Trashing “Co-dependency”

I’m guilty of using the word “co-dependency” in a few places on my blog. I actually have a bit of an issue with the word and its connotations, because it often tends to come across as “blaming the victim”. But, lacking a better term, “co-dependency” sometimes creeps in.

I think the problem I have with the use of “co-dependency” is the same problem I have with conventional medicine; like any number of modern diseases, it is a fancy label, its selection based on a cluster of symptoms, that is applied to the person exhibiting said symptoms. What I take issue with, in both medicine and psychology, is that all too often, the label is applied without doing the proper due diligence (root cause analysis) of the problem.

If you do a root cause analysis of “co-dependency”, it is not something that simply manifests from thin air. People who get the unfortunate label of “co-dependent” do so, not because they are defective, but because they have been conditioned – often from early childhood – to see themselves and their world a certain way, and by extension, to function in the world a certain way. Yes, in-born temperament may contribute to a person’s susceptibility or resistance to dysfunctional conditioning, but how we are treated, what we are taught, and the behaviors we observe powerfully influence how we navigate life.

The take-away I propose is this: the “co-dependent” label serves not much more than to put people in neat little boxes. It denies their humanity and does not acknowledge the environmental factors that led them to adopt what were, essentially, coping mechanisms that worked “at the time” but no longer serve them.

I just happened upon an alternative term in a book I started reading last night (serendipitously after starting to write this post); “de-selfing”. The book is by John Bradshaw, “Bradshaw On: The Family”. The author isn’t so fond of the term “co-dependency”, either, for similar reasons. These so-called “co-dependent” behaviors arose because we sacrificed parts of ourselves to survive, and they became ingrained habits, hence the use of the term “de-selfing”. De-selfing talks more about the underlying processes that leads to these unhealthy coping strategies.

Speaking for myself… A couple of examples.

I dieted obsessively because my own mother, not to mention my classmates, criticized my weight. I tried to be different than who I was to avoid the pain of derision and bullying. By the time I started dieting, I’d lived through a good six years of regular name-calling and in some cases, shunning.

I bottled up my emotions because my parents, particularly my father, verbally attacked me for crying or expressing anger from a young age. I internalized what I was feeling to avoid abuse.

It’s like the story about training elephants. Tie them to a stake when they’re young and small, a stake they cannot move, and when they’re grown, they will still believe that the now little stake (that they would now be easily able to move) will hold them fast. The elephant has been de-selfed in order for the trainer to maintain control.

I don’t know if elephants can be retrained to recognize their own strength, but I believe that we humans have that capacity.

TED.com recently featured a Canadian poet named Shane Koyczan. This presentation of his spoken word poem, “To This Day,” was nothing short of electrifying. This poem is about bullying, but it absolutely applies here; bullying, like other forms of abuse or neglect, can profoundly affect its victims… and as we saw recently in the case of Amanda Todd, even to the death.

In order to find ourselves, maybe even for the first time, we need to get to the point of believing…


Ditching negative labels, or “bad names” if you will, like “co-dependent”, and focusing instead on recognizing unhelpful patterns (including where they originated) and changing them, is far more empowering. Keep on keeping on, my friends.


2 comments on “Trashing “Co-dependency”

  1. Ah yes, I saw this here the other night and I loved it! Thank you for finding this and sharing it…I am not sure if I’m responding in the correct space, now that I’ve come to your blog I see I have been here before, I recognize the video and the ‘WP’ theme, almost chose it myself…lol…as per codependency, I’m not a fan of the term…I think it has more to do with repetition compulsion; however, being far enough removed from the intensity of emotions that come with the hard-core recovery aspects, I find that I myself am quite fickle in opinions and I allow myself to be only because this is all really a process of ‘discovery’ and sadly as much as I profess to have ‘found truth’ another thing finds it’s way slipping out of the box and I find I have to reformulate my opinion…I take comfort in knowing that NO ONE has the answers, it takes the pressure off, but find discussion and bouncing it all around a useful tool…who on earth knows hey?..but to be honest, the one thing I really haven’t budged on is the codependency thing…I haven’t been able to find anything ‘concrete’ on it…but I suppose there are some who by definition fit the label, just not anyone that I’ve dealt with even though initially they did believe they were….but even thinking about my last statement, even that is not really true as in general, virtually everything we think we know is theory, not necessarily fact…so I presume it’s back to the drawing board…<3 Hugs!

  2. The word codependency has been abused, certainly, but it still serves a function. The way i see it, there are three types of codependents: 1. Situational — these people are just regular people trapped in a living situation that forces them to deal with problems in someone else’s life or mind. It’s their situation that is codependent, not themselves. 2. Compulsive-controlled — these are the ones who run from one abusive, controlling person, usually an addict, to another, never understanding why they keep being abused, never realizing that they are drawn to what should be warning signs, because they are seeking a chance to prove the original situation was not their fault. 3. Compulsive-controlling — these are the ones who run from one addict to another but they are the ones being abusive and controlling, and they pursue uninterested people and work hard at winning them over, then drain the life out of the people they “love” and “want to help” while thinking that any sign of individuality on the addicts’ part is an instance of the addict controlling the codependent. Type 3 is what I think needs to be addressed today, because it’s gone under the radar for a long time now. These Type 3 codependents see themselves as victims when they are really the abusers. They were abuse din the past, and they project that memory on people who are doing nothing but trying to cope with the codependents’ behavior. They give you the shirt off their backs, and “assume you would know” it’s “naturally” attached to a post in their dark cellars. They crawl in your window, scaring you to death when you’re sick in bed, to bring you expensive medicines. They read your diary on the second date, “to make sure you’re OK.” Normal people don’t accept that kind of behavior, but the people Type #s are attracted to tend to be impaired and take far too long to see the abnormality.

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