A circle of empty chairs against a light red background.

A month ago, Jenny’s boyfriend gave her a slap in the face. In past incidents he grabbed her arm and pulled her hair to keep her from escaping the room. Jenny resisted these personal space violations, but the full strike ended.

“I set the limit pretty early on for myself,” says Jenny, a 29-year-old bank manager in Toronto. “And I’m not good at boundaries, but I think I kept this.”

He has been ordered to move away since then, and the time he has been away from what he is now – he is a drug addict and an alcoholic – has helped Jenny realize that she has given herself too much. He was now associated with what he describes as a codependent relationship, where the need to validate and the feelings he deserves for himself created the origin of a bad, irresponsible, and destructive trait that progressed in his weakness.

At the beginning of their collaboration seven years ago, Jenny, aware of her boyfriend’s substance abuse problems, thought to herself: You can handle it.

Why such confidence? “It was a repetitive relationship with my father,” she says.

“When I was drinking I was in kindergarten to make sure he wasn’t hurting himself or hurting others or harming my belongings,” Jenny says of her ex, even though he could talk the same way about his father. “There was constant hypervigilance.”

Jenny extended a similar sledge to her mother’s image. In Jenny’s childhood, her narcissistic mother would often arrive home from work angry and stressed. Jenny undertook to do everything she could to reassure her mother, including washing dishes, cleaning herself, and being passive in silence.

“If he’s happy I can be happy. Being able to do that also gave me a sense of control,” Jenny says. “The parents of a child in that situation can really turn on someone’s cables and make them feel like caring for someone is about loving them. And that’s where I got stuck.”

The strong and reassuring sense of security and safety that comes from this dynamic can be intoxicating, sometimes creating a unique disorder of addiction. People like Jenny can also attend group support meetings in the face of this problem, under the name of 12-Step Alcoholics Anonymous, under the name Co-Dependents Anonymous or briefly through CoDA.

“The 12-step system, what it really does is help people first find a community,” says a CoDA volunteer in Poughkeepsie, New York, who I will call “Alice.” Seeing others struggle with similar problems, he acknowledges that the codependents of the 12th century alone help. “And then it gives us the healthy structures and tools that are used to deal with it.”

Alice, a 66-year-old 13-year-old participant who helps local meeting organizers follow CoDA messaging according to official guidelines, compares her addiction to bright addictions like alcohol, food and sex.

In more popular cases of addiction, people use substances or develop other healthy behaviors to stay away from moments and emotions that are difficult to deal with. In a codependent relationship, the “offender” is avoiding concerns and points of tension, but he does so while providing constant attention to another person. This type of behavior, as toxic as it is, helps the facilitator feel better.

“For example, at a wedding, my spouse can be difficult, with no communication,” Alice says. “I can’t think of that. That makes me nervous, “No, he came home angry; he must be angry with me.”

Such thoughts indicate a lack of self-esteem in the offender, which is a key driver of codependency. The enabler generally works to correct an uncomfortable situation found by a person (friend, colleague, or relative) to limit disagreement.

“I’m going to do‘ X, y, z ’because I know this helps me feel better,” Alice says, continuing with her hypothetical thought bubble. “‘I’ll make him a steak, I’ll give him a drink, I’ll give him a blow …’ I have to make him happy.”

But this effort to relieve tension and stress only creates a cycle of enabling behaviors that the recipient enjoys on a level, and perhaps even encourages.

“It’s nice to always be thinking about your loved one, but when will you be there at the moment?” says Adam Jablin, 45, a certified life coach who specializes in addiction and recovery.

Although it can happen later and in different situations, Jablin says it is the dynamics of parenting and children that usually address codependency issues in young people. In relatively small doses, a lot of codependent behavior can be not only very normal, but also the onset of an ideal and strong relationship.

“If you could check my phone right now, you’d probably think I had some sort of codependency on my daughter and son,” Jablin says. Especially in these pandemic days, he is doing what he can to make them safe, and he sends them texts to verify that you are away from home. But her behavior doesn’t rise to the heights of a codependency disorder because, she says, “I’m not looking for my daughter’s approval, I’m not looking for my son’s approval, and I’m not checking to see if, ‘Was lunch okay?’

