Codependency is defined as one partner being dependent on the control and the needs of another, like when a self defeating partner falls for a narcissist. For the codependent person, the needs of the other become paramount, and one’s own needs and desires – sometimes even the whole personality are obliterated.
The primary task of a codependent person is individuation. Becoming one’s own priority. Knowing and realizing one’s desires. Discovering the self. And eventually standing on your own feet within a partnership.
The way a person becomes codependent often goes back to childhood, when a parent or an important family member or a caretaker used the child as an extension of the self and did not allow the child to develop his or her own personality.
The most important job of the child was to attend to the parent’s needs – be it directly by obeying whatever the parent said, or indirectly, by becoming the person the parent wanted us to be: be good, be quiet, be compliant, be like them, be the nurturer, become the better version of the parent and so on.
Parent and child became emotionally fused. There is no independent will the child may pursue. There is only the needs and fears of one person, the all powerful and dominant parent.
Even when the parent outwardly rejects the child, because he or she doesn’t seem to live up to their expectations, the child will still try to gain the approval of the parent and won’t be permitted or able to become an individual.
Children of emotionally fused parents will end up in codependent relationships later in life. Becoming aware of this dynamic is very painful. The first task is to grieve the lost self, and to find the pillars on which one’s own personality rest.
Even if it feels like all energy goes into the needs of other people, there is still a fundamental inner core that represents the true self.
Go back and look at old pictures. Maybe there was an aunt or a grandparent that fostered independence and new ideas in you. Maybe there was a game you played with other kids, or an art project in school that represented your innate sense of yourself.
Maybe you read a certain kind of books, or created your own world inside your mind. What did that look like? What kind of stories did you feel drawn to? What places did you retreat to that gave you peace and joy?
There is a place inside that is indestructible and will expand and flourish if you start paying attention to it. It is never too late to start.
Gerti Schoen is a writer and psychotherapist. In her spare time she enjoys learning, being in nature and around animals.