An increasing number of people have recognized themselves in the symptoms described in the following pages. They have begun to desire to change, to clear up the distortions, and to be healed from the painful aftermath of experiencing childhood in a dysfunctional family.
If you are such a person, I want to offer you a great deal of hope. The first major step in changing and clearing up these distortions requires facing the fact that the disease exists in your life. One of the purposes of this book is to describe what the symptoms are, where they come ftom, and how they sabotage our lives, so that you can learn to recognize codependence operating in your own life.
This disease and its link to various forms of child abuse is a complex subject. Because of dysfunctional childhood experiences a codependent adult lacks the ability to be a mature person capable of living a full and meaningful life. Two key areas of a person's life reflect codependence: the relationship with the self and relationships with others. The relationship with one's self, I believe, is the most important, because when people have a respectful, affirming relationship with themselves, relationships with others automatically become less dysfunctional and more respectful and affirming.Much has been written about codependence in recent years, and many symptoms and characteristics have been described. My own work tells me that five symptoms form the core of the disease. Organizing the discussion of codependence around these five symptoms seems to make it easier to grasp how the disease operates.Codependents have difficulty
1.Experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem
2.Setting functional boundaries
3.Owning and expressing their own reality
4.Taking care of their adult needs and wants
5.Experiencing and expressing their reality moderately
WHERE THE DISEASE COMES FROM
I have come to believe that dysfunctional, less-than-nurturing, abusive family systems create children who become codependent adults. Our culture!s inherent belief that a certain kind of parenting is "normal" contributes to the difficulty of facing codependence. A closer examination of "normal" parenting techniques reveals that they include certain practices that actually tend to impair the growth and development of the child and lead to the development of codependence. In reality, what we tend to call normal parenting very often isrft healthy for the child!s development; it is less-than-nurturing or abusive parenting.
For example, many people think the range of normal parenting includes hitting a child with a belt, slapping a child across the face, screaming at a child, calling a child names, having the child sleep with them, or being nude in front of a child who is older than age three or four. Or they think it acceptable to require small children to figure out a way to deal with life is situations and problems themselves, rather than providing a concrete set of rules for social conduct and some basic problem-solving techniques. Some parents also neglect to teach basic hygiene such as bathing, daily grooming, the use of deodorants, dental care, removing dirt, stains, and body odor from clothes, and how to keep them mended, expecting the children to luiow somehow on their own.
Some parents think that if children are not given rigid rules and swift, severe punishment for breaking them, the children will become juvenile delinquents, teen unwed mothers, or drug addicts. Some parents, after making a mistake such as punishing a child in error because the full facts were not clear at the time of punishment, would never apologize to the child for the mistake. Such parents conceive that an apology would be seen as showing "weakness" that might undermine the parent's authority.
Some parents believe, perhaps unconsciously, that children's thoughts and feelings have little validity because the children are im-mature and need training. These parents respond to a child's thoughts and feelings by saying "You shouldn't feel that way" or "I don't care if you don't want to go to bed -you're going because it's good for you!" and believe they are training the child in a functional way.
Still other parents swing to the opposite extreme and over-protect their children, not making the children face the consequences of their own abusive and dysfunctional behavior. Such parents are often very intimate with their children, using them for confidants and sharing secrets beyond the children's level of development. This, too, is abusive.
Many of us who were raised in homes where this kind of behavior was common grew up in the delusion that what happened to us was "normal" and appropriate. Our caregivers encouraged us to believe that our problems arose because we didrft respond appropriately to what happened to us. And many of us arrived in adulthood filled with baffling feelings and with a distorted way of looking at what happened in our family of origin. We got the idea that the way our families behaved toward us was correct and our caregivers were good. This meant by unconscious deduction that since we werern't happy or comfortable with some things that went on, we were not "good." Also, we apparently couldn't please our parents by being what we were naturally. This delusion that the abuse was normal and we were "wrong" locks us into the disease of codependence with no way out.