Codependency is not a disease and should not be treated like one. When managed care systems finally recognise it as a disorder, there will surely be a push to apply a medical model to recovery, where such systems are only willing to pay for a few sessions supplemented by medication. It is my firm opinion that such medical models cannot be applied to codependent recovery. It is not a disease and it does not need to be endured. Codependents are not sick in any way, shape or form and do not need to be treated as such. Codependents can recover fully and lead a life without the symptoms associated with codependency. It mostly lies in a choice to take the necessary action.
Codependency finds its roots in developmental trauma. That is that the connection and parental guidance needed to successfully push through so-called developmental phases is not there. In essence, this means the eventual separation process that is essential if children are to become independent from their parents didn’t happen for whatever reason. Instead of leaving the family nest in a secure manner, confident they have the tools needed to go it alone. Many children leave in a counter-dependent process that basically means they are trying to break their parent’s hold over them. Some travel large distances to avoid their parents but soon realise that being physically distant does not necessarily mean they are emotionally free.
A relevant factor here is the concept of the psychological birth. Many theorists apply the notion that we experience two births, the physical and the psychological. The physical birth is obvious and is followed by two to three years of dependency on the mother. During this stage, the mother provides everything the child needs, food, comfort, physical touch and physical touch. Studies have shown that a baby develops better when it spends as much time as possible close to its mother in the first three years. Inevitably, this phase will end and this is where the idea of a psychological birth comes in.
At the age of three or four, a child starts to experience a sense of autonomy, not full autonomy of course, but a sense that the world is a little bigger than just its mother. This is a time of basic exploration of the surrounding environment and a time when maybe the father becomes a bit more interesting. At this time, it is essential for parents to provide a safe, accident-free space for children to explore. They also need to learn skills concerning appropriate behaviour and self-regulation of emotions. This is the next stage that both child and parents need to successfully negotiate in order to move on to another phase where new challenges have to be overcome.
Sometimes the above becomes complicated. There could be a lack of understanding of the child’s needs, a lack of parenting skills, illness, poverty, death or neglect and abuse. Sometimes, mothers find letting their child find a small sense of autonomy difficult and try to prolong the dependant phase as long as possible, even sometimes into teenage years. An additional factor is also whether the parents have themselves separated successfully from their own parents. If not then there is a good chance that the issues will slip into the next generation.
If a lack of bonding occurs, it leaves the child with “unfinished business”, with the mother especially. This usually ties the child into a cycle of trying to foster that connection, often by trying to be “good” or “perfect” together with becoming increasingly disengaged, leading to the classic continuum of co and counter-dependency. This issue is transferred to other relationships had in the future, continuing the child’s quest for connection.
Of all the things we can learn from this concept, the most important is that parents must be in tune with their children’s needs and development. If not, they will constantly search for the “holy grail” of being born again psychologically.