As a codependent, the best book for this group on the topic is Robin Norwood’s classic “Women Who Love Too Much” – which is full of examples.
When I attempt to illustrate codependency, I draw two circles, like OO. They represent two people in a partnership.
I erase part of the line at the bottom of the one on the right and draw an arrow down through it and say: this is the dependent/addict/alcoholic: they have a hole in their life into which they are pouring all their energy and resources. As a result, they are growing more and more empty. They refuse to repair the hole.
I erase part of the boundary between the two circles and draw an arrow from left to right: This is a codependent. They are pouring energy and resources into propping up the person who is pouring their resources down the drain, trying to solve that person’s emptiness. As the other person is contributing little or nothing to their life, the codependent is getting emptier and emptier.
And finally the codependent dies; Anne Wilson Schaef reported that despite all the health problems of addictions, codependents die first. They are like a person drowning who refuses to let go of the deadweight pulling them down.
But if they let go of the weight, they bounce back, as they’re now just supporting one person instead of two. But since it is an addiction of sorts, they soon hook up with another person who drains their life.
Every example I know in my life fits this pattern.
Worse, when two codependents partner, the weaker one shifts into the addict’s role. Often that person takes care of everyone else in the world while neglecting their own family.
My codependency directly resulted from a lack of emotional care and nurture as a child, which became a form of emotional abandonment and neglect. The family organizes itself around one family member who is “helpless” – unwilling or unable to care for themselves – and provides whatever is needed while neglecting each other.
In the worst cases, the addict/alcoholic controls the whole process for their benefit, somewhat like a conductor controls the orchestra, keeping everyone else doing more and more while they do less and less. The task is to prevent consequences from happening to the “helpless” one.
My family organized itself around the needs of my handicapped younger brother who was born with infantile cerebral palsy and died age 4. Sometimes that person at the center is innocent. Mental illness can form this pattern as well. Others have said you see it with eating disorders.Edit or delete this
- M Scott Peck’s book, People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, perfectly describes the person who orchestrates this selfish pattern.