Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pathologizing the Victim: Codependency Facts


I am strongly opposed to the notion of co-dependency, especially in relation to survivors of abuse. My view is that human beings are interdependent. "Co-dependence", it seems, is all about lack and emptiness, all about us and a focus on getting our needs met. It becomes all about us. So that even loving, caring behaviours, the desire for attachment, can be distorted and labelled an "addiction". I am also opposed to any "support" group on the Internet that pathologises the victim in such a manner, among other ways. ~Invicta 04/03

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.Link

Codependency, by Austin Cline

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 " 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:
Another thought-provoking view outlining the history of the development of co-dependency into the 'epidemic' phenomenon purported by so many, IMO. Backed up with facts and stats. I skipped the Christian explanations: Psychology and CoDependency


Anonymous said...

The are are interesting blogs. I have read much about this over the years dealing with a mother who is on the borderline-narcissistic spectrum, but with her uncanny ability to lie without conscience, I suspect some sociopathy as well. I recently lost my father, the one parent I loved. When he was younger, he embraced reality, but after years of living with my mother, he became her in many ways. Once he fell ill, he was trapped at home listening to her incessant chatter and her world view became his, and her will became his. He became her agent fishing for information for her to use, and he began to repeat her lies. I do believe living with a N changes one in such a way. I am my mother's "black" child and she has ruined any potential for me to have a true relationship with any one in her circle because of the lies she tells about me. The hardest part about my father's death for me was that long before he died, he ceased to know me, even possibly ceased to love me, as she stole him from anyone who loved him. He could have nothing in his life but her, and saw the world through her eyes. I missed so much of his last years and precious time with him that he did not have much of, because she created a barrier between him and anyone who did not embrace her game. The victim may not have a specific "pathology" before being involved with a N, but a long term relationship will eventually steal the victim's heart.

Anonymous said...

WOW, I just had a revelation supreme! I Came here to learn more about N, and believe I married one. Now I'm sure. I also have a MS in Psych, practiced a few yrs, now retired. Never dealt much with N. The post RE the mother being N and how it seemed to "infect" the father fascinates me. I believe my mother was also N and she did the same generating of lies about me and emotionally abused me until the day I cut her totally out of my life. But somehow my Dad was not "infected", although I know he was miserable with her. Now it hit me that he kept his sanity by working two jobs. One he loved was as a musician, which fed his own self esteem and protected him from her toxicity.

Thank you - I must follow my Dad's lead!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Von said...

Thanks for this, so very helpful.Posting a link, hope that's ok.

Anonymous said...

This article rings true for me, absolutely.

A psychologist I went to for a few sessions last fall, thrust one of Melanie Beattie's books, "The New Codependency", in my hand - and I read it, and very painstakingly and honestly went through the codependency quizzes...but I did not even come up on the codependency radar in ANY area. Little in the book resonated with me and my typical behavior and emotions in most of my past relationships. What I was going through didn't make sense until I started reading a book by Sandra L. Brown called "How to Spot a Dangerous Man". That was the first clue I had that perhaps I was not really as disordered as I had come to believe; rather, I was disoriented psychologically due to my involvement with an N/P, not because I was fundamentally disordered myself.

One thing the Melanie Beattie book DID say correctly is this: "Another possibility is that we're being lied to, manipulated, or misled. If someone is lying to us, we're not in the Codependent Zone; the other person is behaving inappropriately. Don't blame ourselves. It isn't our fault if someone is skillfully lying to us. That person is likely going out of his or her way to deceive us."

Overuse of the codependency treatment philosophy probably does a lot of damage to many victims of N's and P's by having them try to "relate differently", or "change the dance" with these disordered individuals, keeping them hopeful that their relationships are still salvageable. But changing the dance with an N/P will only cause the N/P to change their own strategies of control (because that's what they're all about), only leading the victim into more frustration, or worse.

I guess that keeps these "well-meaning" (but hopefully only simply unaware psychologists) employed - kind of like giving painkillers to "treat" someone with a tack in his foot, and not bothering to remove the tack.

Anonymous said...

Pardon me (last "Anonymous" back again... It was "Melody Beattie", not Melanie.

Anonymous said...

This was a great article!

The bad thing with psychological theories such as this one discussed here as well as other theories, is the fact that they treat an interpretation as a fact.

Many psychological theories are based on subjective interpretations and not on facts.

There can be one million different intrepretations for one thing, and not even one be close to the whole truth.

I am also against the theories which pathologize the 'victim'or better said the target of a 'crime' or abuse

No-one wants to suffer, and such theories which attribute various pathologies to the person who suffers an injustice, only promote and preserve and legitimize in a way any kind of violent action (mental, psychological, physical etc).

