Codependency Begins When a Child Becomes the Parent to a Parent
“At its heart, codependency is a set of behaviors developed to manage the anxiety that comes when our primary attachments are formed with people who are inconsistent or unavailable in their response to us. Our anxiety-based responses to life can include over-reactivity, image management, unrealistic beliefs about our limits, and attempts to control the reality of others to the point where we lose our boundaries, self-esteem, and even our own reality. Ultimately, codependency is a chronic stress disease, which can devastate our immune system and lead to systemic and even life-threatening illness.” Mary Crocker Cook
It is believed that 34,000,000 of us grew up in alcoholic homes in the United States. Add to that all the other addictions and few of us were reared in homes governed by mental health. Mental health is ever fluid and not a fixed position for any of us. Other disorders that may have interfered with the mental health of the family are: perfectionism, materialism, overeating, gambling, religious fanatics, sexual disorders, power, codependency, depression, workaholism, etc.
Anyone growing up in these family conditions will have problems with intimacy, boundaries and difficulty expressing feelings. Helping others must be in dealing with these three areas. Talking about your past does very little to help with today. The first time anyone talks about an incident in the past is the only valuable disclosure. From this disclosure can come the seeds of today’s solutions. But living there–either in therapy or in a false reality–does little to help us with today. Bad therapy is talking about yesterday continually.
Living in the here-and-now is the only direction for mental and emotional recovery. Realizing what is beautiful about today helps to make life meaningful. If we are living in the past we can’t be in the present. The recovery only works if it is focused on living in today.
We are probably all codependent at one time or another. It is only harmful when it is the basic relationship pattern. It happens sometimes that another person gets more of our attention than we are giving to ourselves. But the codependent uses concern to gain power over others in the classic position of “top-dog”. Codependency is a pattern of loving someone excessively in order to control the other person.
Healthy relationships have shared power. Shared power in relationships is the only ingredient in relationships that determines how healthy the union is. Unfortunately, when a person decides to give up his/her addiction, if he/she is part of a couple, the other partner will also usually have to change also. Without the addiction to feed the addict’s false sense of reality, the recovering person is awakened to the reality of the power balance in the relationship.
The addict is addicted to the idea that he/she is “controlling” the addiction (“I can quit anytime I want to.”). The codependent is addicted to the belief that he/she is “controlling” the addict (by telling them when to drink/use–how to drink/use–how much to drink/use, etc.). The reality is that the addiction is in control and is controlling both partners.
“Most Adult Children report that they have always felt that they were a “mess” deep down and have protected themselves and others from the embarrassment of seeing or feeling that “mess.” They have felt alone in a crowd or isolated all their lives. They have taken care of others compulsively, but never let others care for them. They have sought out relationships where needs weren’t possible, or intimacy could never be achieved. Children of Alcoholics tend to have caseloads, not friends, and feel that they have to work harder than anyone else—to be more perfect, tougher, or more independent and in control. They feel they must hide the craziness they feel inside, and they must earn the right to have relationships or merely live in the world like everyone else.” Jane Middelton-Moz
Codependency helps to create and foster addiction as well as addiction creates and fosters codependency. This is a family system experience. The addiction/codependency relationship needs each other to complete the cycle.
Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her poems–“the soul selects her own society–then shuts the door”. The power in a relationship is divided or debated from that first glance. The people that we meet and with whom we instantly feel comfortable are those with whom we share the power.
Unfortunately what many call “excitement” is the game of control. In A Course of Miracles, we learn that our two main feelings are love or fear. If we are trapped in our fear, we can’t be offering love.
In case that we want to deceive ourselves about our “loving” motives, the test is that if you are coming in the name of love, there will be no resistance. The resistance from the other person is a reflection of our fear and proves that we are trying to control.
If we are in a tug of war with someone, we can let go of our end of the rope. With the freed energy from letting go, we can then join the “enemy” to find a better way of relating to each other. Sometimes, when you let go of your end of the rope, the other person never reconnects because controlling you was his/her only interest in you.
“Codependence means we are depending on something outside of ourselves to provide our sense of wellbeing and are not being true to ourselves and our own feelings. As long as we keep believing that we can make someone else happy or that someone else has the power to make us happy, we are setting ourselves up for frustration, failure, and possibly victimization.” Roz Van Meter
Codependency–the addiction of power–begins in childhood. Over 34 million Americans grow up in an alcoholic home. Add to those the millions who grew up with families dominated by an adult with another addiction: power, control, money, work, sex, food, etc. All addictions do the same to the families of the addict.
We develop being codependent by becoming the parent to an emotionally needy parent. When I was home from school at lunch and my parents would have violent fights, the whole way walking back to school I used to cry that I couldn’t rescue my mom. But I was a child. Why wasn’t she rescuing me?
The children learn to discount their own feelings; they learn to be the parent to the addict’s child; they learn not to trust; they learn to be ashamed. But, most of all, they learn they are not important. Any good feelings from the parents come from dwelling on the obsessions of the adults–bound together in the whirlwind of addiction.
“Addicts (which include almost everyone on some level) really want others to believe that they do not have a problem.” Wayne Dyer