Co-dependency and ACA's

"You are the only person you can't divorce."
"Success is when you are fully yourself."


What is "Co-dependency"?

Co-dependency has been defined as a pattern of relying on people outside of ourselves to define us and our worth. That way of being is also known as “externally referenced.” Sometimes this dynamic is expressed by the phrase “other directed” which means guided in behavior by the values and expectations of others.

So what does externally/internally referenced mean?

When externally referenced, we believe the idea that self-esteem, worth, happiness and pain come from people and things outside of ourselves. People who are more internally referenced believe that pain and joy, self-esteem and self worth come from inside us.

In the co-dependent world, 3 common false beliefs are:
1) My worth and lovability are defined outside myself
2) My feelings, both pain and joy, come from outside myself
3) I cannot handle the loss of love

Imagine how you would feel if you were to sit for three hours in a chair with no reading, watching TV, talking on the phone, with absolutely no distractions, only your own thoughts. How would you feel during that time? When people do this experiment, it becomes clear that all the feelings come from within. The feelings come from the thoughts, and the thoughts come from the belief systems.

Why is a co-dependent system “half a loaf of self”?

Stuck in co-dependency patterns, one is not able to consistently embrace both halves of a spectrum of caring for: 1) one’s self and 2) the other person. Either the self or the other person is the focus of caring behaviors. Everybody exhibits some co-dependent behavior at times. But the degree of stuckness in one half of the loaf or the other can lead to enormous pain and loneliness in whichever half one is stuck.

The co-dependent person may feel strong empathy for another, but dismiss, deny or be unaware of their own feelings and needs. This is the “caretaker” or empathic position. The caretaker may take care of his/her own needs only when alone or sick. One caretaker belief is,”Your needs and feelings are more important than mine.”

The other position is the “taker” or narcissistic position in which the person has empathy for his/her own feelings and needs, but denies, dismisses or is unaware of the other person’s. One taker belief is, “My needs should be more important to you than yours.”

When two co-dependent people get together, they create a co-dependent system. Usually this is with one person in the taker position, the other in the caretaker role.

Control patterns

In each position, one is dependent on the other person, and attempts to get what they want and need by controlling behaviors. Some of the controlling behaviors are easily seen--overt. Some examples of overt controlling behavior are: criticizing, judging, making comparisons, sarcasm, yelling, pouting, and getting sick, lying, threatening, lecturing.

Other controlling behaviors are covert--more hidden. Some examples of overt controlling behaviors are: being “nice” when you don’t feel like it, giving gifts with strings attached, giving in, giving up, going along, people pleasing, rescuing, censoring what you say about what you want and feel.

Becoming Whole Food

For each to become whole and enjoy their full loaf of personhood the caretaker needs to develop healthy narcissism and the taker needs to develop empathy for others.

What Is An "Adult Child Of An Alcoholic"?

"Adult Child" carries a double meaning: the Adult who is trapped in the fears and reactions of a Child, and the Child who was forced to be an Adult without going through the natural stages that would result in a healthy Adult.For more history of the development of the term ACA, click the link below.


History of the Term 'ACoA'

ACA Recovery Restores Fun

Recovery Brings Back The Ability To Play and Have Fun

Characteristics Of Adult Children Of Alcoholics
Also Sometimes called "Co-dependents"

The following are some of the characteristics that result in diminished happiness, creativity, and self realization

1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures;

2. We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process;

3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism;

4. We become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our expectations of abandonment & inattention

5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims;

6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves. This enables us not to look too closely at our faults, etc.

7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others;

8. We may became addicted to excitement;

9. We confuse love and pity and tend to "love" people we can "pity" and "rescue";

10. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much; (DENIAL)

11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem;

12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings which would repeat feelings of our childhoods with preoccupied people who were unable to be there emotionally for us;

13. Alcoholism is a family disease and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we may not have picked up the drinking escape;

14. ACA's, co-dependents, ACOA's are reactors rather than actors.


The Recovery Process: The Solution

The “problem” for Adult Children of Alcoholics, (also called ‘Codependents’) is not what has already happened – or not happened - in the PAST. But what is NOW going on internally – or not going on internally –all day long.

The “solution” is to change the internal experience. And the external behaviors. Working on the behaviors reinforces the change of internal experience. And working on the internal states & feelings can help change the behaviors.

The process of recovery is not a passive experience. This can be difficult for ACA’s because part of the “problem” characteristics of ACA’s is to see oneself usually as a passive a victim. However, something about ourselves must change if “life” is to change.

Some of the steps of the on-going, long term, and often lifelong work, include:

1. Learning to recognize and articulate feelings – and honor their purposes

2. Become skilled at communicating those feelings in an respectful way that enhances both us & other people

3. Learning to identify the meanings (interpretations) we have made of our experience & the meanings (interpretations) of what others feel, believe & do

4. Coming to understand our sensitivity to various emotional themes that echo our childhoods

5. Becoming familiar with the sabotaging internal talk of our inner critic

6. Learning how the internal self-talk functions

7. Appreciating that the inner critic is not us, that we are separate and can chose our preferences, beliefs, actions – and that we not only have that right, but that obligation to our selves

8. Cherishing our Real Self, and responding in an authentic manner in the face of the internal critic’s attempt to control and limit us

9. Making a deep commitment to our own wellbeing. Seeing that it’s our turn NOW to choose the life we want and the self we want to be

10. Learning to set boundaries

11. Developing self empathy

12. Learning new healthy ways to comfort ourselves when we have “unpleasant” feelings

13. Growing a new, healthy identity

14. Forming new friendships which reinforce new self concepts

15. Possibly changing careers or adding new hobbies and interests

16. Reaping the rewards of your hard work and feeling grateful for how your life has changed and who you know yourself to be NOW

See Codependents Anonymous literature for full information


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