I read a very interesting article yesterday posted by a certified divorce coach that claimed that codependency is essentially a symptom of another disorder such as anxiety or depression and it is doubtful that it really exists. Despite one of the leading authors on codependency choosing to dispute this fact in the comments section, the author stuck to her idea that it is “fake news”. Whether she was really in a position to comment is open to question but she certainly held a strong view. This mirrors a “heated” but insightful conversation I myself had with a neurologist on the same subject. That codependency actually exists is a heated debate and views are polarized.
As a therapist who works daily with codependents, it is troubling to see people still denying this based on a non-entry in the DSM. It is true that it is not officially recognized as a disorder in the classic sense but it causes misery for millions of people. Look at this particular statistic:
Seven million American women are depressed, and 40 million Americans, primarily women, have been labeled as codependent (US National Institute of Health)
In my opinion, codependency is a clearly defined concept that has its roots in developmental trauma and a dysfunctional connection to caregivers. This could include neglect, abandonment, parental addiction to substances but most often is developed through unrealistic expectations by caregivers of how the child “should be” or perform along with ineffectual discipline regimes resulting in children repressing emotion. Codependency is in effect, a lifelong quest for connection that starts with caregivers and is transferred to different relationships.
One of the arguments the the certified coach came up with was that codependency was purely a relationship dynamic. That might help her to retain clients but codependents suffer whether they are in or out of a relationship. In a relationship, they lose their identity and enmesh themselves totally in another person and constantly battle to meet the other’s needs to maintain their own security. Alone, a fear that is always there, they self-medicate themselves with addictions and irrational behavior. This is where depression and anxiety can really be a problem. At this point, they may well switch their focus from a person to work or some other obsession.
Codependency is all not concerned who you are. I have seen it in all ages, gender, races and social levels. I have seen high-flying executives who have a codependent attitude and have enmeshed themselves in somebody, showing child-like behavior that defies logic. I have seen people who are in the poorest of conditions suffering the same. Codependency does not discriminate.
There is a massive industry that has built up around codependency evolving from the co-alcoholic (an enabling partner) to the codependent to the “love addict”. While there is some reason to deal with a lot of the codependent/narcissism offerings with some skepticism, it is hard to ignore the clear evidence that many people are suffering and that needs recognizing. There are also many professionals and groups doing what they can to help. Once it is eventually recognized, the unfortunate consequence might well be that a medical model is applied. Suddenly, there will be a pill to be taken. My guess is that then, more people will accept it as a concept.