Couples Relationships and Codependency

A fresh new look at Codependency

Learn about codependency, relationships and the hierarchies you perhaps never knew about in your own relationships.

It’s probably “codependent” of me to believe that I alone can strike the term codependency from the English language. It’s entrenched in the obsession vernacular, and though defined in many, many ways depending on which symptoms a person selects from the vast lists, has been implemented into the self concepts of many. I’m sure the codependency books critiqued in this essay, like all self help books, were written with good intentions, the hope that people’s lives would be improved. If your life feels better for having read and followed through with the recommendations of these authors, who am I to try to take that away. My article was written primarily as a caveat, a warning that what appears right and good on the surface, may have unhealthy ramifications in the long run if taken on to aggressively, a warning that just because a self-help author mandates one path to happiness, doesn’t make it accurate.

As opposed to swallowing the codependency idea whole, I encourage those struggling with problematic relationships or a family member’s crazy behavior to use the basic advice of AA, “one step at a time.” The codependency idea is so broad that it is possible to extract useful principles and guidance from it. Given the lack of scientific drive behind this concept it behooves you to examine all aspects of your life which are being addressed by this concept. Just because one component of the codependency mind set hits home, doesn’t mean you have to engulf the entire world view.

Re-defining Codependency. 3 ways to look at Codependency

1.Leave the term in the realm of obsession. The codependency idea was designed to help spouses and families of alcoholics and drug users. In this realm it appears to have some implications. Some of the advice in these books may be useful in helping to make sobriety easier for the ill person . However, with regard to the use of the term for people who have relationship problems or who have difficulty putting themselves first, or who are dysphoric, there are many more specific terms which afford the sufferer some practical tools, without having to incorporate the disease idea, or “purging the unconscious.” Earlier I mentioned specific treatments, mostly in the cognitive-behavioral realm for addressing such problems as anxiety, depression, anger control, relationships problems. These we use at our healing center in South Africa. Before tossing your whole system of values and making the plunge into the recovery lifestyle, consider less invasive measures.

Depression and wellness treatment centre

If they prove insufficient, up the ante. The treatment tiering approach at our wellness center for example is very appropriate here. In the realm of medicine, least invasive treatments are usually tried first, and when proven insufficient or inadequate treatment intensity is increased. Arthritis is an analogy I usually use. A competent MD would not prescribe joint replacement as an initial treatment for painful joints. She would first attempt less potentially dangerous treatments, such as non-steroid anti-inflamitories. If these prove insufficient, she might try steroids, then up to more intense drugs with potential side effects and so on. I believe the treatment tiering model is relevant to all psychological problems. Consider the least invasive and most potentially effective intervention first, not the most drastic.

There are so many potential problems with over diagnosing and over treating. When people begin to believe that their problems are bigger than life they begin to question the effectiveness of their coping in realms previously not questioned. This doubt and insecurity, which can be perpetuated by “long term therapy” and nebulous diagnoses like codependency, dissolve the mind set that one is robust or resilient, and replace it with one in which one is weak and vulnerable in a cruel world. Our ever broadening “self awareness” results in our becoming chronically ill-equipped.

2. Avoid victim making. Victim making is crazy making. The hydraulic model of psychodynamic theory has not been supported by research. The nasty “events” in our past do not stockpile in a cauldron called the unconscious festering like an infection until the host re-experiences them in their full horror, unleashing the past so that serenity can at last be found. This exorcism mentality, though popular in the field of clinical psychology, and good fodder for Hitchcock films, does not fit with current information processing literature, which has demonstrated that the chronic activation of negative information perpetuates negative mood states. Our wellness centerĀ 

Furthermore, the exaggeration of negative information and the belief of “helplessness” is strongly associated with depression. The bottom line is that it is quite unlikely that you must do “grief work” in order to become more assertive or less depressed. Adult functioning is not linked to events in our past, but how those events have been assigned meaning. Instead of separating the “precious child” from the harsh cruel world, assign new meaning to events from the perspective of a coping adult who has survived. Do an inventory of the events which you overcame. Consider adult qualities which were related to surpassing and having insight into difficult times in the past. Victimhood, though stylish these days, creates a historical distraction for incoming information that is not healthy.

3. Acceptance is often the greatest change one can make. In working with couples, partners often come in pointing fingers at each other. She Points, “He needs to stop being so controlling.” He points back, “She is so damn emotional and irrational!” I find that lasting change occurs, not when couples make marked changes in their behavior (like he becomes less controlling or she less emotional), but when partners–both partners–gain clarity with regard to the other’s uniqueness and of their relationship as completely singular in terms of what will help it survive or not, in short, come to understand and accept each other. The codependency authors who believe that relationships should be fair, and that there is some standard to which all relationships should be compared, are living on Fantasy Island.

A good thorough read of one of Camilia Paglia’s books might illuminate the reality that there is noting tidy about intimacy, that love is driven by irrational, uncontrollable, often self defeating urges and very different agendas depending on ones gender. Codependency authors, like some feminists, want sexual equality, blame males for all the unhappiness which befalls women and believe that “equality” once achieved will pan out in complete ease in relationships. Impossible, says Paglia. Men and women are vastly different and their differences, though creating an often chaotic world for one and other, are what passion is all about. Modern feminist attitudes “have a childlike faith in the perfectibility of the universe, which they see as blighted solely by nasty men.(25, Paglia, Vamps and Tramps)” Relationships are never completely balanced.

There is always some degree of hierarchy. In fact, relationships function often on many hierarchies simultaneously, and balances shift during the course of relationships, often many times. The “raw material” which makes up one relationship is completely different from any other, and gauging balance against other relationships, or the ideal of complete equity in all regards is futile, impossible. Paglia says, “(Feminism) sees every hierarchy as repressive, a social fiction… Feminism has exceeded its proper mission of seeking political equality for women and has ended by rejecting contingency, that is, human limitation by nature or fate (3, Sexual Personae).”

For more help with codependency, depression, burnout or relationship help, why not spend some time at our unique healing and wellness center. Take time out to get the therapy you need to grow, heal and enrich your life. Call 0824424779 or email

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