Identifying the problem.
Today we cite and paraphrase widely from the book Co-Dependence:Healing the Human Condition by Charles Whitfield.
I am aware of more recent work on Co-dependency which I will get to in time but I want to start with this book because it is clearly written and seems to know what it is on about.
What is Co-dependence?
“Co-dependence is a disease of lost selfhood.
Co-dependents becomes so preoccupied with others that they neglect their True Self – who they really are.
…dysfunction…associated with… focusing on the needs and behaviour of others…we lost touch with what is inside us; our beliefs, thoughts, feelings…wants, needs. sensations, intuitions…part of an exquisite feedback system that we can call our inner life…our True Self.
…we learn to be co-dependent from others around us…Co-dependence is fundamentally about disordered relationships.
…co-dependence comes from trying to protect our delicate True Self (Child Within) from what may appear to be insurmountable forces outside of ourselves…
…When our alive True Self goes into hiding, in order to please it’s parent figures and to survive, a false, co-dependent self emerges to take its place.
…We thus lose our awareness of our True Self…We lose contact with who we really are…
Gradually, we begin to think we are that false self…
Co-dependence…it the base out of which our other addictions and compulsions emerge…what runs them is twofold: a sense of shame that our true Self is somehow defective or inadequate, combined with the innate and healthy drive of our true Self to realize and express itself.”
- It is learned and acquired
- it is developmental.
- It is outer focused.
- It is a disease of selfhood
- It has personal boundary distortions.
- It is a feeling disorder.
- It produces relationship difficulties with self and with others.
- It is primary.
- It is chronic.
- It is progressive.
- It is malignant.
- It is treatable.
Learned and Acquired
We develop co-dependence unconsciously and involuntarily. In it’s primary form, it begins with mistreatment or abuse to a vulnerable and innocent child by it’s environment, especially it’s family of origin…it appears to come about by the following process, which I call wounding.
The Process of Wounding
…this process is largely unconscious.
- Wounded themselves, the child’s parents feel inadequate, bad and unfulfilled.
- They project these feelings onto others, especially their spouse and their vulnerable children.
- In a need to stabilize the parent and to survive, the child denies that the parents are inadequate and bad and internalizes…the parent’s projected inadequacy and badness, plus a common fantasy: “If I’m really good and perfect, they will love me, and they won’t reject or abandon me.” The child idealizes the parents.
- Because of the above, the child’s vulnerable True Self is wounded so often defensively submerges (“splits off”) itself deep with the unconscious part of the psyche …the child goes into hiding.
- The child takes in whatever else it is told…about others and stores it in its unconscious mind (mostly)…
- What it takes in are messages from major relationships. The mental representations of these relationships are called “objects”…laden by feelings and tend to occur in “part objects” (such as good parent, bad parent etc)
- The more self-destructive messages are deposited more often in the false self…( …the internal saboteur….negative ego …or internalized…rejecting or otherwise mistreating parent).
- A Tension Builds. …negative ego attacks the True Self, thus forcing it to stay submerged, keeping self esteem low. The child’s grieving of its losses and traumas is not supported…The outcome can be a developmental delay, arrest or failure.
- Some results include chronic emptiness, sadness and confusion, and often periodic explosions of self destructive…behavior – both impulsive and compulsive – …that allows some release of the tension and a glimpse of the true Self.
- …The person maintains a low self esteem and remains unhappy, yet wishes and seeks fulfillment. ..”
Most of the above would strike a cord with many alcoholics I think.
How undifferentiated emotion and feeling states lead to (distress based) impulsivity and compulsive behaviour and how we glimpsed and experienced True Self in additive behaviours.
I used to say in AA meetings that I became more me when I drank alcohol. I used to say to my wife that I drank primarily to get away from this (false) me.
The impulsive and compulsive behaviours began when I was a child, it was football, sugar, sweets, running way from home, and then cigarettes, and then space invader games and gambling machines before I hit the the jack pot with alcohol, the “coming home to the real me” drug that provided the temporary relief form the tension of my divided self and made me connect with the thing I am most frightened of, people.
I entered AA like an infant who knew nothing about anything…I just had an intellect that was sure it knew everything about all there is to know. The battle was almost done. Then I surrendered.
This final piece describes me when I finally got into recovery.
“arrested development”,…”failure to complete psychological autonomy” and this is what 25 years of drinking was trying to hide.
Then it was time to get real!