by Melody Beattie
In case it isn't already clear, I'm talking about two separate books here. One book is titled "Codependent No More" and the other is "Beyond Codependency." I picked them up at the library after hearing the term codependent used in The Emotionally Abusive Relationship. I've been interested in learning about the concept in the past and never gotten around to it.
So what is codependency? The term was coined originally to describe spouses of those dependent on alcohol or other drugs. For example, we'll say a woman is married to an alcoholic husband. The husband, dependent on the alcohol, is hampered in his ability to overcome alcoholism because of his codependent wife.
This does not mean the wife is an alcoholic and it does not mean she approves of the alcoholic's behavior. It means that her warped way of coping with that stress actually enables her husband's problem. She might try to ignore the problem, or try to solve the problem herself, or cover up for her husband--but whatever her behavior, she is actually taking responsibility for his behavior or her shoulders. She is an enabler--she makes it easy for him to be an alcoholic. When the problem gets worse and worse and the wife doesn't understand why, she's bound to feel hopeless, helpless, angry, stressed and probably bitter.
The term is now used in a more broad sense: you can use the term (or concept or ideas or paradigm, if you don't feel the need to use the latest pop culture terminology) to describe one who feels compelled to help others to the point of hurting themself and the intended compassionate recipient. The best line is these two books is that codependents do "all the wrong things for all the right reasons."
One of the most interesting, and least explored, concepts covered in the chronology or pattern of behavior. Here's my take:
First, the codependent is essentially a victim of somebody else's addictive or destructive behavior. As such, they are to be pitied and helped.
Next, the codependent tries to figure out how to cope with a situation that is not their fault and they have no control over. The natural instinct is to try to gain some control over the situation. But instead of doing it the healthy way--controlling themself by setting boundaries and knowing how to enforce them--they try to control the other person by "helping" them in various ways.
Lastly, when the problem gets worse and worse, the codependent becomes angry, bitter and dejected as a result of their failed attempts to gain some level of control over a situation that was already impossibly difficult to deal with. It is at this point that a codependent becomes an ugly force to be reckoned with. As they bounce between the second and third phase, they may play a Jekyll & Hyde game appearing intensely angry and controlling at some moments and at other moments seem to be the kindest, most giving person possible. It is at this stage that the original victim can become abusive.
At first, most people will be naturally drawn to a codependent because of the codependent's ability to give and give and give and give. When it eventually becomes apparent that the charitable behaviors are actually a warped way of controlling the world around them, a psychologically healthy person will turn the other direction and run as fast as they can. They will be able to sense inherently that their boundaries are being infringed on in a subtle and destructive manner.
I spent a lot of time pondering the conflict between charity and codependency, and wondering if I could really bring this book in line with my religious views. I'll save that for a separate blog entry. I also pondered my own tendency toward codependency. Did I learn behaviors that have been passed down through the generations? Or do I have some trauma I am dealing with in my life? Whatever the answer, my New Year's Resolution is to stop worrying about other people and learn to love and accept myself. So far, it's feeling fabulous and I think it is helping me to be more charitable toward others, rather than less charitable.
Okay, enough of explanations. I thought the concepts covered in these books were eye-opening and instructive. I think it's a great paradigm to explore. However, I think a better book could be written. Codependent No More is essentially the Go To book about codependency. I found it well written, but somewhat rambling and repetitive. (Somewhat like this blog?) Just as I found myself intrigued by a concept, the author would go into some lengthy story that only partially made sense to me, as somebody who has never dealt with an alcoholic or chemically dependent person. I actually enjoyed Beyond Codependency more because it dealt more with solutions to the problem than lengthy descriptions. Once I "got it," I "got it" and was bored with further detail in the first book.
I found myself wishing for a book that was written for a wider audience and in more broad terms, with less focus on the alcoholism angle. As it turns out, I found the perfect book by accident. I saw a book at Deseret Book titled "I Don't Have to Make Everything All Better" and was reminded of the codependency angle. So I bought it on a whim. It's exactly what I didn't realize I was looking for and it'll be up next in this four-part series of Self Help book reviews.
For more information about codependency:
According to Mental Health America (some random website I found online, which described it better than most) the symptoms of codependency are:
- An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
- A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
- A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
- A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
- An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
- An extreme need for approval and recognition
- A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
- A compelling need to control others
- Lack of trust in self and/or others
- Fear of being abandoned or alone
- Difficulty identifying feelings
- Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
- Problems with intimacy/boundaries