codependency history

The meaning of codependency today is far from the original meaning when it was first coined back in the 80’s. See, back in 1936, the 12 Step group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was started by Bill W. and Dr. Bob. This was a godsend to those struggling with alcohol addiction and it was quite successful in helping alcoholics sober up. (Thank you Bill and Bob)

Not too long after, Bill W’s wife, Lois W., and Anne B. began a 12 Step meeting for the families of alcoholics and termed it Al-Anon. Why? Interestingly enough, they began noticing some “interesting” characteristics that affected their lives and relationship negatively. Like, it wasn’t just the alcoholic that was displaying some unusual or dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors. The families were too! Well, I suppose this would be quite common living with an alcoholic and perhaps bringing in their own unhealthy coping skills into the relationships.

In the 1970’s therapists and treatment specialists started to see that just treating the alcoholic was not enough. They suggested that the whole family needed treatment. In the 80’s, alcoholism and addiction in general were termed “chemical dependency” and those that were with the chemically dependent and showing signs of problems were termed “co-chemically dependent”. Well, that’s quite a mouthful, so they shortened that term to “co-dependent.”

The definition of codependency broadened

Back then, you were codependent if you were with an alcoholic or drug addict or grew up in a home where alcoholism was prevalent.  By the 80’s, the term became more broad and used more in the case of a person who was in a relationship (intimate or friendship) with a narcissist, addict, or selfish person. It was aimed at those who were not strong enough to have an individual life outside of their partner, lived life people-pleasing, and choosing the same type of relationship time and time again.

It started coming across as someone who was weak, clingy, needy, and an emotional wreck, but authors like Pia Melody and Melody Beattie really took this to another level and shed some light on the topic, helping us understand that it is a multifaceted issue and not easily defined.

Now, there are many people talking about codependency- experts and common folk. It’s become a well-known term, though still some people are not quite sure what it means.

Ross Rosenberg, who is an expert in the field and author of The Human Magnet Syndrome: Why We Love People Who Hurt Us, defines codependency pretty well. He is also doing his best to get away from the term “codependency” and change the disorder to “self-love deficit disorder”, due to lack of self-love being at the very core of codependency. Here is Rosenberg’s definition:

“Codependency is a problematic relationship orientation that involves the relinquishing of power and control to individuals who are either addicted or who are pathologically narcissistic.  Codependents are habitually attracted to people who neither seem interested nor motivated to participate in mutual or reciprocal relationships.  Hence, the partners of codependents are often egotistical, self-centered and/or selfish.  Typically, codependents feel unfulfilled, disrespected and undervalued by their relationship partner.  As much as they resent and complain about the inequity in their relationships, codependents feel powerless to change them.”

I really like that definition, though I do think two recovering codependents at different places on the codependency scale can be in a relationship and it’s not always a codependent and a narcissist or addict together.  Yet typically for those that are not aware of their codependency issues, they will and do attract the more unavailable, selfish type or addict.

If you’ve been in a codependent relationship, you can probably relate very well to things like feeling undervalued, disrespected, and powerless. You’ve probably had your fair share of feeling stuck in a toxic relationship.

Let’s just be real honest: codependency is such a silent killer of relationships.  It is not something that is talked about much because it is not really known among the general public.  In fact, much of society is codependent, so it is looked at as “normal” for the most part- but I assure you it is far from normal or healthy.