Understanding Codependency

The practice of law is demanding and the legal environment is often stressful. It is also work that is not done in isolation, it involves working with others, helping clients solve their problems, working in concert with other lawyers and support staff, working within a court system, a registry system, or a regulatory system. We have plenty of opportunity to work with others who may be suffering from some illness or who may be having problems.

Research by Brewster indicates that 31.9% of lawyers come from family systems (parent, spouse or child) with an alcohol problem compared with, Pharmacists 27.6% and Physicians 25.3%. (And for the general population 14%). Research from Johns Hopkins University (1990) shows law to be the number one (1) occupation for clinical depression. Members of the legal profession are diagnosed as clinically depressed 3.5 times that of the general population, at about 14%. Studies in Washington, Arizona and Wisconsin puts the figure at 20% and in Florida at 32%.

Substance abuse among lawyers is very high. About 10% of the general adult population are dependent on alcohol. Washington State found that among lawyers practicing from 2 to 20 years, 18% were dependent on alcohol and for those practicing more that 20 years the figure was 25%. Overall the statistics show that a very high percentage of lawyers will suffer some serious illness and distress.

Co-Workers and colleagues may feel the disruptive effects of the illness in much the same way as the families and friends:

  • Frustration and Anxiety – can’t count on the distressed person who is often moody, late with assignments and avoids responsibilities
  • Anger and Resentment – feel overburdened and tired of covering up
  • Fear – feel edgy about the loss of business, the firm’s reputation etc.
  • Guilt – feel guilty about their desire to get rid of the problem – to get even

In both cases the families and the co-workers are often similar in enabling behavior.  Perhaps they’ll make excuses or cover up and minimize the problem.  Or they might look for answers other than the drinking or just plain avoid the distressed person.

Codependent patterns often go unrecognized, and cause great damage. They may actually help the dysfunctional person stay dysfunctional, and they prevent the codependent person from living a fulfilling life, sometimes for years after the original relationship has ended. If you believe you might have codependent habits, learning about codependency is the first step towards making a happier life for yourself. And, although no one can force another person to choose recovery, this knowledge can also help you create an environment in which a dysfunctional person can get healthy, and stay that way.

Characteristics and Consequences

Codependency has many characteristics, which vary dramatically from person to person, but the central characteristic is the same. The codependent pays tremendous attention to the actions and feelings of others and neglects his or her own needs. The codependent is always reacting to another, rather than acting for himself/herself.

Some common characteristics of codependency include:

  •  worrying and anxiety,
  •  “bending over backwards” to take care of others,
  •  not knowing or not trusting one’s own feelings,
  •  feeling guilty for “not doing enough,”
  •  feeling isolated or depressed,
  •  staying in bad relationships (or even sabotaging potentially good   ones),
  •  trouble with emotional intimacy,
  •  workaholism,
  •  sexual problems,
  •  lack of energy.
  •  and low self-esteem.
  •  inability to set boundaries
  •  perfectionism
  •  inability to share (or even feel) feelings
  •  striving for achievement (at any cost)

Codependent people often “rescue” the chemically dependent or dysfunctional person from the consequences of their actions by lying for them, lending them money, making excuses for them, or taking over their responsibilities.  This makes it easier for the addict to keep on using and for the dysfunctional person to remain dysfunctional.

The codependent may try to control the habits of the addict or dysfunctional person by nagging, pleading or hiding the alcohol or other drug. Although the codependent may be motivated by love, and struggle heroically to get the addict or dysfunctional person to change, the only person each of us can change or control is our self. Whether the addict or dysfunctional person chooses recovery or to get help, or not, codependent people can work, learn and make choices that will bring peace and enjoyment into their lives.

The Recovery Process

The recovery process for a codependent person is simple to state, but takes time and effort to bear fruit. The essence of it is learning to take good care of oneself, and to let others take care of themselves. To do this, the codependent needs to find out how he or she is feeling and behaving, to learn what he or she wants and values, to become detached from involvement in the other peoples’ problems, to learn to love oneself, and to take responsibility for attending to one’s own needs. Detachment doesn’t mean indifference, or avoiding responsibility. It simply means putting that energy to better use. It means learning who you are and what you want your life to be about and living that way.

Caring for a chemically dependent or dysfunctional person can be terribly painful, and can affect your life for years after that person is gone.  Recovering from codependency is a process of acknowledging and then letting go of pain, and finding ways to build a happy life. Twelve Step programs, such as Al Anon and Codependence Anonymous (CODA) have proven useful in helping individuals get support and learn to build their lives. Counseling, workshops and support groups can help you to learn about enabling, detachment, defining and maintaining boundaries, recognizing and dealing with emotions and with cognitive distortions and to learn relationship skills such as resolving conflict, assertiveness, and clear communication. Talk to friends and family, seek professional help and call your local LAP.

If you, or someone you know, have any of these characteristics or experiences call the LAP at 685-2171 or toll free – 1-888-685-2171. All calls are strictly confidential.