The Roots of Codependency

By | August 26, 2013

During a question-and-answer period at the end of one of my
childrearing workshops, a participant sheepishly admitted that he was
envious of all the attention children had received in the workshop.  I asked
what his childhood was like, and he responded that he had a perfect
childhood–his parents gave him everything he wanted.  When he asked for
something special to eat, they got it for him.  He could have friends over
whenever he wanted, and whenever he felt like going somewhere, they arranged for it. So he couldn’t understand why he was feeling as he did.

“I see,” I replied thoughtfully. “It sounds as though you had quite
a deprived childhood.  No wonder you’re jealous of the children we’ve been
talking about and wish you were one of them.”

My answer perplexed him, so I explained that it appeared as though his
parents had disempowered him by providing for his every whim. In effect,
they disconnected him from the means and ends of his own existence.  The
result is that he became a passive receptor, which did not give him the
opportunity to learn how to meet his own needs. In fact, he probably often
didn’t know his needs well enough to meet them, because he was catered to
before he was allowed to fully experience his yearning. So now as an adult,
he is left feeling needy and incapable of meeting those needs–when he can even
recognize them.

I’d be surprised, I told him, if he wasn’t yearning for the comfort
and security of his childhood.  Yet, I went on, it’s the last thing he
needed now–he needed to feel just what he was feeling so that he could
connect with his yearnings and learn how to fulfill them.  In the workshop,
we explored how children become self-actualized and develop the tools to
provide for themselves and others by experiencing discomfort. For it is in
discomfort that children find the passion and motivation to become engaged
in the processes that bring them comfort and self-knowing.


Bastian Barucker on September 1, 2013 at 10:38 am.

Hi there and thanks for the writing tamarack. I have a couple of awarenesses to add for the readers. Depending on the age of the child it can in my opinion actually be very beneficial to meet the needs of a child quickly. Speaking of the first 3 years including gestation we need to prevent children from feeling helpless if their caretakers do not respond to the subtle communication they use to get their needs met. In this age this means survival. And if repeatedly this experience is made (birth being forced by medication, screaming being unanswered, etc..) the body and every little cell get an imprint that says: “my needs will not get met and it is not worth it being alive.” Than as an adult we need others to bring sense and fullfilment to our lives. When i read about the envy of your workshop participant i have another hunch. Usually pain and also jealousy is triggered when i see something i would have wish to have when i was a child. Now in this case it is about getting attention. It seems to me that the parents might have provided for a lot of material freedom but because that is how they have learned to give attention. Maybe though it did not fullfill the core need of the child to be seen and emotionally connected with a parent that is really present and loving. Instead love was expressed by cooking special food or being really generous. It was the same for me when i was a baby. My mother provided with everything she thought i needed: fresh diaper, a dummy and my own bed. From her perspective i had everything i needed. But i kept screaming. Why? Because she was not emotionally present with me, allowing body contact, cuddling and breast feeding. She did not know, that these were my real needs. Now a days she still thinks, she needs to cook a special meal when i come to visit, but it is so hard for her to hug me in a really loving way. Guess why? It hadn´t been given to her either by her own parents. Co-dependency is the continual search for the fulfillment of our unmet needs when we needed them the most, as a baby. Back than it was a matter of survival and this imprint can be so deep that it also runs our adult life.


Tamarack on September 20, 2013 at 7:03 am.

Greetings Bastian,

I appreciate the awarenesses–they’re right on. I’d especially like to echo what you said about the needs of a child under three being about survival, from his/her perspective. And I like your definition of codependency–it not only points right to the source of the behavior, but it shows how vitally important nurturing presence is in those first years of a child’s life.


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