Breaking Free From Co-dependence

Written by Kathi Stringer

July 12, 2003

Co-dependency is a style of relating to others that could be in the form of aggression, submissiveness, people-pleaser, neediness and etc.

First, We Identify Co-dependency.

The fit. It would seem that if we put a people-pleaser with a needy person, we would have an ideal fit. We don’t. What we have is co-dependence. Each person ‘needs’ the other person to feel ‘whole’ due to his or her unconscious pathology. Neither is whole in their own right but is dependent on the other to maintain a certain ‘completeness.’ Eventually, when each person is out-of-sync with the "giving and getting," there are accusatory problems and blame, i.e…”You don’t appreciate me enough when I…” or “You never give me enough when I…” The people-pleaser cannot please enough or the needy person cannot get enough. This becomes a problem when one individual is sick of the co-dependent relationship and having to deal with the burden of being out-of-sync. What may happen next is the threat of change. This change of course does not go over well with the other individual. There is massive resistance. Why? Because change is seen in the other individual as REJECTION (a LOSS). When the people-pleaser changes, the needy person views this as REJECTION and will try and prevent this loss through all sorts of road-blocking behaviors. On the other hand, if the needy person becomes more independent, the people-pleaser is also afraid of rejection and won’t be ‘needed’ any more. The core of both pathologies is ‘rejection.’

Now, We Identify Wellness

Wholeness. When both individuals are complete in their own right, then, we have a mutual beneficial relationship.  Here, each individual brings something into the ‘relationship’ to promote growth, rather then to patch a defect.  When each individual is complete, the relationship builds and moves along.  On the flip side, when individuals are ‘fused’ due to incompleteness, there is no movement, only a constant state of repair. 



An analogy

Co-dependency would be like a medic on the battlefield attending to the patient. The patient is chronic and the medic will not give up. The medic continues to repair the patient over and over again. Neither of them is moving anywhere. They are stuck on the battlefield. The patient is too hurt to move and the medic is too busy repairing the patient to move himself. The patient has a false sense of security of being chronically repaired by the medic. The medic has a false sense of security of being needed by the never-healing chronic patient. On the other hand, if both were whole individuals in their own right, there would be no need for a patient or a medic. Rather, the individuals can actually meet and move on through life’s journey without the cumbersome repetitiveness of chronic repair.


Change. “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” Because co-dependency is FUSION, there is a major problem with change. Change in either person is seen as REJECTION to the other person. 1. If I ask and you don’t give = rejection. 2. If I give and you don’t take = rejection. Let's see this dynamic in motion. The people-pleaser of the family can never do enough. The takers hound the people-pleaser with criticism. The people-pleaser will ALWAYS be one short of the stack and will continue to be abused while chasing the proverbial carrot to be ‘worthy of love.’ The people-pleaser will break down in tears because they can never do enough or give enough. The people-pleaser is locked into a false illusion that if they finally jump high enough, run fast enough or anticipate every need well in advance, that they will finally be worthy of love. NOT A CHANCE! Such behavior is disrespectful of one’s self. If one cannot respect one’s self, the unconscious family logic feels the same way.


No! Have you ever noticed a two-year-old when they learn the word NO!? They love that word! “No” to a two-year-old means “My way, not your way.” ‘No’ means the hatching into independence. “No” establishes the boundaries of self and not-self. “No” is a healthy way for the toddler to break away from the mother – infant FUSION. Healthy toddlers have a knack for saying ‘no.’ It is as if to say ‘no’ is a method of promoting self-discovery and growth. The co-dependent person can learn a lot from the toddler and begin the process of self-identity by simply saying, ‘no.’ For example, “No, I don’t need your help on this, I can do this myself.” Or, “No, this is something you need to learn how to do for yourself.” In both of these examples we have seen now “no’ works for the people-pleaser and the needy to establish independence OUT OF co-dependence.


This does not mean we cannot do endearing things for each other. Far from it. The difference is this, when we do things for each other without patching a defect, we are grateful. Endearing jesters are like those nurturing notes or cards we give to each other. They are unexpected. However, when EXPECTED, the nurturing that is offered is received as a target of criticism, a form of entitlement. “You owe me, not enough…” rather then “That was so sweet, thank you!”

More thoughts on co-dependence

In a co-dependent relationship, there is really no satisfaction. Notice the prefix ‘co’ in co-dependence. This means that BOTH parties are psychological SLAVES to each other. It is like a freak of nature that both are joined in the mind by a delusion. One cannot go anywhere without the other psychologically. Where is the satisfaction in that? It is as if they are both psychological Siamese twins. To break apart would mean certain death to each delusional twin. However, with a bit of mind surgery (treatment), separation into independence may be achieved. Some surgery on twins are more dangerous than others. It just depends on how many psychological structures are co-habited and if the patient is willing to accept the risks in treatment for an independent and free life.

Should I?

Risk. Is independence worth the risk? If you think not, imagine being joined at the hip with a Siamese twin for life! If this is unacceptable, get a coach, (treater), learn to say ‘no’ and take a risk!