Codependency is a topic that is constantly discussed in relationship psychology and addiction groups. It is treated as a dysfunction or a psychological disorder, much like narcissism. Codependency and narcissism go hand in hand. Codependency is not something that can be briefly explained because it is an entire style or way of having relationships. It is a style of relationship to oneself, the world and the other people in the world. It is a style that is engrained early on in childhood and maintained into adulthood. It is the byproduct of adapting to dysfunctional human relationships. But I have bad news for you. Dysfunctional relationships are in fact the most common style of relationship today. They are the rule, not the exception.
A dysfunctional relationship is a relationship in which needs are met in ways that are destructive to the wellbeing of either person involved in the relationship. For example, a person may learn to meet their own needs for closeness by denying their personal truth. Or a person may meet their need to never be abandoned by keeping someone sick so they can’t ever leave because they are dependent on the caretaking they receive. Or a person may meet the other person’s need to feel good about themselves by keeping themselves small. The list could be five miles long of all the ways that a relationship could be dysfunctional in nature. A codependent relationship, and the style of relationship that a person we call codependent exhibits, is dysfunctional in nature. It is destructive to their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the person they are in a relationship with. We can only say that dependency has anything to do with codependency if the way we are depending on someone is destructive to our self or to them.
But there is a common misconception that people have relative to codependency that I want to dispel today. That concept is that codependency is about being too dependent on other people. The fact is I really wish the name for this style of relationships would be changed because it implies that dependency is the problem. In fact many people define codependency as an excessive reliance on a partner. This is actually not the case. Where they are getting this from is that people with a codependent style of being have a very poor sense of self. Their relationship strategy is to give themselves up in order to be in relationship, which never works. It just makes for a horribly painful and destructive relationship.
Those of us who inhabit the Western world have an addiction to independence. We are raised that having needs met by others makes us pathetic, powerless and weak. Many people in the Eastern world however are not raised with this belief. To understand this dynamic of dependence and independence, I suggest you watch some of my videos in order to be well versed on the subject. These videos are: Dependence Vs. Independence, Self Trust Vs. Independence, How Has It Come To This (The Societal Collapse Into Independence)? and Using People (Ask Teal Episode About Interdependence).
Whether you like it or not, you are completely dependent and you are also at the same time incapable of being dependent. In this universe, all is one. This means you are completely dependent on the food you eat to stay alive. You couldn’t be independent unless you ate yourself for breakfast. But that is also at a higher level of reality, exactly what you are doing. If all is one, then by eating the food on your plate this morning, you did eat yourself. So it is impossible to be dependent on anything other than you.
It is extremely open to interpretation to what degree depending on others is healthy and to what degree it is unhealthy. And it varies as well from case to case. For one person, depending on someone for something would be destructive to them or the other person in some way. For another, depending on someone for that very same thing would not be destructive to them or the other person in any way. This is the difference between symbiosis and unhealthy dependency.
For example, we might say that it is really unhealthy to depend on someone to the degree that they have to do everything for us, like brush our teeth for us and get us dressed and feed us. This may be destructive to our own sense of capability and empowerment. But what if you are a child? What if you are paraplegic? Suddenly being dependent in these ways is not destructive, it is both necessary and also beneficial. We can therefore be in a fully symbiotic and not dysfunctional relationship if we find someone to be dependent on for those things, whose life is enhanced by doing those things instead of diminished by doing those things.
Another example is that we could say it is not healthy in a marriage for our partner to dedicate their life to our life. It could be dysfunctional if their focus is constantly on our career success and our needs and our wellbeing. But what if we are a politician or a person in a similar excessively demanding position? When this is the case, that kind of thing is exactly what we need in a partner. A relationship becomes dysfunctional the minute that we find ourselves with a partner who is made unhappy by being dedicated to us in that way. But if dedicating oneself to someone in this way enhances a person’s sense of happiness and purpose, it is perfectly functional. Lots of dysfunction in relationships owes itself to incompatibility. For more information about this, watch my video titled: Incompatibility (a Harsh Reality In Relationships).
Because we all come from different life circumstances and need different things in order to heal and we all find ourselves in different positions in life, our needs will be different. What may be dysfunctional for someone else may be perfectly healthy for us and vice versa. I have met couples who do not spend one minute apart and haven’t for years upon years who are perfectly functional and where being with each other all the time is not destructive to either person in any way. I have also met people who are with each other all the time and for them, it is dysfunctional and is destructive to one or both people.
It is always easy to project our own judgments about what we think is healthy or destructive onto them. We do this all the time without really seeing them and hearing them and feeling them and understanding them. I can guarantee you that if you really are able to perceive another person’s reality, your idea of what is healthy or destructive for them will change.
The elements of a dysfunctional relationship can only be called dysfunctional if they are destructive to either or both people involved in a relationship. This should be the primary concern within a relationship.
It is important to accept that codependency is not about how much time you spend with someone or the degree to which you depend on them. It is about the desperate and very real need for needs to be met, such as self-esteem, companionship and closeness, and the superbly unhealthy ways we go about trying to often manipulatively achieve those needs.