When we think of codependence we think of it in terms of its association with substance dependence. We think of a partner who is codependent with a substance dependent partner. But this is not the case. Codependence can be a condition and state of being and dealing with life all on its own.
Codependence comes about from being raised in less-than-nurturing family systems where certain parental practices that are approved by society, or considered normal, actually tend to impair the growth and development of the child and lead to the development of codependence! Some of these practices, in a nutshell, include too rigid or too permissive parenting, or a combination of these. How this happens is beyond the scope of this article, but here is an introduction to some basic codependence concepts (borrowed from Facing Codependence by Pia Mellody).
The codependence experience manifests itself in two clusters of operating and being. The first, is characterized by people experiencing normal human emotions of shame, fear, pain, and anger with such magnification that they are always in a heightened emotional state. These people usually find themselves overreacting to everyday experiences and having feelings far more excessive than warranted by a given situation. These people’s experience is colored by feeling anxious, out of control and irrational, dysfunctional, and/or crazy.
The second cluster is characterized by people having the opposite experience. The normal human emotions are so minimized and repressed that they hardly experience their feelings at all including positive ones such as love, joy, pleasure, or contentment. They numbly go through life and hide behind rationale and logic.
People who deal with life through codependence, manage their existence by being perfect and constantly trying to do things better. They think they should make those around them happy and, when they can’t, they feel somehow less than others, as if they don’t measure up, and are not good-enough. Sometimes their perfectionism is so strong that they are also plagued by procrastination appearing to under function and therefore feeding into their feelings of inadequacy… They try to please and seek approval, which in turn places others in charge of their happiness. When the approval, acknowledgement or appreciation is not given, they become furious – a feeling they can’t always share or show because they are trying to please!
They might then repress their rage which finds a different outlet in the form of sarcasm, criticism, gibes, picking, micromanaging, forgetfulness, ambivalence, or other passive-aggressive behaviors including possibly developing addictions and/or other compulsive behaviors. They might also hold in the rage for a while, but eventually let out their wrath. Usually these people appear to be gentle, caring and helpful, but underneath it all is their powerful need to control and manipulate those around them to give the approval and validation that is salve to their inflamed feelings.
This shows up in relationships in that both partners exhibit codependence traits, usually opposite in nature, where one partner has maximizing tendencies and the other minimizing tendencies. Respectively, one partner appears very emotional (other and relationship focused) and the other very logical (fearing intimacy)… The partners tend to take things personally, be hyper sensitive to criticism, assign negative motive and mind read, take on each other’s mood, thoughts and attitudes, be reactive and experience their relationship as being stuck and going around in circles.
These couples do not derive much pleasure from their relationship as their energy is spent constantly fighting their own demons, dealing with their exaggerated or dismissed experience and their impact, trying to get a handle on the last interaction gone awry and trying to figure out how to be in a nurturing connection with their loved one. Phew! That’s exhausting! Not to fret – there is light at the end of the tunnel. Here is a basic starter tip for each partner:
For the Maximizer: Learn how to soothe your own self and your feelings, and contain them (thicken your invisible boundary around your self and choose what goes out and how, and what you allow in – less is better)
For the Minimizer: Learn how to get in touch with your self and your feelings, and express them (loosen your thick boundary around your self and choose what goes out and how, and what you allow in – more is better)
Go ahead, start working your self and bringing your composed and available self to your relationship with your partner! Start deriving some pleasure from your relationship and enjoying your partner!!
Happy Facing Codependence!!