21st Century Codependence
Here is Stephanie Tucker’s basic explanation of codependence extracted from her workbook:
Historically, the term codependency or codependence was used to refer to the significant other of an active alcoholic. That’s because it became apparent that just as the alcoholic suffered from distinct symptoms, the dependent family members also shared in a unique pattern of behavior. Namely, tools of compensation and ultra-controlling behaviors used in an attempt to resolve the alcoholic’s problem.
The definition, as we understand it today (2010), applies to much broader situations, although codependence is most obvious in the addiction cycle. For our purposes, we are going to define codependence as: “a set of learned coping skills used to function in an environment that is imbalanced and dysfunctional. It is a counterfeit method of expressing love and engaging in healthy, spiritually based relationships. Codependence manifests itself in a variety of behaviors, but the driving factor of a codependent is an internal brokenness.
In truth, codependence can develop or exist wherever relationships (past or current) are love deficient. It also occurs when we look for something from the outside to fill a void we have on the inside. Since that inner void can be filled only by God, a codependent unknowingly attempts to put a person, situation, or thing in Jesus’s place. Before getting overwhelmed by that definition, recognize that, by default, all human beings do this to varying degrees.
Additionally, Melody Beattie wrote in her book, The New Codependence:
In my earlier book, Codependent No More (1986), I defined a codependent person as ‘one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.’ But I now know that codependency is about more than that (although controlling and obsessing are good places to start).
While alcoholism in the family can help create codependency, it isn’t essential (as was originally believed). How do we know whether to call codependency a disease or a problem? Does it help to call ourselves sick when we already suffer from low self-worth? The behaviors associated with codependency make perfect sense if we look closely enough. It’s understandable that we would confuse control with love when control is all we’ve known. It makes sense that we think controlling will keep us safe, because it did – for a while. All codependent behaviors make sense if traced to their origins.
Altered Through the Generations
In the words of Melody Beattie: “Codependency hasn’t disappeared. It’s wearing new faces and using different names.”
Although I believe that the presence of generational shame in today’s society had its origins in the World War II generation, I can only assume that a similar claim could have been made by earlier generations in response to the dysfunction the World War I generation left in their wake. As Christians, we very much understand the Biblical origin of shame. So, no particular generation is to blame for having originated the toxic shame that plagues our society today. However, as it relates to the generations that have members living in today’s America, our understanding must have a beginning somewhere in time. Much research and study has concluded that post-World War II America is the most appropriate starting point.
Let’s look at these generational changes through the lens of experts Melody Beattie and Psychologist Dr. Perpetua Neo.
The first generation of recovering codependents (Early Baby Boomers) had parents who endured the Great Depression, fought in World War I or II, or suffered horribly from the Holocaust. Information about codependency wasn’t in the consciousness yet; we didn’t have a name for the problem or a solution. These first-generation codependents had martyrdom and deprivation embedded into their DNA. Their parents had been through a lot.
Many second-generation codependents (Generation X), born in the 1970s and 80s, have parents who wanted to make sure their children had everything they (the parents) didn’t get. When Gen Xers become parents themselves, they began taking it a step further, attempting to protect their children from every problem and emotion. This created codependents with the opposite of deprivation – a sense of over-entitlement, over-protection, and inflated self-esteem that often crossed the line into narcissism. They expected life to be easier than it really was, and they wanted everything done for them no matter how they behaved. Then they become depressed and confused when they didn’t get what they believed they deserved.
Today’s most prevalent version of a codependent (often Millennials) is a person who puts the needs of their partner in front of their own needs because they have built their identity upon that relationship. Present-day examples of codependency center around unhealthy relationships with toxic people, or those who are nontoxic but trigger our codependent behaviors. Codependency is no longer limited to just romantic or family relationships as they once were. It now spills over into our friendships and work relationships as well.
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