Is co-dependency 'Junk Science'?

Is co-dependency 'Junk Science'?


your avatar   Paul (52 year-old man) from Ontario, Canada

My wife has been reading a lot of books about Co-Dependency and 'breaking free'. Melanie Beattie, Bradshaw, etc. Neither of us are alcoholics or drug addicts or ill. I am usually open-minded about these things but when I read these books they talk about "God" a lot. My understanding is that paranoid and obsessive compulsive types may frequently invoke "God" or 'Inner Voices' to justify their actions. Also some of the ideas about 'breaking free' seem to be an anarchist's or sociopath's dream come true. For example, 'Rules of society have been created by bureaucrats who has not grown out of their inner child'. My wife is overtly non-religious but her mother was extremely religious (a devout Roman Catholic) and I believe my wife's family circumstances or upbringing has left her with a less than skeptical mind.

Is there any proven science to this Co-Dependency idea? And, if so, can someone give me the name of a book that describes the Co-Dependency ideas and their scientific, or even common sense, basis without bringing GOD into the argument?


    Jef Gazley, M.S., LMFT, LPC, LISAC, DCC

Dear Paul,

Yes there really is such a thing as co-dependence and the concept itself does not have really anything to do with god or spirituality in general. The reason for the connection with god is that co-dependence was first coined by psychotherapists working in the field of chemical dependence. A big part of treatment was to have addicts realize that they were trying to fill an inner void by chemicals. Many appeared to be spiritually empty and often they felt they should be perfect and in control of everything, which at last check fit the god profile. Therefore, the focus on obtaining serenity and spirituality.

At first it was thought that substance abuse was an isolated problem of the addict alone. Fix the addict and the job was done. What we realized is that most addicts had loved ones who over time had subordinated their lives to the substance user. They often felt that they were responsible for the users problems and became isolated and depressed in their own right. It became important to help these people as well as the one with the chemical problem.

Later it also became apparent that children who lived in these families were under incredible stress and that a syndrome called Adult Children of Alcoholics was the result. In the early 1980's I was a director in one of these programs and worked with this population. When I moved out to work with families in general I started to see a number of families that acted like a severe chemically dependent family, but without a chemically dependent member.

This is how the term dysfunctional family was born. This concept needs to be viewed on a continuum. There are slightly abusive or dysfunctional families that don't know how to talk to each other intimately and then there are severely dysfunctional families that engage in physical abuse. Co-dependent behavior is often seen in these families as well. It is important to realize however that giving, loving, and caring about others is great and co-dependence only enters into it when people give too much, when they don't want to, or when they don't care enough about themselves. This concept has been discussed in Mental Health long before the term was coined. As a culture however, it was much more accepted to be totally selfless years ago. I would look at this as an attempt to find a healthier balance been caring for self and others.

Co-dependency is focusing so much on another person's needs and problems that we forget to take care of our own well-being and emotional health. The inability to say "no" when "no" is warranted, and often putting the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others before your own are red flags of co-dependency.

Characteristics of co-dependency:

Most often putting the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others first ~ before your own.

Feeling that you give more in relationships than you get back.

Finding that your caring and loving feelings are turning to resentment.

An inability to say "no" when "no" is warranted.

Feelings of substantial insecurity in relationships where there is little or no reason.

Experiencing rejection sensitivity.

Feeling like the relationship "is out of control".

Feeling that you won't be OK unless the other person is in your life.

An inability to set proper boundaries in relationships.

The inability to feel validated in the relationship.

Unhealthy tolerance of verbal, sexual, or physical abuse.

The inability to leave the relationship under any circumstance.

Chronically engaging in behavior that is self-defeating.

Try reading Facing Shame by Fossum and Mason or The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller. There are fewer references to God. I hope this helps.

Jef Gazley

This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.For more information visit:

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