What is a “codependent” person. One person told me that when he got married, he “became” co-dependent with his wife. He saw marriage as a place where two people depended on each other which meant they didn’t need to go outside of the marriage in order to have their needs met. He saw this as a positive thing because to be single, in his mind, was not healthy because he had no one to be dependent upon and it was lonely being alone.
Other people identify co-dependency as when one person takes all the energy of another, or when one is an addict and the other is not, or when a child won’t leave the home.
In the book, “Love is a Choice” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, define it as “the fallacy of trying to control interior feelings by controlling people, things, and events on the outside.” In other words, when one person feels they do not have “self-control” they seek to control other people, objects, or their schedules in order to feel they do have control. Ever notice how many self-help advisers and books talk about “management?” Time management, Anger management, Organizational management, Office management…the list goes on and on. Well, in a codependent relationship it’s about people management.
Using the example of the man who wanted to be in a codependent relationship, this is a common understanding of a healthy relationship: As a child you grow up being dependent on your parents. Then you become a young adult and learn how to be independent of your parents. You find the love of your life, get married and become codependent on each other. You raise your children to be dependent upon you…and they remain dependent on you until you die. He might agree and say, “That’s what family does for each other, they support each other no matter what. They are committed until death…they are codependent.
Unfortunately, this may seem admirable and desirable to many people, but this expectation can lead to an unhealthy family dynamic where unhealthy patterns can develop.
Let me add an additional dynamic which can make all the difference in understanding codependency; inter-dependence. This is what a “healthy” relationship might look like:
A newborn is DEPENDENT on his parents for food, clothing, security, and love. They can’t feed themselves, dress themselves, protect themselves, or feel self-love. Everything must be provided for them for them to survive.
Around the age of 2 the child learns they are “different” from their parents and can do for themselves. The words, “No”, “mine”, and “don’t” start appearing in their vocabulary. They have reached the point where they are INDEPENDENT of their parents and being to feed, dress, protect, and can love themselves.
The child continues to lean from this point on just how much independence will be allowed by his parents. If he is given the freedom to explore his world, provided counsel and guidance, set boundaries for defining what is “good” and what is “bad” and they have a clear sense of moral and ethical principals, they may grow up to be quite successful by todays standards. They would get a job, purchase a car, move out on their own, and be truly independent of their parents, and self-sufficient.
The child, now an adult, might meet another person who has gone through a similar upbringing, once dependent, then gaining independence, and when they get married they would become INTER-DEPENDENT. This is when two individuals who have a complete sense of who they are as a independent person and can maintain their identity while simultaneously uniting with another who retains their own identity as well. A college of mine coins it as, “Not losing me for the we,” meaning I don’t have to stop being true to myself in order to be true to another.
Often, when a child is born into a family where some or all of their needs were not met because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect, they never reach a healthy level of independence and personal identity. When those people get married, they feel they must take off the single part of themselves and be redefined by their spouse. Who am I as a married person becomes very complicated because of one’s expectations of what a married person looks like, acts like, and gives to the other in the marriage. They become a blank slate to the other person and want their spouse to define their role for them. They “lose themselves” because they have shelved their personal needs for the sake of the needs of the relationship. It becomes an issue of giving away control to the other person in order to feel in control of the relationship which has now gained it’s own identity based on a CODEPENDENT release of power. The independent person has now lost their sense of balance by eliminating their self-control in exchange for control over the relationship, and ultimately control over the other person. No longer are they focused on their own needs and happiness and can ONLY be happy when their spouse is happy and they’ve met their spouses every need. The spouse in this relationship can take the power and along with it the responsibly for “making” their mate happy. This begins the dance of taking and giving, manipulation and control. Ultimately both become tired and resentful over the need to be responsible for their mates happiness and they externalize their needs (project) into other areas; they can become obsessive over their children, their job, their home, or can burry their frustrations in alcohol, drugs, sex, or work.
Starting January 7, 2015, we’ll be diving deeper into the topic of codependency. If you would like to participate in an interactive group study taking place at 7471 Rudell Road Corona, CA 92881. every Wednesday from 7:00-9:00, go to our contact page (www.EncouragersUSA.com) and sign up.
Learn how to stop co-facilitating unhealthy codependent relationships, and start living your relationships inter-dependent instead.