One of my fascinations with codependence is its versatility. You can manifest your codependent parts at work, rest or play; black tie or casual, codependence is accepted in more places than MasterCard.
Its versatility comes from the fact that while ubiquitous, it is, at the same time, absolutely unique to the person that manifests it. There is no set way of “seeking fulfillment outside yourself,” no manual or standard set: each codependent event is a creative individual action. One may do it by helping another in hopes of being liked, while another may do it by bullying somebody in hopes that their self-esteem gets a much needed boost. In this way, relationships become, as Pietro Abela suggests, an investment: If I do this, I will get that. To be more specific, if I care for you, my hope is that you will care for me or, in the other scenario, if I scare or demean you, you will (hopefully) give me what I want. Even those scenarios are subject to numerous and subtle variations.
While codependence is versatile it is, in the vast majority of times, unconscious. You may even be reading this now thinking that these examples don’t apply to you, and probably they dont. But without analyzing life in microscopic detail, was there anytime today you were not true to yourself? Was there anytime you did something that you would rather not have done but did so with the hope that it would have some intrinsic benefit for you? And I am not talking about driving the kids to hockey practice in hopes of being the next Gretzky mom. I am talking about the “yes, I will drive over town every day while you are on vacation and walk your dog” times where you end up feeling tired and drained because the output far exceeded any desired gain (conscious or not) in being helpful or nice. How about the time you did someone else’s work for them because “somebody had to do it” and ended up feeling resentful, or when you went for the promotion you really didn’t want just for the status. Or the time when you kept your opinions to yourself so your friends would still like and accept you. There are countless examples but the real question is:
Is there a different way of being?
Yes, there is: interdependence.
Interdependence is the opposite of codependence. With codependence, there is an energy loss for at least one of the participants. In interdependence, there is energy gain (or at least neutrality) for all persons involved. Where codependence is about looking to someone else or some thing as a source of validation, acceptance, or safety; an interdependent person looks within themselves first but welcomes external sources (of the same) as a healthy complement to life. And, while our codependent parts view relationships as investments: if I do this, I will get that; our interdependent parts invest in relationships. In interdependence we know that relationships are alive and require nurturance, boundaries and, above all, a healthy dose of self respect.
I define interdependence as staying true to one self while living harmoniously in community; having boundaries that are firm yet flexible; and knowing when and how to give help but also knowing when to say no. It is also about the occasional sacrifices where you do over extend yourself to another (i.e. taking care of a sick friend) but do so with consciousness and compassion (not martyrdom) with the knowledge of when to pull back before it negatively affects your own health, family or financial state.
Interdependence is a creative and conscious response to life that energizes and fulfills. Codependence is an unconscious (yet creative) reaction that ultimately drains and frustrates. So, while we all may manifest codependent behaviour at one time or another, the thing I want to ask today is how were you interdependent?