Codependency is an established way of behaving and communicating that we learn from our environment throughout our life. Many of these patterns of communication and behavior are at the level of the unconscious so we are not aware of them and can result in relationship problems at work and at home.
Because codependency is often discussed within the context of addiction and recovery, there is a large misconception that it only relates to these issues, when in fact codependency in relationships often occurs as a result of very “normal” family environments.
How Codependency Develops
We develop codependency by growing up and living in a system (a family). Systems are by nature, homeostatic which means their functioning is designed to sustain “the system” over the development of the identity of its’ members.
The system may have been developed in response to some problem such as alcoholism or mental illness. Perhaps the system developed according to particular doctrines or philosophies that may or may not be congruent with all its members. In these cases and in others, the family system determines the rules it’s members live by
Rules are sanctioned world view, communication and behavior for functioning within and without the system. Rules may or may not be spoken aloud but the expectation to follow them and the consequence of not following them remains the same.
A system’s rules may include:
- It’s not okay to talk about problems
- Feelings should not be expressed openly; keep them to yourself
- Communication is best if indirect; one person acts as messenger between two others
- Be strong, good, right, perfect
- Make us proud beyond realistic expectations
- Don’t be selfish
- It’s not okay to play or be playful
- Don’t rock the boat
These kinds of rules can constrict and strain the free and healthy development of people’s identity (world-view, self-concept and sense of self worth). As a result, children grow up with a lack of understanding of their truth and an inability to sort out their reality from the reality and rules of the system. Because they are unaware of their identity and act out of the systems identity, their behavior is incongruent with their true self and this is the source of the codependent’s existential pain.
Need for External Validation
Codependent men and women look to external sources to validate their false identity.
External sources can include: other people, authority, material conditions, social and religious rules.
Because codependents do not function from their true identity they are not in touch with their own wants and needs. To cope with the rules, expectations and pain of being personally incongruent, members of these systems develop strategies for survival and functioning.
Unfortunately, at this point many are still unaware of the effects of the system on their development. Their coping strategies are developed within the same “system” and as a result are often made up of non-helpful behavior, problems solving techniques, and reactions to situations in adult life.
For the average person needing external validation means “I don’t know who I am, my life is full of unmanageable situations, uncontrollable emotions, ineffective coping strategies and I don’t remember choosing any of it.”
To relieve the pain, we medicate our way out of it or punish someone for it. When we have had enough of the pain we seek help – for many this is a point of extreme disillusionment, anger and self blame.
If these dynamics are at play in your life or relationships, I want to affirm that you are not “crazy” and this is not all “just in your head” rather, there is a very clear answer for why you are where you are and why you are who you are.
The road to recovery is about figuring out who you are within and without all the confusing rules, roles, beliefs and expectations and then having the courage to face the system’s response to you being who you are.
Recovery and revelation of self is the most intimate personal journey of all. As challenging as it may seem, it is a journey that most of us have to take before we can leave the planet. I assure you the sooner you undertake it, the more pleasant your stay.