leave / hang up / not communicate with you.”  In fact, as adults, it is now our job – and nobody else’s – to set that kind of boundary and then to follow through with the healthy consequences we’ve set.  The truth is that we really do teach others how to treat us, and if we allow ourselves to passively go along just to get along, the people in our lives that want to get their way 100% of the time will do their best to control us.  Whether we allow them to continue to do that or not is OUR choice to make.

Addiction and Codependency: What’s Love Got to Do With It?

This kind of bullying is the main dynamic at play when codependents hook up with addicts of any kind and try to form lasting relationships with them.  Looking at it objectively, it’s the perfect storm.  Addicts want what they want when they want it, and what they basically want is for the codependent to meet their every need.  When that doesn’t happen, guess what the result is?  You got it – conflict!  And because codependents will do just about anything to avoid that conflict, they will often meet the addict’s needs even when they don’t want to.  They will say yes when they really mean no.  That’s right: they will go along to get along.  And that pattern becomes the underlying basis of those kinds of relationships – until one of them makes the choice to change and become healthier.

One of the best things to do if you’re involved with an addict is to begin to focus more on your own life and your own self-care.  It isn’t good for any addict, especially one who is still choosing to remain in active addiction, to have their family or loved one doting on them 24-7, making sure they feel ok at the expense of everyone else’s emotional health.  Yes, addicts absolutely do need the support and love of their families – but only if it’s shown to them in healthy ways.  It’s best to role-model for an addict that although we love them, our entire lives don’t revolve around them.  Giving them that understanding is often a first step in their choice to go into recovery.  However, for the loved one who might still be codependent and fearful of the push back from an addict around this new self-respectful decision, it will mean learning how to deal with conflict in better ways.

And yes – it really IS possible to learn how to do that.

If you’re reading this, I congratulate you.  For those of us who are codependent and want to be more loving in more respectful ways, this inner work isn’t easy; in fact, it can be downright difficult.  But living as a people-pleaser isn’t easy either.  Life actually begins at the end of our comfort zones, and making the choice to come out of this addictive behaviour of codependency is the only path I know to be able to experience true freedom and self-respect.  

I’m glad you’re here with me on this amazing path.  Let’s learn how to stop going along to get along – and discover who we really are.

Candace Plattor, M.A., is an Addictions Therapist specializing in working with the family of people who are struggling with addiction. As a former addict with 35 years clean and sober, Candace knows that overcoming addiction is a family condition: everyone in the family is affected by addiction and everyone needs to heal. Learn more about Candace here:

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