"I spent most of my life doing the
Serenity prayer backwards, that is, trying to change the external things
over which I had no control - other people and life events mostly - and taking
no responsibility (except shaming and blaming myself) for my own internal
process - over which I can have some degree of control. Having some
control is not a bad thing; trying to control something or somebody over
which I have no control is what is dysfunctional."
Codependence: The Dance of
Wounded Souls by Robert Burney
Attempts to control are a reaction to fear. It is what we do to
try to protect ourselves emotionally. Some of us (classic codependent
behavior) tried to control through people pleasing, being a chameleon, wearing
a mask, dancing to other people's tunes. Some of us (classic counterdependent
behavior) protected ourselves/tried to be in control by pretending that we
didn't need other people. Either way we were living life in reaction
to our childhood wounds - we were not making clear, conscious choices.
(If our choice is to be in an abusive relationship or not to be in a relationship
at all, that is not a choice - that is reacting between two extremes that
are symptoms of our childhood wounds.)
Both classic codependent and classic counterdependent behaviors
are part of the condition/disease of codependency in my definition.
They are just two different extremes in the spectrum of behavioral defense
systems that the ego adapts in early childhood. The ways in which we
got hurt the most in childhood felt to our egos like a threat to survival,
and it built up defenses to protect us.
While the classic codependent had their sense of self crushed (it
is 'self' destroying to feel that love is conditional on pleasing others,
living up to the expectations of others - even if our parents never raised
their voices to us) in childhood to the extent that confrontation (owning
anger, setting boundaries, taking the chance of hurting someone, etc.)
feels life threatening, so the classic counterdependent feels like vulnerability
(intimacy, getting close to/being dependent on other people) is life threatening.
Both the classic counterdependent and codependent patterns are
reactive codependent traits that are out of balance and dysfunctional.
We do need other people - but to allow our self worth to be determined in
reaction to other people is giving power away and setting ourselves up
to be victims. It is very important to own that we have worth as the
unique, special being that each of us is - not dependent on how other people
react to us.
This is a very difficult process for those of us who have classic
'codependent' patterns of trying very hard to get other people to like us,
of feeling that we are defined by how others think of us and treat us, of
being people pleasers and martyrs. Classic codependent behavior involves
focusing completely on the other (when a codependent dies someone else's
life passes in review.) Having no self except as defined in relationship
to the other. This is dishonest and dysfunctional. It sets us
up to be victims - and causes one to not only be unable to get one's needs
met, but to not even be aware that it is right to have needs.
A classically codependent person, when asked about themselves,
will reply by talking about the other. Obviously, before someone with
this type of behavioral defense can experience any self-growth, they have
to first start opening up to the idea that they have a self.
The process of owning self is frustrating and confusing. The concept
of having boundaries is foreign and bewildering. It is an ongoing
process that takes years. It unfolds in stages. There is always
another level of the onion to peel. So, for someone whose primary
pattern is classically codependent, the next level of growth will always
involve owning self on some deeper level. A very important part of
this process is owning the right to be angry about the way other's behavior
has impacted our lives - starting in childhood.
Classic counterdependent behavior focuses completely on the self
and builds huge walls to keep others out. It is hard for those
of us who exhibit classically 'counterdependent' behavior patterns to even
consider that we may be codependent. We have lived our lives trying to
prove that we don't need others, that we are independent and strong.
The counterdependent is the other extreme of the spectrum. If our behavior
patterns have been primarily counterdependent it means that we were wounded
so badly in childhood that in order to survive we had to convince ourselves
that we don't need other people, that it is never safe to get close to other
Each of us has our own spectrum of behavioral defenses to protect
us from being hurt emotionally. We can be codependent in one relationship
and counterdependent in another - or we can swing from co to counter -
within the same relationship. Often, someone who is primarily counterdependent
will get involved with someone who is even more counterdependent and then
will act out the codependent role in that particular relationship - the
same can happen with two people with primarily codependent patterns.
Both the classic codependent patterns and the classic counterdependent
patterns are behavioral defenses, strategies, designed to protect us from
being abandoned. One tries to protect against abandonment by avoiding
confrontation and pleasing the other - while the second tries to avoid
abandonment by pretending we don't need anyone else. Both are dysfunctional