Co-dependence is: ‘A painful internal state of low-grade chronic depression which is literally precipitated by intense and chronic mourning for our authentic selves’

This week’s lecture (and the final one of this term) was on codependence. The lecture series has been an interesting one this term given the focus on addictions and following on from group process and the residential earlier in the year.  Rosemary Cowan previously pointed out in a Therapy Today article that the developmental model that CCPE suggested was very helpful to her.  She notes that trainees in the first year were likened to wide-eyed, enthusiastic primary school children; in the second year, like pre-teens, they gain confidence and independence but may also be ‘know-alls’ who overstretch themselves; in the third year they reach the rebellious, argumentative, difficult teenager stage; in the fourth year, with increased maturity and stability, they become more rounded, finished characters. Not sure where I fit in that model but it is an interesting view.

The greatest hallmark of codependence is that someone else decides how you feel about yourself. This perhaps accounts for the high burn-out rate for therapists when clients are used as a source of personal gratification. The challenge is how to survive using your own self-esteem and to be able to set boundaries. Boundaries in counselling and psychotherapy are critical.   Indeed, the biggest boundary in any relationship is the ability to say no. If you are codependent, then you are not independent or interdependent.  You are either a love addict or a love avoidant.

how many times have you heard someone say in an argument with their spouse “after all I’ve done for you”

As a child, the love addict might have had to give attention and love to someone in their family who needed help. The child received good feedback for this and the subsequent receipt of positive brain chemicals set off a pattern of behaviour for life.  The codependent will always be helping people irrespective of whether those people have ever asked for their help.  However, the codependent is not giving unconditionally. Rather, the codependent will be expecting something in return.  How many times have you heard someone say in an argument with their spouse “after all I’ve done for you”. Often the person in receipt won’t have asked for the codependent’s help in the first place. The codependent is addicted to giving.  Healthy giving is not expecting anything in return,

The core of co-dependence is toxic shame.  It is a dis-ease of lost self-hood. It is the addiction underlying all addictions. A dis-empowerment that creates a final alienation from all that gives life meaning.

All demands made upon the love avoidant as a child were excessive. There was emmeshment in the family of origin.  Of course it can a fluid situation when the love avoidant becomes the love addict if the love addict gets burned out. In terms of transactional analysis this is the adaptive child of “being too good”.

Outlined below are further sets of information  and resource links:

Codependents have difficulty:
1. Experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem better or lesser than
2. Setting functional boundaries too vulnerable or invulnerable
3. Owning and expressing their reality bad/rebellious or good/perfect
4. Taking care of their adult needs and wants too dependent or anti-dependent
5. Experiencing and expressing their reality moderately extremely immature or over-mature which creates STRESS

This manifests in:
1. Negative Control
We give ourselves permission to determine someone else’s reality for our comfort or let someone else determine ours
2. Resentment
Need to get even or punish for perceived blows to our self-esteem that cause us shame
3. Distorted or non-existent spirituality
Difficulty experiencing connection to a Power greater than ourselves
4. Avoiding reality
We use addictions, physical or mental illness to avoid facing what is going on with us and others
5. Impaired ability to sustain intimacy
We have difficulty sharing who we are with others and hearing others without interfering with the sharing process or what they share

INAPPROPRIATE PARENTING Child abuse is anything that is less than nurturing:
PHYSICAL Not treating a child’s body respectfully – slapping, etc.
SEXUAL Physical: penetration, oral, anal, fondling, kissing, hugging inappropriately
VERBAL: no or distorted information, exposure to ‘over-sexual’ language
INTELLECTUAL Tell them that they are stupid, can’t think, their ideal are silly. Child’s ability to think is attacked
EMOTIONAL Demanding perfection, over-controlling, name calling
SPIRITUAL A major care giver demands to be a ‘higher power’ to a child

So what is love?*

Eros – a passionate physical and emotional love based on aesthetic enjoyment; stereotype of romantic love
Ludus – a love that is played as a game or sport; conquest; may have multiple partners at once
Storge – an affectionate love that slowly develops from friendship, based on similarity (kindred to Philia)
Pragma – love that is driven by the head, not the heart; undemonstrative
Mania – obsessive love; experience great emotional highs and lows; very possessive and often jealous lovers
Agape – selfless altruistic love

* Lee JA (1973). Colours of love: an exploration of the ways of loving. Toronto: New Press. ISBN 0-88770-187-6.


Am I in a codependent relationship?
John Bradshaw’s resources
Symptoms of codependency
How to raise emotionally healthy children
Psychotherapy resources and links

About Noel Bell

Psychotherapist in London. Check out my blog posts and more at
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