In our efforts to uncover the fifty-year journey of The Bridge to Recovery, we stumbled across a file cabinet in a dusty attic. What we would find were valuable heirlooms left by generations of staff members before us, including articles, newsletters, photos, and more.

In this treasure chest of history, we found co-founder Carol Cannon’s articles published by Pacific Press through what appears to be the 1990’s and early 2000’s. These articles give phenomenal insight into our philosophy, and we will share these articles in part or in full throughout the next year as part of our 50 Stories for 50 Years series.  

We felt it only right that we begin the series with one of Carol’s articles on Codependency, titled In Search of a Positive Identify, published in January 2001.  Codependency – so often misunderstood, is what we have proudly helped individuals and families address for five decades.  

Here is Carol explaining codependency:

I’d like to revisit the subject of codependence this month. What is it? Who has it? And how do they get it? Generically speaking, codependence is the condition that lies at the heart of most obsessive/compulsive behavior and unhealthy dependence. Many experts consider it the “dis-ease within all addictive diseases.” If you scratch an alcoholic or addict, you’ll find a codependent. In fact, if you scratch almost anybody, you’ll find codependent characteristics. 

Codependence is about being human; about being vulunerable; about being lonely, hurt, and scared. It is widespread. No one is immune. Codependence is not a respecter of age, gender, religion, or race. And it’s not about who a person is. It’s about what happened to that person. When children aren’t given the modeling, instruction, or nurturing they need and deserve, they develop tools (coping skills) that work against them later in life. We call these dubious tendencies codependence. 

One reason the concept of codependence is hard to acknowledge and accept is that it has been oversimplified. Codependence is not a single, simple problem; it is a complex combination of symptoms best described as codependencies. They are self-defeating habits learned in problematic circumstances – adaptive behaviors used to cope with the stress of childhood. 

It’s easy for children to become codependent because they are necessarily dependent. Children who depend on adults who are suffering from dependency disorders and other relationship problems will become codependent. As Jenn, whose father was a workaholic and whose mother was food addicted, said, “I grew up depending on people who were depending on things that weren’t dependable.” Relying on unreliable adults created the codependencies (negativism and the need to control) that became Jenn’s survival mechanisms. 

These adaptive behaviors wouldn’t be considered pathological except for the fact that some of them work against the child when he or she becomes an adult. The very things they did as children to gain acceptance from the people closest to them now drive people away from them. Their adaptive behaviors sabotage relationships. 

Cindy is a case in point. As a girl, she was a colossal caretaker. As an adult, her eager over-solicitousness annoys her friends. They wish she would just relax and be herself. They are grown-ups and they don’t want to be mothered. 

When Kent was a child, his mother was lonely and depressed because his father worked all the time Kent believed it was his job to ameliorate her loneliness, to make her happy. To this day, he feels obligated to make everybody 

happy all the time. He’s a people pleaser. He can’t do anything until he has checked to make sure his peers will approve. Kent’s constant permission-seeking causes people to see him as immature, uncertain, indecisive. This costs him a great  deal of respect. 

Keri became the family manager by default when her parents got hooked on cocaine. Now, her tendency to manipulate and control friends, colleagues, and romantic partners pushes them away from her. She doesn’t realize that she has emotional and social “bad breath”! 

Here are some ways codependents act out their symptoms: (1) They are easily absorbed by the pain and problems of others. (2) They submerge themselves in fixing, rescuing, or making other people happy. (3) They come alive when thus engaged. (4) They help others to the point of hurting themselves or their families. (5) They rarely ask the object of their care what he or she needs; instead, they control that person to achieve what they think is best. (6) They derive meaning, identity, and value from the above behaviors. 

Please note that people who do none of the above can be just as codependent as individuals who do all of the above. Codependents either do these behaviors or demand them of others. 

The good news is that codependents can change. People can unlearn even deeply habituated self-defeating behaviors. Change and growth are most easily and lastingly accomplished when these outdated social “skills” are treated as addictions and submitted to a spiritually-based program of recovery that includes both therapeutic and twelve-step elements.