Is co-dependency the currency of your family relationships?
Posted Mar 13 2013 5:35pm
photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. Driving home from his last landscape design consult, thirty-three year old Craig’s stomach was in knots wondering if Sophie would have gotten over the row she had with her mother the other day. He felt bad for his wife who had tried and failed to arrange a family dinner, taking out her frustration on him. His temples began throbbing and his breathing became quick and shallow as he felt the overbearing sense of heaviness that came over him when he approached his front door.Craig’s mind began to work on ways he could take care of his mother-in-law’s objections and persuade her to attend the dinner. That would solve Sophie’s problem which in turn would be an immense load off his shoulders.As Craig opened the door, twenty-seven year old pet store owner Sophie was on the phone busily trying to fix the spat between her sister Trudy, and brother-in-law Max. She was totally absorbed with giving advice and ignored Craig’s entrance. The conversation between them was one sided, with Sophie promising to have a serious talk with her rotten brother-in-law.photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. Being co-dependent means you take care of loved ones while ignoring your self One part of Craig was relieved that she was distracted by her sister’s crisis, but another part of him felt empty, ignored, alone and unimportant. Now he had no choice but to face his own worries about cash flow and debt in his business. It was too much to deal with, so he put it off to another day.A couple of days later Sophie spoke to Max about his laziness when it came to helping Trudy with their kids. She felt good about sticking up for her sister. It made her feel strong and fearless. Meanwhile Trudy was busy trying to reconcile the row between her mother and Sophie over the family dinner party. She tried to cajole her mother into reorganizing her schedule to fit in, and she also worked on Sophie to be more flexible. Trudy felt good about being the peace maker. Co-dependency creates helplessness among family membersThe day before the family dinner party Sophie asked Craig to get candles and flowers on his way home. She talked about the menu and the preparations but when she wanted Craig’s opinion on dessert he seemed far away. He was withdrawn and irritable when she pressed him to participate. He said he couldn’t remember the choices she had put forward about the wine or the desserts. Sophie was irritated with him for being so vague and uninterested. She prodded and poked him to get some reaction – to bring him into the present moment. Craig got furious and blurted out how stressed ou t he was about his business. Stunned, Sophie dropped her party ideas and gave her full attention to her husband. She got his account books out, re-calculated his budget and cash flow by sitting up all night to fix Craig’s problem. His anxiety and empty feelings were replaced by gratitude and relief. Sophie felt special, important and a champion of his well-being.The evening of the dinner party all the family gathered at Sophie and Craig’s house. Sophie was panicked at not being ready because she had worked on Craig’s books all night. She was lamenting the event as a failure as she fussed around attempting to make everything perfect. Her mother Beth noticed her discomfort and heard the gloomy forecast. Beth took Trudy aside and together they went to the nearest store and bought several platters of party food including cakes and pastries for dessert. Sophie was relieved and thrilled, while her mother felt like a hero. photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.Co-dependency is fueled by guilt, fear, anger and shame- not love Three weeks later Trudy went to pieces over her husband’s continued lack of help with the kids, and the pattern continued except that Sophie began to resent having to rescue her sister month after month. When the guilt became overwhelming, she would repeat her rescuing behaviors and then get fearful that she would be carrying this burden for ever. Craig went on bailing Sophie out when she and her mother butted heads. Both he and Trudy became angry and resentful of having to mediate and make the peace which never lasted anyway. The anger led to fear that they would be removed from Sophie's sphere of special people and be relegated to the shadows. So they continued. Sophie’s initial burst of heroic pride in helping her husband with his business finances became a nuisance as it took her away from her own business. She didn't want to run two businesses alone and wished Craig would take proper responsibility for his enterprise. But she felt ashamed and guilty whenever she felt like dropping his stuff. What if he failed? Then she really would have a much bigger problem on her hands!Craig began to be ashamed of the fact that he couldn't deal with his business matters and try to wrench back control when Sophie took charge. Sophie insisted that he couldn't cope and he got scared that he would mess things up again. He also felt guilty about wanting to take over when Sophie had sacrificed so much to save him and his business from near ruination. photograph copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.Co-dependent relationships are threatened by any signs of growth, development, and self-care among its members This family rescue one another, feel heroic and then expect other family members to reciprocate. They do things for one another in a way that creates dependency and prevents learning, coping, adapting or growth. What’s going to happen to this family when Trudy decides to go learn about parenting and stop depending on Sophie? How will the family cope with this act of self-care among one of its members?In part two of this story you will learn the fate of this family and I will also tell you how support rather than care taking is the key to avoiding the trap of co-dependency.
copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.
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Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may experience while reading the article or implementing the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.