Co-Dependency: I’ll Scratch Your Back If You’ll Scratch Mine

Co-dependent: I’m quick to use the term. It’s not so easy to define, though. I’ve been trying for better than a decade to find just the right words. It seems most psychology publications are in the same boat as me.

PsychCentral defines it as “a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.” So really, they provided two definitions, not just one.

GoodTherapy.org breaks it down with a good ol’ list (because we love bullets) and explains that the “old” way of thinking was that everyone’s feelings were centered on one person’s addictive behaviors. Now co-dependence is recognized in much broader terms to include the role of caregiving, denial of personal problems, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt when offered help or attention from others, sensitivity to criticism, perfectionism and fear of failure, a projection of competence and a need to control others.

But the definition from GoodTherapy.org doesn’t make clear that there has to be at least two people in the relationship to make it co-dependent. At least one of the parties has to have low self-esteem and be sensitive to criticism and project a false sense of competence, and have support and attention from another party to continue carrying on with those behaviors. And let’s be clear, here: both or all parties can be co-dependent upon each other. Mothers and daughters, friends, teachers and students, lovers. Of course, some relationships are much more intimate and lasting than others.

Here is a comprehensive list from CoDA.org (Co-Dependents Anonymous.org):

Patterns and Characteristics of Co-Dependence; Co-dependents often:
• have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
• minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
• perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
• lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
• label others with their negative traits.
• think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
• mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
• express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
• do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.

Low self-esteem patterns; Co-dependents often:
• are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
• compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
• put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
• are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
• are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
• accept sexual attention when they want love.
• make decisions without regard to the consequences.
• give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.

Control patterns; Co-dependents often:
• believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
• attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel.
• freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
• become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
• lavish gifts and favors on those they want to influence.
• use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance.
• have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
• demand that their needs be met by others.
• use charm and charisma to convince others of their capacity to be caring and compassionate.
• use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally.
• refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate.
• adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes.
• use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others.
• pretend to agree with others to get what they want.

Avoidance patterns; Co-dependents often:
• act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them.
• judge harshly what others think, say, or do.
• avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.
• allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships.
• use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation.
• diminish their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery.
• suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
• pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.
• refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves.
• believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness.
• withhold expressions of appreciation.

As I revisit the definitions, I evaluate first my own behavior, but also a few specific relationships near me (that I have to be careful not to become too invested in, though I tend to become protective and outraged when I spot misbehavior). I think that the actual name “co-dependency” will be adjusted within the next 5-10 years, though what it will morph into will be a great mystery.

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Unhooked Generation – The Book

Originally published in my MySpace Blog, 2/10/2008.

Unhooked Generation by Jillian Straus

The woman that wrote the book was not a clinical psychologist; she was only a woman in her 30’s wondering why it seemed so much more difficult for people in our generation to find lasting love.  She traveled to different locations around the U.S. to interview random people that responded to her ads posted in free newspapers and Craigslist.  Some points really hit home for me.

1.  Do you make a list?  I know a man who has listed 42 qualities his future partner must have.  I even have a list myself, though it doesn’t go up to 42:  must pay his own bills and not try to steal my money; must bathe at least daily; must brush teeth 1+ times a day; must be nice to me.  Some standards are reasonable, I think, and some absolutely no one can live up to.  I don’t even think I can list 42 qualities about myself, so how do I know if I fit that manifest my friend created?  Oh, and once you have your grocery list made, then you can go shopping on eHarmony or Match or Plenty of Fish to make your selection.  Like a piece of meat.  What ends up happening is that we reject everything, which leads to….

2.  Why suffer?  If I don’t like something, or if it isn’t working for me, why not just cut it off and be done with it instead of beating myself up trying to make it work?  Relationships ARE work.  Or at least they require effort.  Expecting for things to just fall into place is unrealistic, and bailing is the easy way out.  I have absolutely been quick to jump ship but can honestly say that I’ve never regretted doing so.  I just don’t put up with any juvenile bullshit anymore.  Of course, the “why suffer” mentality is one of the main reasons that couples get divorced; think about it:  how many marriages do you know about that have lasted for less than a year?  I can think of 7 of my friends right at this moment.  Is it that they’re picking the wrong partners, or just giving up too easily?

