Becoming Codependent

Baynard 9/2017

Codependence is usually portrayed as an extremely negative characteristic.  Most writing includes a lot of judgment and blame for the codependent.  It is as if codependents chose codependence.  They do not choose codependence any more than the addict chooses addiction.

Codependents come by their malady honestly.  It is a survival mechanism that doesn’t turn off when it is appropriate to do so.  Codependence is the lion protecting her young, the bear protecting his home. The beginning of codependence is somewhat subtle, while the end may scream dysfunction.  

Codependence often begins with the parent of a child who is either struggling or disabled in some way.  Think of the learning – disabled child in third grade who is being bullied because of her special needs.  Think of the child who is autistic and lacks an ability to make friends at school.  Think of a child with dyslexia who is being teased by peers because of his perceived inadequacy.  Think of a young teacher who does not know how to handle behavior problems and seems to send your child to the principal’s office every single day.  Think of the woman who is in an abusive relationship and often must protect her children from abuse from her partner.  Think of a blind child, who not only struggles because of sight, but is also unhappy and angry.

If the child or partner has suffered in life and the suffering has been repeated (think violence, or sexual abuse, or even PTSD from battle conditions) the codependent person develops a type of hypervigilance which is a defensive stance. 

These are all situations which breed a codependent personality style.  The parent becomes an uber protector who is hyper-vigilant about any perceived threat to the child’s happiness or health.  The hyper-vigilance often creates misinterpretation, as Jeb Kinnison states, regarding anxious attachment style: Hair-trigger misjudgments and mistakes are more likely with this group and can get them into trouble.  This is a facet of the codependent personality style; they often assume the worst about the world.  Again, they come by the fear honestly.  Bad things have happened to their family; they know that the world can be awful.  Protection is the number one goal of the codependent personality.  The codependent is usually protecting their child, their home, or their perception of being loved.

As life progresses, more and more time is swallowed by the child’s high level needs, or more and more time is swallowed by the partner’s high level needs.  The child or partner becomes the ‘focus in life’ for the codependent person. 

When I read articles about codependence, often the word control becomes synonymous with evil.  This is a mistake.  Our codependent person is trying to protect loved ones, albeit in an ultimately unhealthy manner.  Initially, the control is a good thing: necessary to protect one who is not skilled in self-protection.  It is only as time progresses that we see codependence deteriorate into an unhealthy habit.

Many years ago, I worked with parents of blind children.  They told me that during middle school, they (the parents) were instructed by teachers to stop accommodating the blind child.  The teachers urged parents to allow the child to navigate their home on their own.  “Let them get their own glass of milk” they said.  This is guidance away from codependence.  Not everyone gets an educated guide that will help them through the pitfalls of caring for others.

Admittedly codependence can run on too long.  By caring for others, an unwitting codependent may be communicating that the object person is unable to care for self.  For children, this can be damaging.  There are plenty of downsides to codependence, including the inability to maintain relationship boundaries.  On this issue, both parties will suffer.  No relationship boundaries result in the deprivation of personal space.  This can be harmful to healing.

As we learned in the treatment of addiction.  We do not heal when we blame, denigrate or otherwise put down people who are suffering.  It is no help to characterize codependence as evil.

Remember that codependence comes naturally, even though it is a malady and also because it is a malady, it should not be damned.

Child of Mine, I Have Words for You

Words, words, words.

I have so many words for you, child of mine

I have words for your child too

I want to let you know what I know of the world

I want to give you comfort when you are reaching for the cure

I want you to know what my version of the truth is

I have words for you and I yearn to speak with you

______________________________________________________________________________

You murder me with your disinterest

You stab my heart with the shuttering of your eyes

There was a time when you vehemently wished for the sound of my voice

That time has passed and where did you go?

You are present, but judgmental, you have no use for history

Even when it is your own

______________________________________________________________________________

I’ve learned so much \ and wish to give it on

Wisdom hard won, needs no more from me

Can you use the wisdom, the knowledge, the experience

Have you dismissed the use of any that came before you?

