I recently found myself, somewhat surprisingly and unplanned, at an online CODA meeting. CODA, you may or may not know, stands for Codependence Anonymous.
A friend of mine is attending CODA meetings, and finds them helpful, so I got curious. She invited me to join her online group, and since I love anything to do with healing and getting real, I attended. Only later did I wonder if she invited me in order to have me see and face my codependence nature!
I found the group interesting, although nothing remarkable. People were refreshingly honest and real and vulnerable. But I had to admit, I didn’t, and perhaps still don’t, understand what codependence is! Is it good, bad, or both? Is there a healthy, helpful or natural side of Codependence? Or all negative?
Only after the group did I get more curious and go online to see what the heck codependence is. It sounds like codependence is mostly negative, as in dysfunctional, and mostly has to do with relationships, often learned from quite imperfect family role models and dynamics.
My spiritual teacher in India, Sri Bhagavan, would often say that “all life is relationship.” Makes sense; we are always relating, but often not very well. Codependence seems to have to do with relating to others in a dysfunctional manner, and more importantly, how to change that.
PsychCentral offers 13 Common signs of codependency:
- a deep-seated need for approval from others
- self-worth that depends on what others think about you
- a habit of taking on more work than you can realistically handle, both to earn praise or lighten a loved one’s burden
- a tendency to apologize or take on blame in order to keep the peace
- a pattern of avoiding conflict
- a tendency to minimize or ignore your own desires
- excessive concern about a loved one’s habits or behaviors
- a habit of making decisions for others or trying to “manage” loved ones
- a mood that reflects how others feel, rather than your own emotions
- guilt or anxiety when doing something for yourself
- doing things you don’t really want to do, simply to make others happy
- idealizing partners or other loved ones, often to the point of maintaining relationships that leave you unfulfilled
- overwhelming fears of rejection or abandonment
As I browse through this list, I realize that it is not necessarily set in stone. We can change old patterns, thank God! Myself, I see that while many of these patterns still apply to me, I have certainly improved in some areas. And I suppose that is the goal, not perfection, but awareness, humility, honestly, progress. After all, if we are seeking perfection in all these areas, it might even mean we are seeking approval, which is codependence!
I also wonder if anger could be added to this list. In my experience, people who “give themselves away”, or seek approval, often develop an attitude. Since they are still trying to keep the peace and avoid conflict or avoid having someone dislike them, they might reveal their anger in passive aggressive ways.
Perhaps my own biggest codependence challenge is not controlling others. My own wounds and insecurity sometimes result in me trying to control or change others so I will feel safe. This is very common in our world. On a personal level, it might look like nagging. On a global level, perhaps war.
As for 12 Step groups, I do have some background experience. In my late 30s and early 40s I had an eating disorder, and found the support groups invaluable. I cannot express how helpful it was to not feel alone, to hear that others were also struggling with something so seemingly mundane as simply eating. But people with eating disorders know it is not simple at all, but maddeningly complex and often life threatening.
As for this recent CODA meeting, whenever someone in the group shared anything, they would say something like “I’m Bob, codependent”, similar to any 12 Step group. I didn’t share anything, partly because I didn’t know how to introduce myself! I didn’t know exactly what codependent means, and therefore obviously didn’t know if I was one.
Also, I have concerns about labels. If we label ourselves something, it seems to leave little space for change, for not being whatever we define ourselves, in this case codependent. This stems from an eye opening experience at my very last Eating Disorders Anonymous meeting twenty five years earlier.
At that meeting many years ago (I was around 40 years old), in my share time, I began to mention some of the things that were actually helping me: God, yoga, meditation, community, etc. Then I felt a strange sensation, as if everyone was holding their breath and not listening. To my horror, I realized that most of the people in the room did not want to hear about solutions! I am guessing that many had finally found a functional family or community, and a label as a “person with an eating disorder”, and were simply not yet ready to give that up. Who knows? But I knew it was time for me to move on, and I found another eating disorder group that focused more on understanding our family wounds and moving forward.
As for this current CODA group, the good side to attending that first meeting is that I learned a bit about what codependence means, and it helped me be more watchful for how it plays out in my life. The bad side is that I immediately started pointing out to others how codependent they are! That not only didn’t go so well, but quite probably pointed out how codependent I am!
Before we get into codependence on a global level, and finally some solutions, let’s look at a more neutral perspective. If we broaden the meaning of codependence, we are all codependent. We all count on each other. We are dependent on one another. We are interdependent. No one does it alone. We may think we do, or try to go it alone, but we need each other. And we of course are dependent on our Divine Source, without which we would not be here.
I am certainly taking way too much liberty or even butchering what codependence essentially means. All I’m saying is that we obviously can’t escape looking at our codependence by moving into a cave. Since we are all interconnected, we want to relate and interact in the most healthy manner possible. It reminds me a bit of the “Drama” Triangle”, which could also be called the “Codependence Triangle”.
