Generally, I feel that codependency has become a very common phrase, not just in the counseling world, but specifically in the world at large. It has changed shape and lost its’ originally meaning, for sure. It is possible that the originally intended meaning was never the best model to be presented to begin with. While it has helped many people, it has also harmed many.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant as a replacement to therapy. If this topic is something you struggle with, it is recommended that you find a therapist or reach out for help from a specialist. Alot of the information gleaned from this article has been based on the book Prodependence by Robert Weiss
How I learned about codependency
When I first got into the field of helping people, I worked in a domestic violence shelter.
I didn’t know anything about codependency back then, accept when I heard the term from some of the clients.
I remember mentioning codependency to one of my co-workers and they just about had a kanipshit, saying that codpendency was pretty much b.s. There was no good “why” it was b.s, other than it could give one the feeling of blame for the abuse they experienced.
And I was like, yeah, fair. Don’t want to do that.
But then I found myself in the addiction field, where people throw around the word codependency like candy.
I felt conflicted. Over time I found myself discussing codependency with my clients, all the while feeling that it wasn’t quite the right message.
And here’s the problem: I had a vague idea of why codependency could be damaging, but I couldn’t quite explain why or how I felt that it was not the greatest model to base things off of. I didn’t really have the words. I also did not have a replacement model for it.
So here I am, being surrounded by professionals saying codependency is the answer, and clients whom have been taught they are codependent and had to be better. I felt myself slowly leaning more towards codependency and away from… not codependency?
Part of me felt like I was being brainwashed, because if it isn’t the right model, why is it the only one being talked about?
What is codependency?
So what is codependency? According to Robert Weiss, it is often defined as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition” OR “when one person tries to control the actions of another (in the guise of helping) so that he or she can feel better about him or herself and their relationship with another person.”
Why does this sound like… gaslighting? Wanting the addict to stop is being manipulative? What in the f***!?
Here are a few other definitions from a quick google search:
“Codependency is a concept that attempts to characterize imbalanced relationships where one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.”
“Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn’t have self-sufficiency or autonomy,”
The last definition is from WebMD. Codependency is NOT in the DSM. It is not a diagnosis. But then why are we treating it as such?
Let’s take a look at some of the language used here.
- unhealthy clinginess
Let’s take a look at a quick google search of “what is addiction”.
“Addiction is a biopsychosocial disorder characterized by repeated use of drugs, or repetitive engagement in a behavior such as gambling, despite harm to self and others.”
“Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence.”
“Addiction can be substance or behavior related. Learn what causes an addiction and how treatment works.”
“Addiction to alcohol or drugs is misunderstood and stigmatized. Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, not the result of other situations.”
- complex condition
- brain disease
First of all, I just want to say how GLAD I am that addiction is starting to be recognized as a serious disorder. While there is still more work to do on stigma, we are getting there. We are improving as a society.
But why does it sound way more pathological to be in a relationship with an addict than to be an addict?
Why did the idea of codependency become so wide-spread?
According to Robert Weiss, there are several things that lead up to our idea of codependency that all fed off of each other. I’m not going to go into ALL of those reasons here, but I’m going to sum it up a bit.
A lot of it is due to a societal shift of becoming more independent. You see this in humanistic psychology (being the best version of yourself possible, developing self-awareness and self development), which came out around this time.
You see this in the women’s movement as well. There was a real need to hear the message that you can be independent. But why did the message stem from “You’re making the problem worse. Focus on yourself”. instead of “Hey, you’re doing the best you can. You’re working your ass off to help the people you love. That’s admirable. Let’s look at how you can do this more effectively without burning yourself out”
As a society went made the leap from one end of the spectrum (the traditional role of the woman being the caretaker and putting her needs aside from her husbands) to the other end of the spectrum (relying on someone else is unhealthy).
As Robert Weiss has pointed out in his book: the only two options here are codependence or antidependence.
Prodependence: A new model
In June of 2020, I found out that my husband had cancer.
The carpet was being ripped out from under me.
After spending every day in the hospital for a month, visiting him, and then his return home from an extremely invasive surgery… It felt like my mood was dependent on his mood. It felt like I had very little control on my own life, experience, feelings.
If he was okay, I was okay. If he wasn’t, I wasn’t.
I consider myself to be an overly independent person. To go from one extreme to the other…
Talk about trauma
During my husbands outpatient treatments I was doing a lot of reading for work. I was still kind of new to the field of sex addiction, and honestly I should have done more reading earlier on. But whatever, nothing like feeling so out of control that you need work to distract you.
Anyway, my supervisor recommended I read the book “prodependence” by Robert Weiss. This was life changing for me. I had a whole new perspective career wise. Beyond that, It is something I needed to hear in my personal life. I felt “codependent” as others would maybe have labeled it.
One of the examples Weiss uses in his book is that of a cancer diagnosis. He says that no one would label you as having an “unhealthy obsession” with their spouses cancer diagnosis. If you gave up all that made you you to help your family heal from cancer, no one would fault you.
Above all you are the part of the problem when you are with someone who has an addiction. Really, it’s gaslighting at it’s finest. You made the addiction worse. You need to worry about yourself instead of them.
It validated the crap out of me and totally normalized my experience. And I didn’t have the extra stigma of addiction to worry about.
What is Prodependence?
Weiss defines prodependence as “attachment relatsionships that are healthfully interdependent, where one persons strengths supports the vulnerabilities of the other and vic versa with mutual support being automatic and without question.”
It is honorable to do all you can to help your loved ones! Prodepednence sees that. There is no blame or shame in regards to their behaviors. One of my favorite quotes from Weiss’s book:
Boundaries and Self-care
More over, both codependency and prodependence, the treatment plan is essentially the same thing. Boundaries and self care. the only difference is there is a lack of shaming/pathologizing the partner.
And there you have it! The benefits of prodependency, in my mind, completely out ways the benefits of codependency. Same end message with less blame.
Why WOULDN’T we use this model!?
I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks about this topic. Changes can be uncomfortable. What Robert Weiss proposes is a change in thinking at large. That’s not easy to do.
What are your immediate reactions to this (good or bad). Leave a comment below!