3.   Fear of making the wrong choice:  let’s talk about the guy with the 42 requirements again.  He repeatedly says that he never wants to commit, because what if the next person that comes along is a better match for him?  He’ll never, ever be happy, I guarantee you that.

4.  Never allowing yourself to connect because you are afraid to fail at marriage.  Wow, this is a big one – I have always said that if I’m crazy enough to get married, it will be only once.  Half of the interviewees said they were afraid of failing by not living up to the seemingly seamless relationship their parents have, or failing by turning out just like their divorced parents.  I’m afraid of the second one myself.  No one goes into a relationship thinking that it’s going to fail, but it’s another thing to think that you’re not even going to allow someone to get close so there is no opportunity to fail.

5.  Losing our gender identities.  Yes, women’s lib was a blessing, I will bang the drum about that one all day long.  It’s what allows me to be a single woman in my 30’s [now 40’s] with a career and the ability to stand on my own.  But……..I could really use a mate who knows how to work on cars.  And by the way, can he also like going to art museums, and cry at mushy movies too?  But I don’t want him to open the freaking door for me, I have two arms and two legs and can manage on my own.  But can he still pay for dinner, because he’s the man?  I can say that I want a really strong, stoic man who can build a house but still tear up over “Love, Actually”, but how realistic is that?  It’s a bunch of mixed messages that lead to misunderstanding because one person gets pissed off that the other one didn’t pick up the check.  It is every man for himself, I tell ya – because there are no boundaries on the gender roles anymore.  Better brush up on your communication skills.

6.  Technology.  How easy is it to erase someone from your cell phone, and therefore your life?  How easy is it to send e-mails and instant messages, but never talk on the phone or see each other face to face?  We’re definitely disconnected and our spelling skills are becoming atrocious – because we are lazy.  And scared.

This is one of the few relationship/self-help books that I’ve read from cover to cover – usually I get bored pretty easily or can’t relate to what the message is.  This one is fascinating because I have so many single friends, just like me, wondering what in the hell is going on.  If you recognize any of these factors within yourself, this may be an interesting read for you too.
[Disclaimer: Since it’s now 10 years old, some references are going to be outdated, but the ideas are still relevant.]

 

Modern Love: It’s Not Only Me

In early 2008, shortly after I had knee surgery, I let a new friend talk me into hitting the bars in Tempe to go dancing. It was laparoscopic surgery so it was pretty non-invasive, but I had all kinds of problems. They had already taken 2 litres of fluid off of it over the course of 3 visits, and then when I had too much fluid taken away, I had to have non-chicken-based synovial fluid injected in (I’m allergic to raw eggs). It took me an entire year to be able to straighten out my leg, even after five months of physical therapy.

Anyway, I digress; I went out for a night of dancing. Already I felt much older than everyone else at 34, when most of the crowd was 21-23, including my friend. Let me tell you, those young boys were not shy! One guy was just about stripped down from the waist up and he decided he was going to bump and grind all over my booty. I had to tell him to calm the fuck down because of my bad knee, so he just decided to hold onto my hips tighter while he pretended to bang me from behind.

I finally got away from him and had about two songs before a tall, lanky, tipsy drunk young man started dancing on me. I had an even harder time with him! He kept banging into my knee. After a while, I had enough. I convinced my friend it was time to go.

I didn’t know my friend did this, but she would read the “Missed Connections” portion of Craigslist for entertainment. She called me one night and said, “Holy crap, C., this is you!!”

Sure enough, a guy, aged 24, considered me a “missed connection” – meaning I didn’t give him my phone number when I headed out, basically. In the ad he wrote about how he “protected” my knee from everyone else. (Drunkass, you did no such thing.) I emailed him back and we traded a few emails, but I couldn’t pretend to be very interested. He was still at the binge-drinking phase.

The very first episode I listened to on Modern Love: The Podcast had to do with one woman’s experience with the “Missed Connections” section. It’s a short piece, especially if you just listen to the story and not the interview afterwards.

https://www.wbur.org/2016/01/20/missed-connection-modern-love