Codependency – Health Relationships are not one size fits all:
Since the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1936, it has given rise to numerous other recovery programs. Most are based around subtle variations on the 12 steps (e.g ‘Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable’1). Some programs assist specific addictions like narcotics or sex addiction. Other programs assist those who were indirectly affected by addiction; the partners and children of addicts. Al-Anon is a program designed for children of addicts and co-dependence anonymous for those who partner with addicts. Codependents Anonymous (CoDa) started when the co-dependents realised their partners were not only becoming sober, but receiving great fundamental life lessons. They too had suffered, if indirectly, from the addiction and wanted to receive these lessons as well.
The initial description of a codependent person was someone who had a tendency to partner with addicts2. Today, CODA’s only requirement for membership is a ‘desire for healthy and loving relationships’3. This shifted the focus from their attachment to an addict towards their own choices and values. The term codependency rose in popularity in the 90s, where it featured in print 27 times as frequently as it did in the late eighties4 . Much credit is due to Melody Beattie’s 1986 best-seller Codependent No More5. A resurgence of interest in the topic came about in 2013. Since then the term has been co-opted by relationship advice blogs and other sources that have removed nuance from the term in favour of a categorical pseudo-diagnosis. This is a problem in part because a healthy relationship can look differently for different populations, cultures and individuals.
One factor to consider is between individualist and collectivist cultures. From a Western perspective, some Asian cultures have blurred boundaries between an individual and their community6. What is considered a healthy family boundary for a Canadian would likely differ greatly to a South-Korean. This becomes especially significant when Western psychologists provide guidance for second generation immigrants. For example, if they’re feeling struggling with highly critical or intrusive parents, the psychologist might suggest drawing a firm boundary. This could include not seeing them for an extended period or refusing to discuss certain topics (e.g. marriage or career). Although this might seem like an effective solution, it ignores the fundamental family dynamics. The importance of staying connected to their community, including their parents, is likely a determinant of wellbeing6. A more culturally-sensitive solution would balance the importance of connection and their personal needs.
Current interpretations of co-dependency need to carefully consider how culture influences our idea of a healthy relationship. It’s also important to remember that relationships are complicated and nuanced. An alternative to categorical rules of how a relationship must be is CoDa’s goal of ‘healthy and loving relationships’. This allows us to adopt a culturally-sensitive and individual interpretation of our relationships.
- Alcoholics Anonymous. (2014). The big book study guides for AA. Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Wegscheider-Cruse, S., U.S. Journal Of Drug And Alcohol Dependence, Inc. (Pompano Beach, Fla, & Health Communications, Inc. (1984). Co-dependency, an emerging issue : a book of readings reprinted from FOCUS on FAMILY and chemical dependency. Health Communications, Inc.
- Co-Dependents Anonymous. (2012). Co-Dependents Anonymous. Co-Dependents Anonymous, Inc.
- Jean-Baptiste Michel*, Yuan Kui Shen, Aviva Presser Aiden, Adrian Veres, Matthew K. Gray, William Brockman, The Google Books Team, Joseph P. Pickett, Dale Hoiberg, Dan Clancy, Peter Norvig, Jon Orwant, Steven Pinker, Martin A. Nowak, and Erez Lieberman Aiden*. Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books. Science (Published online ahead of print: 12/16/2010)
- Beattie, M. (1992). Codependent no more : how to stop controlling others and start caring for yourself. Taylor & Francis.
- Kwon, S. (2022, April 28). Collective or Codependent? | Psychology Today Australia. Www.psychologytoday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/immigrant-stories/202204/collective-or-codependent