Codependency Simplified

By | October 10, 2012

In Western cultures, the ideal is to be an independent individual: think for yourself, be self-sufficient, be a leader.  Yet in the same breath we are encouraged to obey and conform.  The upshot is a stratified society, where a few lead and the rest follow. There is room for only a handful of independent thinkers, while at the same time there is unlimited space for those willing to adopt the thoughts of others.

At least, that’s the way it appears on the surface.  When we take an inside look at the relationships of those who appear to be either leaders or followers, we find a great number of cases where the followers are somehow leading the leaders, and leaders are in actuality following the followers.  Those are codependent relationships, and here’s how they work:

When one person expresses her thoughts and feelings, it is usually no more than a variation of the other person’s thoughts and feelings.  When one person does something, the other person is right alongside doing it as well, or else feeling guilty for not doing it.  When one person is sad, the other person is sad; when one is happy, the other is happy.

In a severely codependent relationship, the reverse can be true.  The sad person’s emotional vulnerability is taken advantage of by his partner, who in essence climbs on his back to feel happy.  In many relationships, the happy-sad roles periodically reverse, sometimes from minute to minute.

Codependency is endemic to our civilization—it is foundational to our beliefs and institutions. I don’t know that I’ve ever witnessed a relationship that didn’t exhibit at least some codependent tendencies. Many traditional cultures have contraries and jesters, whose role is to shine the light on codependent behaviors.  In my next post, I’ll suggest an option that can be practiced, even while being stirred into a codependency stew.

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