Such theories actually promote the stigma and disempowerment of the person, by blaming him/her for not being able to control or avoid 'crimes' which are committed against his well-being. This is so ridiculous. It is as if societies try to find a scapegoat....for their inability to do something about it... or better said for their indifference for what is going on around....

it's so distorting to claim that if someone has suffered any kind of 'crime' that in a way he is sick.... sick is the society, who actually promotes such events by allocating responsibility on 'victimized people' for something they didn't commit!!! For something they couldn't avoid, or didn't know what is this and how to deal with it.

Besides, all this psychological market of pathologizing 'victims', keeps people silent, disempowered, stigmatized, and feeds the economy ..

Thanks for your critical thoughts on the subject.

be all blessed and strong

Coco said...

Parting the Clouds,

Thank you for articulating this so well and so clearly holding the narcissist completely responsible for his destruction.

It is beyond shocking and devastating to be out here in this world living the best you can, loving your children, completely trusting your partner (and everyone else sharing in your life,) feeling guilty and grateful for having way too much, respected, together, confident b/c you're adored and praised for being beautiful, loving, open, playful, loyal [but w/ enough flaws to keep you humble,] 15 meaningful years, an Incredible Journey, Life is Goo...CRASHING, NOW, INTO, BRICK, WALL, HOW, PAIN, LIES, DESPERATE, AFRAID, WHY, LOSING, FAITH, WHAT THE F ?????????

Drowning....and no one can find the life ring ....we are ALL disoriented and it's just too much for most.

But here I am in the aftermath...very small....demoralized...scarred...numb....not enough for some so they add "bitter," "scorned," "crazy," and it's so strange b/c I've Never changed. I could never be those yucky things. I have a hundred Love Letters to prove it, and not one accusing me of being a drug addict or unfit mother as he alleges now! BUT I must have done "Something!" Always too good to be true, no one has Everything...No one is THAT nice and happy ALL the time!

By god, YES I WAS! (Inside & Out)...& YES I AM! (only in Public now, empty and dead inside.) I want No Sympathy or pity...I'm interested in healing only for and because of my beautiful sons. Somehow my Free Spirit is still alive b/c I know the truth and so do they...the only thing that can set me free....and Still I am the same...I want Everyone to be Happy!

Cept the Devil I met face to face and his lying lil trolls.

Gosh, I'm sorry, I was trying to Thank You, Parting the Clouds for reminding me that I did not cause this unexpected ongoing was the bored, sick, paranoid, repulsive devils who Slum there.


Anonymous said...

You have obviously not had co dependent tendencies. If you had, you would know the pain and suffering we ensure. The inability to have relationships, the everyday denial of our selves. You have no idea.

Anonymous said...

The lover I have been involved until recent is an undiagnosed (in my opinion)personality disorder with accompanying multiple addiction issues (sex,alcohol,food) and depression/suicide attempts. The first thing he did was ultimatum me into attending Alanon citing that " you must be unwell yourself if you are involved with me". I come from a sociological background and did due dilligence by reading all about 12 step models, and critiquing the social construct of co-dependency which seems to be so unquestioningly accepted as a true phenomenon. I am heartened to find this blog and its support of questioning the co-dependency model. I took the stance of looking at the overpowering monopoly AA has on the chemical dependency market, and with any structure of power you must maintain the balance by pathologising anything that questions the power. Co-dependent models delegitimise the sufferer as part of the problem, not 'subject to' the abuser. In this way the power construct of whom determines the cure is never questioned if you are immediately on the back foot. This is only my opinion of course, but I spent a great deal of the early hours this morning sobbing over each entry in this blog, relating succinctly and painfully to every word. Thanks for writing it.

Anonymous said...

This is a great article! Yes, it has been well established that the heritability of alcoholism is quite high. This is known from studies of identical twins (look at the concordance rates for twins reared together versus those for twins raised apart) and from adoption studies (look at non-related siblings who grow up in the same family). It is clear that nature absolutely trumps nurture (what behavioral geneticists refer to as the "shared environmental component of the variance"). In fact, alcoholism is a disease, and recent studies from 2014 are honing in on the exact physiological causes. It is time to start looking at real scientific evidence rather than continuing to pretend that everything is always the parents' fault. Let's forget about silly "theories" that psychologists come up with and look instead at the hard-core findings provided to us by behavioral geneticists (who actually understand the difference between correlation and causation, unlike most psychologists) and neurologists (i.e., real scientists).

Anonymous said...

I found Anne Schaef's "When Society Becomes An Addict." I recommend it to anyone who wants to "see" a consummate con in action: Anne Schaef. My bs meter went on overload when I got to her writing about "the taco episode" on p. 54. The fascist mask came off, and I first was bummed and a bit pissed, then I started to laugh. Then I felt a little sorry for her, but my sympathy for malignant narcissists is short-lived, believe me.

The old saying, "we teach best what we need to learn" imo fits Anne like a glove.

Thank you for letting me comment, I needed to vent lol!

Guest said...

Here's some more info on Anne Wilson Schaef. It is *not* pretty.