Codependence as a relational problem that often, but not necessarily always, occurs in conjunction with familial alcoholism. Previous research has shown that various etiological factors resulting from recurring stressful circumstances experienced in childhood or adulthood may contribute to this…
To examine different ideas on what may constitute co-dependence we borrow from the introduction of this study as it gives a good insight into a possible psychological process which occurs in child who become codependent.
From our knowledge and experience of codependency some of the following seems to accurately describe this disorder.
“The term “codependence” was originally used to refer to a psychological problem that can occur in individuals who live with an alcoholic (Go´mez & Delgado, 2003). Some studies, however, conceptualize codependence as a multidimensional problem influenced by a variety of factors in addition to having an alcoholic in the family (Carson & Baker, 1994; Reyome & Ward, 2007). These include circumstances that are characteristically stressful to children and often prevent the healthy development of personality, thereby encouraging codependence (Fuller & Warner, 2000). Family violence, the early loss of a parent due to death, separation, or abandonment, and the chronic physical or mental illness of a close family member are typical stress factors.
To cope with such losses, children may develop denial as a psychological defense mechanism associated with the compulsive need to imitate adult behavior and assume the behavior of caretakers toward other people, creating the appearance of premature autonomy (Viorst, 1987). According to transactional analysis theory, although these defenses enable a person to survive stressful situations in childhood, they remain as fixations of early types of relationships through dissociated ego states in the personality, while arresting “natural” development (Berne, 1961; Schiff et al., 1975). Children do this by adopting survival conclusions known as early decisions (Goulding & Goulding, 1979), such as “Hurry up and grow fast in order to help other people solve their problems.” These early decisions are transformed into sometimes paradoxical injunctions, like “Don’t grow up” or “Grow up fast,” “Don’t think what you think,” “Don’t feel what you feel” and “Don’t be you.” Such internalized injunctions (or unconscious beliefs) about what the individual is “supposed” to do can become the basis upon which a personal life script is built (Berne, 1972/1974).
A personal life script is “an unconscious life plan based on a decision taken in childhood, reinforced by the parents, justified by subsequent events, culminating in a chosen alternative” (Berne, 1972/1974, p. 476). The injunctions may enable a person to develop a codependence script acted out in adult life by compulsively repeating the need to become involved in paradoxical affective links (Bowlby, 1979/1986), which in turn involves situations of abuse, rejection, or abandonment, combined with the feeling of “satisfaction” in helping and having been supportive to another (in these cases, abusive) person while simultaneously preserving the affective bond.
Codependent persons maintain strong links with their partners, despite the stress, suffering, abuse, and lack of compensation in these relationships. Like substances for addicts, the relationship with their partners becomes “addictive.” At one level, the codependent person recognizes that she should abandon the partnership because it is unhealthy, but does not do so because at the same time she denies her problem through some form of self-deception, in which she tends to believe essentially that her happiness depends on changing the other person.
- Noriega, G., Ramos, L., Medina-Mora, M. E., & Villa, A. R. (2008). Prevalence of Codependence in Young Women Seeking Primary Health Care and Associated Risk Factors. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78(2), 199-210.
Categories: psychology of co-dependency