Codependency -- It's Complicated
Codependency is either rampant and ruinous or it is a term that is grossly overused. I personally believe it is the latter. The list of behavior patterns of the condition is long, often contradictory, and quite confusing. I recently attended a workshop on codependency. At the start of the course, the instructor asked each person to tell a little bit about himself. When it was my turn, I explained that I used to own a food manufacturing business but gave everything up to pursue something more fulfilling. I want to be of some service to humanity, and — call me crazy — producing rice pudding just wasn’t edifying. The instructor said: “See - she had a successful business and gave it up to help people. What’s that about?” In other words — that could be a sign of codependency because I wanted to help people (or perhaps even needed to help people in order to feel fulfilled). If that’s the case — Mother Teresa was codependent as hell. Another time I won a plant at a meeting of a small group. One of the women was really upset that she didn’t win, and she was envying the plant. I offered it to her because quite frankly I hate plants and could’ve cared less about winning it. She remarked: “That’s so codependent of you!” Oy vey.
Women are often told they are codependent when they try to save their husbands and their marriages from the consequences of addiction. My guess is that most times people are just uneducated when it comes to the subject of addiction. If given the proper information, these same people would not exhibit what was said to be "codependent" behavior. It is not a "character defect" to try to save a loved one from unnecessary pain. I think (and hope) it's human nature. When couples marry, a bond is created unlike any other relationship. We have no problem saying that "the two become one." Yet when one of the two becomes addicted and the non-addicted spouse experiences the pain of the severed relationship, he or she is labeled "codependent." I would not call this person codependent; I would call him or her uninformed about the evidenced-based ways to respond to addicted loved ones. I’ve even heard people call themselves codependent for insisting that their children be home by a certain time. One woman said: “I should just worry about myself, and he will learn by his mistakes. I’m being too controlling.” Lord help us. That is not codependency — that’s parental discipline.
Let’s try to remember that we are human beings who are interdependent, relational, and loving. We are not autonomous beings unaffected by those around us. We need each other. We need love, and we need to give love. We shouldn’t feel shame for any of that. If our emotions and resulting behaviors are swaying up and down by the erratic behaviors of an addicted loved one, we probably just need some help from an educated, experienced therapist to help us navigate the chaos that results from the crisis situations we often encounter in addiction. Reach out. Educate yourself so that your loving intentions don't cause more harm than good to yourself or your loved one. But please don't label yourself as "diseased" for loving. Many people in other circumstances don't get love right the first time. They have plenty of opportunities to try again. So do you.