BY DAVID RICKEY — From a psychological perspective, codependence is an issue of inappropriate boundaries.
The codependent person has difficulty experiencing adequate separation. As Paul Kaihla describes in the previous installment, you are so psychically plugged into someone else that you experience anxiety any time that person—your partner, mother, brother, lover, whomever—is suffering, or you’re afraid they will suffer.
Your emotional state bounces up and down like a yo-yo in response to the “tug” of the other, or you are constantly evaluating your own choices based on how you think the other person will be affected. That anxiety limits your ability to grow and individuate (a psych term of art for ‘feeling who you are’).
The reason: you imbibe a “reality” that your well-being is dependent on the well-being of the Other — “I won’t be OK, if you’re not OK.” It’s a logical extension to then believe that you can insure your own well-being by ensuring the well-being of the Other, who will then ostensibly return the favor. The tacit emotional bargain becomes: “I’ll allow you to be OK, but you will make me OK.”
As an earlier slide about the Enneagram and Type 2 “Helpers” describes, the “I” in the codependent person believes that he or she is un-loveable in-and-for-themselves, and therefore needs the “Other” to make them feel OK.
Both of these ways of being derive from inadequate “individuation” in childhood. The illusion of needing to control the external world is produced by two factors: the early experience of absolute dependence, coupled with (age-appropriate) undeveloped boundaries — and a high level of experienced stress.
You are locked in a relationship.
The key that turns that lock into position with a co-conspirator: an “other” who has learned to manipulate a codependent relationship to their own benefit. Remember, the dilemma of being on a see-saw and wanting to get off, but knowing that the other kid will fall if you do?
As long as they don’t take responsibility for their end, you feel responsible for both ends.
The “solution” comes — again, as the “confession” in the previous panel illustrates — when you become conscious of the mechanisms, and choose to “push through” to a new experience of separateness, in the sense that you take responsibility for your own well-being (they won’t!). Experience the “other” as, actually, other.
The willingness to tolerate the inner anxiety from that move, while exercising separateness, blows the illusion — and ultimately leap-frogs a growth beyond codependency.
If this spoke to you, here are five similar articles.
- Addicted to the addict: The anatomy of codependence
- The spiritual solution to codependence
- The Parent Trap: Setting the stage for codependence
- A Book that Changed Me: How to be an Adult in Relationships
- Barack Obama, John McCain and the presidential politics of codependence