There has been a lot of talk about codependence with a commonly held belief that it means overly caring about what people think. Certainly overdoing anything can create problems. The general rule of thumb is that something becomes a problem when it begins interfering in any other areas of your life.
If you take a substance like alcohol and find that you begin relying on it, that could be a red flag.
"When you begin using it to point that it has consequences that harm other areas of your life then there are serious alarm bells."
Alcohol is one thing. Now think about other things in your life and weigh their influence. Is sugar causing a problem? Drugs? Shopping? Work? How about other relationships? Or how about your behavior in relationships? Think of jealousy, anger, forgetfulness, enabling, neglect. Even love can be overdone if it crosses a line into obsession and possessiveness.
The point is that anything can be a problem when it crosses a line. The old adage, “everything in moderation” is correct. Even Paracelsus defined a toxin as a dose. Selenium is a poison yet human bodies need it in extremely small quantities. Water is a more abundant need for survival, however, too much water consumption can lead to electrolyte imbalance, overhydration and a list of conditions that can cause death.
Back to codependence. Human belonging is an essential need. Being too isolated, or subjected to solitary confinement, can be detrimental to our health and state of mind. Similarly, being too dependent on others presents problems. Sometimes people can be so attuned to what everyone else wants that they lose touch with their own thoughts, feelings and desires. In extreme cases, they cannot function without the other person because their identities are so intertwined with the other.
Sometimes people fear they are codependent when they are really expressing a healthy level of empathy and care for their loved ones. They falsely believe they shouldn’t care what other people think, when that’s just another extreme. Worrying what others think can be a valuable tool for feedback and is necessary for healthy relationship building. It helps people follow laws and treat others with dignity and respect. It provides a template for measuring values like humility and service. In the healing profession, it provides an essential measure for ethical treatment—will this cause anyone harm?
Caring what people think is not a handicap and does not necessarily mean that you’re codependent or undifferentiated. The test is in the amount, so go back over the listed questions and see if your caring causes consequences in other areas of your life, examples to consider:
1. Am I able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities?
2. Did I lose my job and/or mismanage the money I had as a result of use?
3. Have I compromised my values and/or gone back on my word as a consequence?
4. Is my health deteriorating or is added stress from its use taking a physical toll?
5. Is it affecting my work? Am I late or missing work as a consequence?
6. Is it impacting my relationships? Am I missing time with loved ones or neglecting them in other ways as a consequence?