For this and other reasons — including the fact that other free-will human beings help facilitate a dangerous cycle of behavior — Jablin says that addiction is a “killer” and arguably the “hardest addiction to breaking”.

However, as the American Society for Addiction Medicine also points out in its definition of “addiction,” the disorder is treatable.

We’re going to go to the Seattle CoDA, which we’ll call Sarah – she’s close to Jenny at 30 and shares a dependent story similar to that of a narcissistic mother and an alcoholic father – a 12-year commitment to the 12-Step program says “every part of my life” has improved.

“I’m so much better off being in my body; I’m better off looking at it in a kind, loving eye that doesn’t judge my strengths and my mistakes, ”says Sarah, an educator by trade.“ I’m much better off not feeding people’s situations. [and] I see the nature of people much better. “

Shortly after the program began, Sara ended her four-year relationship with her boyfriend. But unlike Jenny’s ex and other boyfriends from the past, she has never been abused by Sarah. They’ve been working with themselves for two hours – Sara says she lives with ADHD, has had trauma, and may even be codependent. They’ve been together for about seven months now, and they’re thinking about living together again.

“We have a healthier attachment,” says Sara. “I couldn’t set boundaries, I couldn’t have healthy communication, I couldn’t have conflict without getting into a trauma response.”

Alice’s claim about CoDA – also shared by Jenny – says Sarah said the meetings opened up a community of support that helped her remove feelings of isolation. He has made corrections, and can skillfully refer to Steps One and Two (about being powerless and the ability to restore greater power). He is also working on other steps, although he certainly has trouble accepting his mistakes without feeling guilty or ashamed.

Sara talks about the topic of CoDA and its growth with tremendous agility and confidence. It’s no surprise that meetings have begun to be “directed” – a relative term, because CoDA groups intuitively lack a hierarchical power structure – and that it has begun to help participants, as Sara says, see their needs, desires and authority as an authority not to give up. The literature should be read, as in other Step 12 meetings, including a statement on “crosstalk” that is prohibited in shared CoDA group sessions.

“[W]Stop asking questions, pausing, giving opinions or advice, referring directly to another person’s involvement, calling another person by name, or making “you” and “us” statements, ”says the CoDA website. CoDA’s dialogue guidelines help keep our meetings in a safe place. ”

Sara says in her experience these guidelines mean that at CoDA meetings “you can express yourself in an unjudged space and … it forces you to acknowledge your feelings”. This is crucial, considering that codependents are usually sidelined.

If you’ve noticed that the three CoDAs I’ve interviewed are women – that’s not something I anticipated, and in fact I’ve tried to avoid – it could be that some estimate that women make up 80% of the number of people living with codependency.

And even if the term “codependent” is constantly thrown into our social discourse, as a lynx for relationship struggles or American scientist he wrote, the word now “pop psychology psychobabble smacks”, both life coaches Sarah and Adam Jablin (who is a passionate proponent of the 12 Step program like CoDA) believe that the problem has entered the West much more than citizens realized.

While working with addictions for a long time, Jablin saw them initially enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program, later realizing that the cause of the drug abuse was their relationships with other people. Sara noted that codependent behavior in culture has almost normalized. “It’s in every movie and TV show of ours,” he says. “It’s in all of our romantic movies and songs.”

How many films can you think of in the face of a compatibility that unites the couple out of desperation? A licensed social worker blogged about films like this, citing favorites like romcom Without sleeping in Seattle and Jerry Maguire as an example. Meanwhile, Reddit user famous4love, a self-described codependent, built a Spotify playlist that makes Sara’s last point quite obvious.

But count on Jenny as a new devotee of the CoDA, who expects continued treatment, better life situations, and ultimately better relationships than the abused ones who have tended to slip.

“It’s been a rewarding experience in my life,” Jenny says of CoDA induction. “Being able to know that there are people who have experienced the same thing … I have enough to feel that I deserve something.”

In any case, emotional and curved recovery may be for him, he will be welcome at CoDA. As Sara puts it: “The only condition for being a member of CoDA is a desire to achieve healthy and loving relationships.”