Co-dependency is defined as an unhealthy pattern of behavior in relationships. Initially, the label was created to describe the people around an alcoholic (spouse, children, employer) who were negatively affected by the drinker's behavior.
Over time, it became apparent to clinicians in the counseling field that the co-alcoholic often drifted from one alcoholic to another. How is it that one woman would find, and marry, more than one alcoholic in her lifetime? Why is it that a child of an alcoholic chooses to an alcoholic? These were determined to be more than coincidences; in fact, there is a personality or pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving, that seems to fit the label of "co-dependent."
Co-dependents place their happiness second to others, often unaware of their own emotional experience because they wait for the interpretation of others. "How do you like this?" "How is she responding?" "I'm okay only if you're ok." Co-dependents filter and perceive their reality through others...best described as "walking on eggshells" or "waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Co-dependents are often anxious and exhibit poor sleep and/or eating patterns, and suffer from physical complaints (stomach ache, headache.) A co-dependent has often learned these traits in early childhood, but not always.
The first step in co-dependency awareness is recognizing body cues, "my stomach is upset," or, "when he walks in the door my jaw tightens." Fear of displeasing others is a great preoccupation for the co-dependent. Wanting to be liked is everything, "I don't want to hurt her feelings" is their battle cry. For these reasons, mental health treatment involves therapy for the whole family.