Archive for the ‘Co-dependency’ Category

Last week, I had the insight that, I may be co-dependent.  In the past, I have rejected co-dependency as professional jargon, but last week, something told me to check it out; I did, and I’ve decided that it is a useful construct.  The term co-dependency grew out of the Alcoholics’ Anonymous Movement, along with the understanding that, the alcoholic was not the only part of the equation.  In essence, co-dependency is excessive caretaking at significant personal expense.   It is learned behavior that is passed on from one generation to another.  Although it took me almost a lifetime to admit it; my father had a drinking problem when he was younger, which is, obviously, a risk factor.

As I write this, I am also reminded of female gender socialization; in other words, females, across cultures are socialized to be caretakers of their children and their men.  Then, there are the expectations in some cultures (like Hispanic and Asian) that family come first.  I started wondering about all of this, because I have noticed that I spend most of my mental energy thinking about others.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to imply that I am a martyr, since there is always a pay-off.  Thinking about others distracts  me from taking responsibility for myself.  For example, when I was on tenure-track at Michigan, I would stop my work, or whatever else I was doing, to answer a phone call.  Abandoning your routine to respond to somebody else is one of the symptoms of co-dependency, according to Melodie Beattie in Co-Dependent No More. It took me years, and I am not kidding about this, to figure out that I could choose not to answer, or if I did, that I could say, “I’m busy, can I call you back?”  And, although I am far better than I was back then, I still other-escape.  Feeling compelled to help people solve their problems is another one of my symptoms, which may be why I avoided clinical social work.  Instead, I was addicting to helping others as a hobby.

As I said, earlier, this behavior is learned.  In my family, my mother would put her needs aside for my father and we were supposed to as well.  Her needs, my sister’s, or mine did not matter because my father ruled the roost; this implied that we should not have needs that conflicted with my father’s, and after he died, my mother’s.  He wanted me to get an education, to marry young, have children, and to live near the family.  That, of course, was not what I wanted, so I rebelled: I left home, got a PhD, married late, and didn’t get around to having children.  I don’t mean to blame my parents, but to recognize that I have been programmed to be-other directed, and I wonder whether that is why I didn’t make active choices in my career.  I did choose to go back to school, in part as an escape, but once I did, I followed the program that was traced for me by my dissertation advisor, both to please her and to avoid struggling with getting a “real job,” one that was not a continuation of graduate school.  Fast forward, twenty-five years, and I am taking baby-steps to discern my needs and wants, making friends with uncertainty, taking leaps, and hoping that, as the saying goes, I grow wings along the way.  My mantra:  It’s all about me.  What about you?  Are you taking care of you?


Mental Health America: Co-dependency

Codependency | Melody Beattie

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