Another running theme of codependency is the individual's inability to set and maintain clear boundaries and the lack of clearly established boundaries in their family of origin relationships. The blurring of boundaries between self and other, me and you, is often the key factor distinguishing dysfunctional relationships from healthy ones.
Codependent relationships are merged ones. Relationships are need-based and are a means of filling emotional holes. A codependent's well being rests in the hands of the other person. The source of emotional sustenance is externalized -- outside of themselves. The other person becomes the codependent's 'raison d'être, or life's purpose. Codependents often put themselves into the role of savior or hero, desperately needing to be needed, to feel important, and that they matter.
In a previous newsletter, I posed the question, Are you preoccupied with your partner's addiction or other problems? (Are you codependent?) This question points to the kinds of things that happen when there is a lack of clearly established boundaries. We know that codependents often find themselves depending on others who are unstable and consumed with their own problems, and who are often in the throes of some kind of addiction themselves. In the guise of caring, the codependent bears the burden of responsibility for problems that are not his or hers to fix. "If you love someone, that's what you do!"
The relationship between a codependent and drug addict is a case in point. The codependent can not distinguish between whose problem is whose, and who is ultimately responsible to address it. Unaware of attributing the cause of the problem to him or herself, the codependent will get over-involved and exhausted by relentless efforts to 'help.' Denial blinds them to the fact their enabling only makes the situation worse and that feelings of self-doubt, shame and inadequacy, are rising insidiously.
I worked with a patient who made sure his wife attended her treatment sessions by transporting her to every one. In so
doing, he kept her from being responsible for getting to them on her own. As a result, her commitment to get the help she needed was never established. He was afraid of the possibility that she wasn't going to get herself there, which, as it turns out, was the case. He was driven by his need to see himself as a loyal and loving person who was going to be there for her when she needed him most. In his mind, he was trying to save their relationship, as if he could do it all by himself.
During the course of therapy, he began to understand his relationship was a 'merged one.' He was relating to her as if she was an extension of himself, not as a person in her own right. He was basically having a relationship with himself. The relationship served as a means of relief. He was so desperate to fill emotional holes, he lost sight of whose problems were whose to fix. He also began to understand how to take care of himself, and to tap the abundant resources deep within himself, and become able to act in his own best interests. After several months, he realized their relationship was over and moved out.
Codependent versus Healthy, Intimate Relationships
Basic relationship building principle number one is the definition of intimacy. It is the coming together of two separate selves in a joint-effort creation. You and Me make Us.
If you are going to enter the sacred space of co-creation where You and Me become Us, it's necessary to have a self to bring. Having a self means being able to act autonomously and reliant on an array of internal resources, and that your well-being or sense of self-worth does not depend on someone else or a relationship. You must have a relationship with yourself upon entering into the sacred space. At the bare minimum, self-awareness in involved. Your behavior is internally based and purpose driven.