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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Thinking About Codependency

In recent days, my friend, Dr. Evgenie Protsenko of Old World Charity in Moscow, has gotten me thinking a lot about the problem of codependency as not only a phenomenon within addiction, but also as a major problem in the Church and within society as a whole.

Recently, I've had a couple of 'emotional hostage takers' who threaten to discomfort themselves if I don't take their course of action.  To be honest, I caved in, but largely because I know that I would have zero back-up from anyone if I decided to play hard-ball and tell people that they need to take responsibility for their own feelings.

Nobody can make you 'feel' anything you don't want to.

Yes, someone can physically hurt you, and there are reasonable emotions in response to, let's say, being sexually assaulted or having your house burn down.  But, those a rare events, and so most of life's struggles are well within our normal parameters of self-control.  If someone cuts you off in traffic, you are the one who gets to decide how you are going to feel about it afterwards.

You have an option to forgive and move on, or you can decide to get angry and honk your horn for 20 miles.  The choice is yours and mine.

Is this codependency?  No, it isn't.  But, I would contend that this lays the foundations for codependency by permitting ourselves to lose control of our emotions, particularly in response to the actions of others.  If we freely allow ourselves to become emotionally entangled with others in little things, how much more will we do so with bigger things?

Once we tear down the ego barriers between you and me, suddenly I must control you just as much as I must control myself in order to be happy.  And, since self-control (in the sense of doing what we want to be happy) is far more predictable and thus easier to achieve, we eventually become more obsessed with difficult job of controlling the other person.

This is where codependency clicks in.  But, it all begins with the basic assumption that other people are 'responsible' for how I feel.

There is a lot of this these days.  In the Church, we blame the bishops and priests for how we feel about the faith, about God, about spirituality... and we hold them responsible for our emotional well-being.  If they don't do their jobs, we feel it necessary to disquiet ourselves and even leave the communion altogether because they 'make' us feel a certain way.

If you are going to last in a 12 Step program, you also have to overcome this same obstacle.  People in the group will do all kinds of annoying things, and you can choose to allow them to dictate how you feel about recovery, the group, God... the possibilities are endless.  Or, you can decide to not let these people change how you feel, and simply deal with what they say and do apart from the force of emotions.

Should we really believe that no one can come between us and God, then we should not let another person's actions dictate how we behave or experience life.  Being free of the undue influence of others is an essential component of spirituality.  The moment we attach our happiness to other people, we are abandoning God.

The other person becomes our idol.

At first, the idol acts against us, and we choose to allow it to dictate how we feel.  But, eventually, through our unhealthy attachment to the other, the idolized person can then afflict us like a voodoo doll: it sticks pins in itself, but we feel the pain.

This is the direction codependency takes us in.

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