In this initial entry I want to introduce you to the topic of co-dependence which I feel is a valid and useful approach to helping people. I also use it because there are many resources available to help people recover from the effects of co-dependence (coda) including books, tapes, and videos so that you can work on your recovery outside of the counselling room. In North America there are many Coda 12 step groups which are extremely powerful in helping one recover from codependency. Asia would greatly benefit if such self-help groups were available here. If anyone is interested in starting such a group in Singapore please feel free to email me.
The Oxford Dictionary of English defines codependency rather narrowly as “excessive emotional or psychological dependence on a partner, typically one with an illness or addiction who requires support”. A broader definition has been provided by Pia Mellody who is one of the pioneers in the codependency field. She describes it as the situation in which a child receives less than optimum nurturing.
Pia’s definition would make nearly all of us co-dependent since no one of us to my knowledge has received optimum child-raising. It is a matter of degree of codependency. In fact, it is widely agreed that the optimum childhood is one that is “good enough”, not perfect. In order for a child to mature normally, the child must encounter appropriate challenges. For example, the death of a pet goldfish may with proper parental support, aid a child in developing coping strategies that will help her or him in adulthood to deal with losses.
Serious childhood abuse or neglect can cause severe codependency (also called "Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" ) which involves a variety of serious psychological difficulties in adulthood. They include personality disorders such as Borderline Personality Disorder and other disorders such as Depression and Anxiety Disorders. Childhood abuse and neglect can also cause difficulties in forming and maintaining intimate relationships.
The situation where one forms an unhealthy dependency on an addicted partner as described above by the Oxford Dictionary is but one example of this. Many of the couples I see for marital counselling are helped by recognizing how unresolved issues from childhood are affecting their relationship. Other difficulties and symptoms of codependency will be described in future blogs.
Please note that this blog is not intended to replace help from a mental health professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. If your stress is interfering significantly in your life, it is strongly suggested you seek professional assistance.
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