Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More
An ancient quote from Rabbi Hillel in the Talmud goes as follows:
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?"
There is a type of person who comes to the office for a consultation because they are depressed and anxious about a life situation that dominates their life. While the details of the situation presented may vary from one patient to the next overall they have a lot in common. In all of these situations, the patient feels controlled by an individual who presents problems that seem to defy any problem solving. Upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the patient is defiant of solutions for basically the same reasons, regardless of who they are.
Beginning with the first line of Hillel’s quote, these are patients who are "not for themselves." Most everyone is familiar with the type of people who spend their lives taking care of others while ignoring themselves. In the terms of Alcoholic’s Anonymous these people who fail to care for themselves while sacrificing for others are "Codependent." This concept of co-dependence does not need to be related to drug or alcohol abuse.
So, what is codependence?
I highly recommend Codependent No More, a popular book written by Melody Beattie. According to the author, "a codependent person is someone who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior." (Codependent No More, page 36).
Does this sound familiar to you? Please do not feel ashamed because many people fit the definition of the codependent person. The codependent individual devotes is entire life to this other person in a hopeless attempt to keep them safe and healthy. Because the attempt at controlling the behavior of another person is always futile, the codependent becomes slowly slides into feelings of fear and despondency. The solution for those afflicted with codependence is an enigma because it involves doing the very thing they do not want to do: put and end to their attempts at control and allow the other person to take responsibility for their own behavior.
Why Is It So Difficult for the Codependent to Change?
Most of the people with whom I have worked, over the years, who were afflicted with codependence, presented their problems with the misguided belief that if it were not for this one individual, they would be free to enjoy their lives. In point of fact, most if not all the examples that come to mind in my experience, were individuals who went from one codependent relationship to another. Perhaps it all started during their young adulthood when they felt responsible for a sibling, parent or grandparent who was ill, alcoholic or drug abusing. The point is that these persons learned, early on, that they had better care for others for fear of suffering terrible losses. The fear was that the sibling, parent or grandparent might commit suicide, over dose or become victimized by some unknown others.
Men are fully capable of becoming codependent but, in my experience, women suffer from this to a much greater extent. The reason for this is the simple fact that females are raised to be nurturing of others. There is a social expectation that females will care for others. It is not uncommon for one of the female siblings among a group of brothers and sisters to become the caretaker for elderly parents.
Adults Cannot Be Controlled
The bottom line is that adults cannot be controlled. Marriage and family do not mean control. In the rearing of children there is a normal progression of the individual from helpless infant to the gradual and steady development of the person into an independent and autonomous adult. For autonomy to happen there needs to be the development of confidence in the child that they are capable of handling age appropriate situations as they come up. Ultimately, parents must let go so that their young adult children can take control of their own lives.
All of this means that the alcoholic and the drug abuser must come to come to terms with their disease and seek help on their own initiative. All of this means that each of us has a right to live our own lives without feeling controlled by other adults who may attempt to use their addictions, depressions, anxieties or other illnesses to limit us for the sake of covering for them or providing for them the things they should be doing for themselves.
Are you taking care of yourself? If not now, when?
What are your experiences with codependence? Your opinions and experiences are welcome and encouraged.