I care nothing for information that any schoolchild can gain

I want to tell you life’s great mysteries and the price of love

______________________________________________________________________________

You murder me with your disinterest

You stab my heart with the shuttering of your eyes

You have traveled close by for the entirety of your life

Your body stays your mind doesn’t engage

           At least not with me

Child of mine, I have words for you

Pillars of Creation

Parenting 200

We Begin in Earnest

We begin parenting in earnest…

As I get older and embrace being a grandparent, I see myself moving farther and farther away from parenting.  What I have found is that the person I am, to be a mother, changes with the age of my child.  Additionally, it is not the same person that I am, to be a grandmother.

When I am mothering, I am enmeshed with my child.  I am in their faces, I want to know what they are eating, whether sleeping, and are they having bowel movements?  I am in their business completely because for this time, I am responsible for all consequences of my actions and my child’s actions.  No matter how things fall out, I am the one that pays the bill.

As time moves through childhood, boundaries begin forming and I can gradually back away from the heightened alertness of caring for the infant.  As the child ages, I will allow the child to make small decisions and also to face consequences for those decisions.

We know that kids will sneak candy and overeat.  They may suffer from a stomach ache as a result of the decision.  During this phase it’s important that I draw a line between the decision and the consequence of those decisions so that my child can recognize that a relationship exists.

The teenage years demand heightened sensitivity and heightened awareness of my child.  The enmeshment continues as we discuss, on a daily basis, activities and futures to consider.  While the physical requirements of child rearing diminish (I am no longer feeding and bathing my child), the emotional requirements ramp up.  The intensity engulfs parents and children.  Safety becomes an overwhelming concern as we contemplate safe places, safe people and safe situations to allow our children to engage with.

As my child ages, I am going to back off more.  There comes a time when my child will tell me if I am making parenting mistakes.  While there is feedback that is ridiculous and you would never listen to it, most of the time, we should be listening if our child is willing to let us know that we have made a parenting mistake.  If you are interested in a healthy relationship with your child, you will listen very carefully to feedback.  The point is, you are communicating and as long as that is true, you can stay close to your child.

We C Each Other

Nineteen years ago (it has now been 30 years), Jill and I had our very worst argument and it was because I refused to accept her adult decisions.  I wanted her to go to college and “become” something, she rejected a scholarship to Penn State and instead, decided to get married to her high school sweetheart.  The argument was bitter and it cost me dearly – as I did not attend the wedding, I was not invited.  Almost two years passed before her father died and during that time I had no contact with Jill and my heart hurt the entire time.  It was a lesson in how to love your adult kids, nothing is worth losing them.

Acceptance is one of the most powerful gifts you can give to your adult kids.  Youth (15 to 29) is a time of fear and anxiety and our current culture is much less forgiving than any culture that preceded it.  Our adult kids need to know that there is at least one safe place to land, and that place is home.  If it’s not you, your kids will find a place to land and that place may not be safe.  Acceptance is a key principal for success with your adult child.  But, only if, you are interested in continuing a relationship with your adult child.

All humans have an inalienable right to self determination.  America has worked hard to preserve this right.  Adult kids have these rights and even more-so as they struggle with the clumsiness of their own independence.

I recently read an article in the AARP Magazine [April/May 2019 aarp.org/magazine], it was funny, yet serious.  The title is “How to Get Your Kids to Hate You”.  The author did a great job of illustrating these issues with the following checklist:

  1. Track their (adult kids) movements
  2. Make gifts to your kids conditional
  3. Offer outdated and outmoded ‘help’
  4. Provide ‘constructive’ criticism (I don’t even know what this is)

It is hard to change from enmeshed parent to fascinated friend, yet you do not have the right to tell your son who to date.  You don’t have the right to tell your children what vocation they will practice.

We Adult Kids

Approving or not, your children have the ability to do exactly as they please and if your disapproval is too painful for them, they may just shut you out.

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