Codependent Relationships Thwart Growing Up
Individuation is the psychological journey of becoming a whole, unique individual in our own right. A life-long process, individuation is how we gradually polish the diamond of our original Self, developing and becoming more and more who we really are at the core of our being.
Codependent relationships typically stand in the way of the individuation process, by prioritizing psychological fusion at the expense of individual freedom and growth.
Two Become One – But Not in the Way We Really Want
Psychological fusion means two people becoming one – but in a bad way. When we are codependent we entangle ourselves with another person in a way that’s called merging.
Merging means that we sooner or later fall into dysfunctional patterns of control, enabling of unhealthy behaviors, and overly fearing the elements of aloneness and self-responsibility that are involved in growing into our own journey.
That’s because in our not-yet-healed state, we form a bond with another that is centered at some level around our wounding, in which we both attempt to care for the other, compensate for unmet psychological needs, and develop a condition of mutual over-reliance.
There is a higher, spiritual version of sacred union, wherein we each hold onto ourselves, and yet also can join to create a third energy. Codependence may be a kind of childlike attempt at that, but until we’ve had a chance to heal psychologically, it will be hard to sustain real freedom and wholeness in each person.
I’ll Heal You and You’ll Heal Me
The state of wounded merging (also called trauma-bonding) develops strongly where each person meets needs for the other that actually the other person should, developmentally speaking, learn to do for themselves.
It can be quite sweet in the beginning. It’s like we agree to hold hurt pieces of each other until we’re each strong enough to do it for ourselves. We make up for missing pieces of childhood, providing safety, understanding, love, food, or whatever else is needed.
We don’t have to make codependent relationships bad and wrong. We do need to see that they are relationships between two wounded children finding a way to get what they need by taking care of each other. No relationship can stay that way forever, because we do want, deep inside, to grow up, ripen, and mature spiritually.
How Long Can We Avoid Ourselves?
Over-focusing on another can serve as a way of avoiding our own feelings, needs, and trauma. Codependency can be a distracting, addictive “fixer-upper” project, in which we direct our life purpose towards helping, fixing or caring for another person rather than looking at our own lives.
Each party takes on specific pieces for the other, making sacrifices and providing protections for the other. Both can become addicted to the same thing: using the other person as a way to delay facing one’s own life story.
We can do this for a long, long, long time. But the call of our own life will never really go away, even if we try not to listen to it.
Codependent relationships have negative impacts for both parties. Typically these negative impacts relate to the ways that we enable each other to stay stuck in patterns that aren’t actually positive or life-affirming. It starts to feel static and stifling.
So many of us start to wonder: can we change the deal?
Changing The Deal
The hidden problem of the old deal is each person gives up a portion of their true Self, while requiring that the other do something for us. We each trade in our autonomy and self-responsibility, in exchange for emotional security, understanding, support, approval, or whatever goodies the other person gives us. The agreement boils down, if we look closely, to some kind of surrender of individuality in exchange for being taken care of.
What can we do about it? Well, once we realize that we are busy holding someone else’s wound for them, we can start to play with the idea of holding our own. We take our wounds back from the other’s arms, and gradually give them back what we have been holding for them.
What wounds do we still need someone to hold, and how can we gradually be the one doing that holding? Here’s a journal prompt for you to explore this question.
Journal Prompt: Turn the Love Beam Back on You
- All You Give. Write out all the things you do for your partner (or other loved one). Include physical world activities, like making sure they have something to eat, as well as time spent of more subtle emotional activities, like supporting them emotionally, thinking of solutions for their problems, or even just worrying about them. Any of your own time you spend focusing on them, their needs, and their shape of their lives.
- Imagine Receiving from Someone Like You. Now imagine and write about what your life might be like if you were your own partner. If you met someone like you, who wanted to give you all that you have been giving away, what would that be like? How might you bloom and blossom under that beam of love? Does any resistance surface? What needs of yours still need the warm embrace of your own life-giving love?
Thanks for reading!