Codependence: my new understanding

When I first read about “codependence” two or three years ago, I had problems with it. While I certainly recognized the patterns of my own life in the stories and illustrations, I didn’t accept what I saw as the blaming aspect of the term.

The codependent seemed, in what I read at the time, to be blamed for “her part” in the dysfunctional relationships. If only she hadn’t tried so hard, or been such a control freak (in trying to control situations for whose outcomes she would be punished), or cared so much, or supported so much, or whatever, then her abuser wouldn’t have abused her. It smacked too much of my husband’s self-justification: Whatever he did to me was okay, because “you’re not perfect either!”

But I don’t accept the equation. Intentionally causing harm is not the same as accidentally making an innocuous mistake. Attacking the victim is not the same as apologizing for one’s blunders. Blaming the victim is not the same as owning up. Requiring others to clean up one’s own messes is not the same as trying to make amends. There was no “my half” to his unilateral actions.

Maybe I’m reading different things now, or maybe I’m reading similar things in a new way. But now I conceive of codependence as a suite of behaviors, rather than a co-equality of any sort.

While I didn’t seek out what my marriage eventually devolved into, my background of childhood abuse left me “broken” in ways that certain types of people find attractive. In slowly and unwittingly falling back into the patterns of my childhood, I enabled dreadful behavior to succeed — if it can be called “success” — for way too long. It’s not that I helped, per se, but I certainly did nothing to stop it, or even to point out that there were problems.

I’m coming to think that codependence isn’t some knowing cooperation in dysfunction, as much as a psychological / emotional inability to recognize dysfunction, let alone attempt to fend it off or otherwise deal intelligently with it. It’s a form of revictimization, or at least the entre to retraumatization.

This does not absolve the abuser in any way. But it does offer hope that the victim can learn to heal, or at least learn how better to protect one’s soft underbelly.

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