The Misunderstanding Behind Codependence
There is a significant emphasis in current relationship advice given to embracing autonomy and individuality in relationships in order to have a healthy, sustaining relationship. Interdependence is good and codependence is bad. This makes sense in theory, but having no elements of codependence in a relationship is very unlikely and sets up a focus of seeing codependency as a problem to be fixed rather than the innocent by-product of a misunderstanding.
There is no point in spending time fixing by-products. It is tireless and never-ending work. However, as soon as a misunderstanding is clarified, the by-product of the misunderstanding is immediately and effortlessly resolved. But, the opportunities to clarify misunderstandings are infinite so you don’t want to wait until everything is clarified to enjoy life.
We do well when we enjoy life and make peace with the by-products of our misunderstandings knowing that we are designed to learn and awaken in consciousness. This lets us take things like fixing our codependent habits off our to-do list — such a relief
Codependency is a term that has found its way into general use. It was first written about by Melody Beattie in her book Codependent No More. She used the term to describe a pattern of behavior she noticed in herself where she thought her happiness was dependent on her partner’s, and she saw she had a conditioned reaction to try to make her partner happy so she could feel better.
There are definitely extremes of codependency, but most couples would say they are negatively impacted by their partner’s low mood or reactivity. As a result, they find themselves doing things to try and cheer up their partner or shift the feeling state in the relationship to try and make their partner feel better, with the end goal of the cheerer upper feeling better themselves.
It is good to know that the idea of — I want you to feel good so I can feel good — is ultimately not helpful. But it is important not to pathologize this very human tendency. From the perspective of interconnectedness, it makes sense that when we see someone suffering we would naturally reach out in support of them. In oneness, if one is suffering, the whole is suffering. We aren’t separate.
Where the confusion lies is not in the helping but in the misunderstanding related to the experience of suffering. When we understand that suffering is the result of losing a feeling of connection with our true nature — and that it is not something other than that — we are no longer afraid of our experience of suffering. It is seen as a temporary experience of forgetting who we are. We are never disconnected, but sometimes it feels that way.
When we remember this for ourselves, we understand the same is true for others and naturally show up in a non-judgemental, loving way when our loved ones are struggling. When we forget this, we have a tendency to try to fix other people, fix their circumstances, fix anything so they can feel better. This does nothing to help them remember who they are and connect with the feeling of their true nature where the experience of wellbeing and okayness resides.
It is no wonder then that the people on the receiving end of this kind of help usually get irritated maybe even angry and don’t feel supported. The problem, however, is not the codependence of the helper. Codependence is a by-product of forgetting who we are so we look for safety and security in the physical realm of form where it can never be found. This is the misunderstanding.
What are you going to identify with? The formless essence of your true nature that is unchanging or the constantly shifting world of form that includes your thoughts, feelings, physical body and circumstances? Where does the experience of wellbeing reside independent of the form?
From the understanding of how psychology works shared by Sydney Banks, feelings come from the thoughts we identify with and not another person or circumstance. Seeing this resolves codependency immediately because when we see our experience comes from inside of us, there is no need to try and make another person feel another way in order to feel better because there is no connection. It is not logical. It would be like me trying to see more clearly out the windows on my house by cleaning the windows on my neighbor’s house. It just doesn’t work that way.
When we understand where our experience comes from it is extremely helpful. We know how to take care of ourselves when we get destabilized. We don’t go looking to fix things or people outside of ourselves. Instead, we understand the importance of letting our thoughts settle and being kind to ourselves in the process.
But we don’t always see it. I certainly don’t. Just the other day, Angus was in a low mood and reactive. I found myself telling him he should get help and criticizing him for being reactive. I was essentially saying he should be further along in his emotional maturity than he is. Progress for me was to see not long afterward that I was clearly not okay in my own state of mind. If I were, I wouldn’t have been bothered by Angus’ reactivity. I would not have felt the need for him to be different in order for me to feel okay. But I wasn’t seeing clearly in this moment. There are moments when I see more clearly and others when I don’t.
This is not a problem. I do not need to be fixed because I don’t always remember that wellbeing resides within me. When I forget, then I try to manage circumstances outside of me to feel okay. Trying to fix my codependent tendencies would just be another symptom of forgetting that I am innately whole and complete. I am not defined by my behavior or by my forgetting — neither are you.
Embracing the fullness of who you are is embracing your humanity with all of its misunderstandings and your formless true nature, which is infinite and beyond anything the mind can conceive though you can feel its presence.
There is no fixing needed, and there is the possibility of accepting the inevitable experience of waking up more and more to who you are.
From a place of knowing where your wellbeing resides and feeling the love and compassion that are qualities of your true nature, you are naturally going to be drawn to support others. There is an innate inclination to reduce suffering, but not because you want to feel better. You do it because we know what is possible and want to share the hope and possibility with others. The love flows through you. It is a sharing of wellbeing that is the opposite of, “I need you to feel good so I can feel okay.”
And there will be times of forgetting where it will look absolutely true that you would be better if you were different, if another person were different, if circumstances were different. That, too, is part of the human experience.
It is a learning curve. We will do both as humans. Our behavior will always reflect our understanding in the moment. Codependence isn’t an issue to be fixed. It is part of the learning curve as we wake up to the fullness of who we are. It is often through seeing what doesn’t work and what isn’t true that we then open our eyes to see what is real.
As a quote from the Bhagavad Gita says:
What is not real
And never will be.
What is real.
And cannot be destroyed.
We are all waking up to what is real. We can’t stop that or get in the way of it. We are designed to move toward our true nature of love. There is no need to judge or change the way we get there because we will all end up in the same place.
Rohini Ross is passionate about helping people wake up to their full potential. She is a transformative coach, leadership consultant, a regular blogger for Thrive Global, and author of the short-read Marriage (The Soul-Centered Series Book 1) available on Amazon. You can get her free eBook Relationships here. Rohini has an international coaching and consulting practice based in Los Angeles helping individuals, couples, and professionals embrace all of who they are so they can experience greater levels of well-being, resiliency, and success. She is also the founder of The Soul-Centered Series: Psychology, Spirituality, and the Teachings of Sydney Banks. You can follow Rohini on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and watch her Vlogs with her husband. To learn more about her work go to her website, www.rohiniross.com.