Codependence

by | Jun 8, 2003

“Codependent” basically means taking too much responsibility for somebody else, materially and/or psychologically. It means a lack of personal boundaries, a willingness to sacrifice yourself to help somebody else (even if the sacrifice is unwanted or unappreciated). Just as an arrogant jerk lacks a sense of concern or sensitivity towards his/her spouse, a codependent lacks […]

“Codependent” basically means taking too much responsibility for somebody else, materially and/or psychologically. It means a lack of personal boundaries, a willingness to sacrifice yourself to help somebody else (even if the sacrifice is unwanted or unappreciated).

Just as an arrogant jerk lacks a sense of concern or sensitivity towards his/her spouse, a codependent lacks any sense of self. Codependent types often end up becoming very angry and resentful because they sacrifice and the sacrifices don’t lead to anything. This is the Heaven’s Reward fallacy (taught by many religions): “Give and give and give, and you will get back.” Well, sometimes this is true. But usually it isn’t. The codependent needs to learn it’s OK to want to get back; but also that with certain people you’re not going to get back.

Here’s the “classic” codependent example: Say your wife is an alcoholic. You’re rightly concerned about her drinking, which is out of control. Yet she’s in denial, refusing to stop, seek professional help or even acknowledge that she may have a problem. But you enable her behavior anyway, without really meaning to do so. When she asks you to pick up beer at the store, you comply. Or you agree to call in sick for her because she has a hangover.

Now you might say, “That’s stupid, I would never do anything like that.” But codependence can be much more subtle. And there need not be anything obvious going on like alcohol abuse. For example, you might never ask your spouse to compromise on anything. You go to the movies she wants to go to; the restaurants she wants to go to; but you never stop and propose what you would like to do. Over time, you become resentful. Maybe you’ll become angry at her, or hateful towards her. While there’s some basis for this, since she didn’t exactly stop to consider what your needs are, you have to blame yourself, in part, too. Why? Because you never tried to assert yourself. You never asked her to make compromises–to give her a chance to say “no,” “yes,” or whatever. This is why many co-dependent people get so angry. In a way they’re angry at you–perhaps with good reason in certain cases–but in a way they’re also angry at themselves, whether they realize it or not. They’re angry at themselves for turning themselves into victims of your behavior, whether you maliciously intended to victimize them or not.

Whatever the origins, the ultimate antidote to codependence is for an individual to accept responsibility for his mistaken, over-sacrificing, over-giving behaviors and start to take better care of himself. A lot of codependence is rooted in the idea or feeling, “I must please all people at all costs” or: “I must please/appease this particular individual at all costs, letting his/her emotions run the show no matter what the rational facts are, and no matter what my needs and desires are.” (This is what I mean by self-sacrifice, not the normal and reasonable give-and-take which of course all relationships require).

Melody Beattie has a very good book on the subject called “Codependent No More.” I don’t particularly like her emphasis on AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), since I think AA has certain serious flaws and contradictions (along with many very good points), but on the whole the book really makes useful points on less fundamental issues. The core issue remains, however: if you’re going to be less codependent, you will need to question — not just intellectually, but in the day-to-day nuts-and-bolts of your daily life and emotions — the premise that self-sacrifice is a good and necessary part of human relationships. That’s the bottom line.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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