Unfortunately, from the mid eighties to the present, the codependency idea has become bastardized, and with each new self-help book the symptoms of codependency mount. It is literally impossible for anyone walking the planet, with a fourth grade English reading capacity, to finish one of these books and not consider the possibility that he or she is a codependent. What began as a term to help spouses of addicts encourage sobriety and not inadvertently make it easy to continue, the codependency movement of the 80s and 90s has thrown the baby out with the bath water: Not only is all caring manifested by the spouse of an alcoholic deemed pathological, but the very act of compromising one's needs to aid a loved one is now deemed symptomatic of a progressive disease processes, a relationship addiction. ~ Robert Westermeyer, Ph.D.
Ideologies of codependent people and dysfunctional families are not exactly the same, but they tend to get combined so often in psychological literature and therapy that it is easier to deal with them together here. Originally, the concept of "codependency" was developed in the late 1970s to refer to the spouses and immediate family members of alcoholics and drug abusers.
It was supposed to address their problems with "enabling" the addict to continue their substance abuse. Instead of working with the addict in isolation, the family could be drawn in and allow for more effective treatment. The network of our familial relationships is an important part of our identity, and the patterns of reciprocal influences can be an important part of whatever problems we may be experiencing. It is true that codependency programs have alerted people to these facts, which can allow them to take more control of their lives.
Unfortunately, what was once a worthy concept was quickly bastardized to apply to pretty much everyone. At first, the error was made to assume that any sort of caring for addicts was essentially pathological - caring became a disease because people were supposedly "addicted" to their caring behaviors. Eventually, it included anyone who was in any sort of relationship with a "holic" (foodaholic, workaholic, sexaholic), with people who are mentally disturbed, and with people who are simply "irresponsible."
With so many people who are readily labeled "codependent" (and, it should be noted, addicted to something), it is surprising how little agreement there is on just what "codependency" really is. This is because it is not a scientific notion but instead stems from the gut feeling of counselors and frustrated lay people.
Melody Beattie, who wrote the 1987 bestseller Codependent No More, has admitted that "Some therapists have proclaimed 'Codependency is anything, and everyone is codependent." Imagine a physician asserting that "AIDs is anything, and everyone is HIV positive."
Dysfunctional Childhood It is unsurprising that the origins of codependency are asserted to be in childhood - specifically childhood abuse. Therapy for codependency usually includes taking an inventory of all "less than nurturing" experiences from childhood. Although specific physical and sexual abuse is included in this, those horrors are cheapened by not distinguishing between them and any event in which are parents were seen as harsh or unfair. Abuse counts as pretty much anything which isn't optimal and perfect parenting.
And thus is born a dysfunctional family. Anne Wilson Schaef and John Bradshaw, two of the leading authors in the codependency movement, argue that 96 percent of all Americans are involved in dysfunctional families and relationships - and, naturally, in need of help from therapists such as themselves.
Dysfunctional families in which there is insufficient nurturing creates codependent and addicted adults later in life. Then, their acts of nurturing and caring are diagnosed as pathological and the cause of yet more dysfunctional relationships.
Unfortunately for the codependency movement, empirical data supporting most of their broad claims is completely lacking. In one review of recent studies, Edith Gomberg, a psychologist at the Alcohol Research Center of the University of Michigan, unequivocally states that there is "...no data at all" justifying the automatic diagnosis of all family members of a substance abuser as being "codependent" - which is to say, as having a predictable, pathological personality disorder merely due to a particular family relationship.
As Gomberg so directly puts it, "Where are the data? There are no surveys, no clinical research, no evaluations; only descriptive, impressionistic statements." In fact, Ofshe and Watters report that studies have shown that simply going through a long interview and being put on a waiting list can produce a 75% improvement rate among patients. Thus, even interviews can be perceived and theraputic and that perception becomes reality. Just two words can describe this: placebo effect.
There is little sympathy in the codependency movement for such observations. Unfortunately, any expression of criticism or skepticism can itself become a symptom of a mental disorder. Anne Wilson Schaef has written that "Your judgmentalism is a characteristic of the disease." From: CoDependency