By Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT
The overall goal of codependency recovery is to become a full-functioning individual. That entails knowing, valuing, and trusting yourself, and expressing yourself in your life and relationships. It involves a complete makeover that impacts what you believe and how you think, feel, and act. (See Stages of Codependency and Recovery.)
Codependency untreated follows the same chronic, systemic decline as does alcoholism and a disease — why some consider it to be a disease. Below is an outline of the progression of codependency symptoms and signs of recovery.
Early Stage of Codependency and Recovery
The early stage of codependency begins with becoming attached to another person and ends with an unhealthy dependency on him or her. Once you start recovery, the early stage ends with beginning to reclaim yourself.
The Disease Process
You might be attracted to a needy person or be overly-involved with a family member and naturally want to help or please him or her. Gradually, you become increasingly emotionally dependent upon and obsessed with that person to the extent that you lose focus on yourself and start to give up personal friends and activities.
The Early Stage of Codependency
- Attracted to needy person; offers help, gifts, meals
- Attempt to please the person
- Obsessed with the person and his or her behavior
- Rationalize and doubt own perceptions
- Denial about codependency and addiction or relationship problems, but concern grows
- Give up your own activities to be with the person
- Family and social life affected
- Increasingly emotionally dependent on the person
The Recovery Process
You being coming out of denial which means you squarely confront the problem and acknowledge reality — a prerequisite to changing it. This shift might be inspired by someone else’s recovery, by reading this book, or more likely, it’s triggered an event — a wakeup call, referred to as hitting bottom — that makes change imperative. Instead of ignoring or minimizing the facts, you recognize them as difficult and painful, but true. You don’t have to like them, but you see them as they are.
Beginning recovery starts with getting information and reaching out for help. By reading this book, you’ve already begun searching for new answers and options. Many people start psychotherapy or join a 12-Step program, which gives them hope and starts the process of rebuilding their identity.
The Early Stage of Recovery
- Hits bottom and reaches out for help for self
- Learn about codependency and addiction
- Join 12-step program and/or therapy
- Begin to have hope
- Come out of denial
- Learn recovery is for self
- Refocus on self
- Begin to build own identity
Middle Stage of Codependency and Recovery
The important middle stage of codependency and recovery is where denial, painful emotions, and obsessive-compulsive behavioral patterns are prevalent. You increase your attempts to control, while feeling more out of control. Once in recovery, you reclaim independence, balance, and greater peace of mind.
The Disease Process
Without support, denial and isolation continue, and problems get worse. You might minimize and hide from yourself and others painful aspects of your relationship and withdraw from outside activities and friends. Meanwhile, your obsession with the relationship or addiction and accompanying anxiety, resentment, and guilt increase. You do more to help, enable, and control the other person or the addiction, and may even take over his or her responsibilities. As mood swings and conflict increase, some codependents turn to drugs, food, spending, or other addictive behavior to cope.
Middle Stage of Codependency
- Deny/Minimize painful aspects of relationship
- Hide from others painful aspects of relationship
- Anxiety, guilt, and self-blame increase
- Self-esteem lessens
- Withdraw from outside family and friends
- Increased obsession the person and/or addiction
- Try to control by nagging, blaming, scolding, manipulation
- Anger and disappointment due to broken promises
- Resentment at inability to control the person
- Mood swings and increased conflict and violence
- Enable, accommodate, and manage the other person’s responsibilities
- Hide family secret (addiction, conflict, personality disorder)
- Use food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, work to cope
The Recovery Process
The middle stage is where most of the work of recovery takes place. You begin to practice non-detachment and grasp your powerlessness over others and your addiction. As the focus on yourself grows, so does self-responsibility, self-awareness, and self-examination, which is part of psychotherapy as well as 12-Step programs. Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes that an alcoholic’s success is based upon rigorous self-honesty as the key to recovery.
This is also true for codependents and one of the 12 Steps of CoDA, which are derived from Alcoholics Anonymous. Blaming others and external circumstances denies your power to effect change and achieve happiness. Even if you’re a victim of abuse, you find the power to change your circumstances when the center of control shifts from the perpetrator to yourself. Self-examination also includes working through childhood issues that led to your codependency.
Although insight about your behavior is necessary, it’s insufficient for change. Decisions, actions, and risk-taking are required during the Middle Stage. They happen when you’re ready and can’t be forced. It’s hard to change even when you know things would improve — like taking a better job or moving to a desirable area — but taking risks where the outcome is uncertain requires courage — courage to venture from discomfort that’s familiar into new territory. This is one reason why support is essential.
During the middle stage, you make new friends, participate in outside activities, and develop the ability to be assertive and set boundaries. As you become more emotionally independent, you take better care of yourself, and reactivity, enabling, and controlling behavior diminishes.
Middle Stage of Recovery
- Understand powerlessness
- Self-awareness grows
- Begin reliance on a spiritual source
- Begin to detach
- Make new friends
- Develop outside activities
- Stop enabling and controlling
- Learn to be assertive
- Take responsibility for yourself
- Increase self-care and self-esteem
- Sets boundaries and less reactive
- More emotional independence
- Heal childhood wounds
Late-Stage of Codependency and Recovery
In the late stage of codependency and recovery, the contrast between the disease and health is most pronounced. The untreated codependent’s world has significantly narrowed and his or her levels of health and functioning have severely declined, while the recovered codependent’s world has expanded to include greater risk-taking, relationships, and new goals.
The Disease Process
As the disease progresses, anger and conflicts are more common, and self-esteem and self-care further decline. Hopelessness, emptiness, and depression prevail. The chronic stress of codependency manifests in new symptoms, such as stress-related health problems and new or more advanced obsessive-compulsive behaviors and addictions. These behaviors and addictions might include regular checking up on the addict, affairs, enabling, cleaning house, dieting, exercising, spending, or using legal or illegal drugs.
Late Stage of Codependency
This is the progression of codependency in the late stage if you do nothing.
- Develop physical symptoms
- Feel angry, hopeless, and depressed
- Obsessive-compulsive behavior, addictions
- Further decline in self-esteem
- Despair and lack of self-care
- Increased conflicts
The Recovery Process
In the late stage of recovery, your self-esteem and confidence return. You’re empowered to pursue your own goals and are more expansive, creative, and spontaneous. You desire to fully express yourself for the sheer joy and freedom of it. As your focus shifts away from someone outside yourself, you fully understand that your happiness doesn’t depend upon others and no longer have a desperate need to be in a relationship. At the same time, you desire and are more capable of authentic intimacy.
Late Stage of Recovery
These are the rewards you reap if you stick with recovery.
- Happiness doesn’t depend on others
- Self-Esteem and confidence return
- Have own power and pursue goals
- Are expansive, creative, spontaneous
- Experiences self-love and self-nurturing
- Enjoy interdependency and intimacy
Recovery from codependency requires ongoing maintenance in or out of a relationship. This is why people continue in 12-Step programs even after they’ve left an addict or addiction behind. Only after a number of years do the changes and tools of recovery and health become part of you.
Listen to this great podcast “Unlearning Codependency and Shame” discussing origins and stages of codependency and recovery, with many tips on how to heal from shame and codependency. Follow the steps and do the exercises in Codependency for Dummies.
This article is adapted from Darlene Lancer, Codependency for Dummies, 2nd ed., Ch. 1, (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, N.J. (2015)
© 2021 Darlene Lancer
This article was originally published here, and is reprinted with the author’s kind permission.
Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People and Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness, also available on Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”