In a Drama Triangle, we often get caught up in one of three dysfunctional roles, either the perpetrator, or the victim, or the rescuer. None of these roles is healthy. We may be the troublemaking perpetrator, obviously not good. Or the victim. Essentially, we have all been victimized at one time or another, but defining ourselves as a helpless victim is an insidiously unhealthful pattern that unfortunately is currently being taught way too often in our woke education–as in programing–system. But I digress.
The rescuer is, to me, more of the classic codependence role. All the action movies may glorify the heroes, but the truth is, unless we are truly called to step in and help–either by the victim him or herself, or from our inner intuition, or a Divine nudge–we are being codependent, that is, trying to gain acclaim by being the hero, or fix others, when in fact no one asked you to jump into their business.
Another way was explained to me during my human rights worker days. I suppose I was a classic codependent, trying to save the people of Guatemala. Someone told me that the difference between codependence and healthy service is this. You come across someone sinking in quick sand. Unhealthy “helping” is jumping in to save them, and both of them go under! Healthy service is first, take a breath, second, get clear, and third, maybe toss them one end of a branch or rope, and help them pull themselves out. It’s a win win.
I suppose the healthy role in the Drama Triangle is to stay centered in the middle of the triangle, present, clear, not being the trouble maker, not being the victim, and not being the savior unless truly called to say something or do something. Christians would suggest responding from a righteous attitude, a renewed mind, and a pure heart. God would never guide us into the role of evil perpetrator, helpless victim or unwanted rescuer.
Now, let’s switch gears to a global level, or group level. Let’s take a quick peek at the Pandemic years, an excellent Codependence Conundrum. Here, I will not argue who is right and who was wrong–although my opinion will become apparent–but let’s look at what occurred from a Codependence standpoint on the collective level.
Generally, we had two viewpoints: One group felt that if you did not follow official COVID orders, protocol and mandates, if you did not mask up, get vaccinated, maintain social distance, etc. you were a danger to others. Others felt that if you complied with official protocol, if you masked up, vaxed up, social distanced, etc. you were a danger to others, because you were complying with tyranny and empowering the controllers.
I suppose it could be argued that both were codependent. Both were arguably trying to control or at least change or “educate” others for our own safety. In a generous, or positive sense, we all cared. Now, it all comes down to belief and information. For the mandate followers, they firmly believed that common sense and certain science required emergency compliance with authorities, and collective response. They certainly didn’t see themselves as trying to control others, but believing that anyone with common sense and basic consideration for others would follow the protocol.
But in the camp of the “anti-vaxer, conspiracy theorists”, some of which believed they were witnessing a plandemic with a bioweapon, these people would say that the compliers were codependent. They felt that they–the anti-mandate folks–were actually trying to protect all our freedom, and our children, and liberate those who were complying with illegal mandates–supported by flimsy or fake science–which only empowers the tyrants and controllers to take ever more control. They would say that they did NOT want to control the compliers, only asking that they themselves were not controlled or forced to do something—like wear a mask or take an experimental injection.
If someone wanted to divide the masses, or cause a codependent nightmare, you could not have devised a more sinister situation. Codependent chaos was almost guaranteed! The two factors—codependence and disinformation—were a recipe for a battle that only a truth injection would be the real vaccine.
In essence then, I would argue that it was the “group think” of the mandate supporters who were the true codependence compliers, since they were really the ones looking to enforce compliance, vaccine and mask mandates, censor non-complying opinions, following faulty science (while censoring certain science) and even supporting taking children away or usher non compliers into Orwellian quarantine camps, so they would feel safe. Classic codependence, but on a global level.
Unfortunately, we are trained from a young age to accept a higher authority as normal or even ideal. Most of us grew up in this culture of learned helplessness, submission and conformity. We can hardly imagine life without the “people in charge”, and we become dependent on outside authority: government, teachers, doctors, etc. We work hard for our boss to get a paycheck, study hard to please teachers for good grades, or even try to impress our date, all for approval, gain or other rewards.
Given this codependence conundrum, on both a personal and global level, what is the antidote to codependence? What are the true solutions? Here are some possible solutions (even though I am still learning what codependence is!):
- Wake up: See your true actions and patterns. Be honest about what is really going on within and around you.
- Heal Thyself. I wrote a book called Healing Self, Healing Earth. As we face and heal our own wounds, we stop the cycle of abuse and trauma.
- Family: As we heal our self, we are more conscious and able to raise our children in an empowered way, with appropriate boundaries.
- Support Groups. It is essential that we have community (sangha) of truthers and those who seek and speak truth, where we can be real, vulnerable, see and be seen, and kindly called out when we are not being real. Counseling or therapy might also be a good idea.
- Set Healthy Boundaries: Know your limits. Take care of yourself. Learn to say no. Do not fear conflict. Do not let yourself be silenced or censored. Say no to unhealthy relationships. Be appropriately assertive without trying to control others.
- Face Fears: Face your deepest sense of shame, helplessness and inadequacy. Practice overcoming and building strength, confidence and courage.
- Freedom: Find freedom from tyranny and government control. We can have rules without rulers. We have an imperfect but essential Constitution in our country, and until we outgrow it–into an expanded consciousness–we are wise to defend it.