Codependence as a Theory of Everything
Recently I was a guest on a podcast hosted by some progressive Christian friends. I was on it once before, and jokingly said as we were signing off: “Have me back on to talk about codependence and religion!” And they did!
I think it went okay overall, but I found myself having a harder-than-expected time explaining codependent dynamics to people who hadn’t already internalized the language and concepts. It also came out in the conversation that one of the hosts had been uncertain about the point of this topic and he even kind of said, “Churches don’t do that.”
And I said, “Well, people do that, and churches are made of people.” Also, I think a lot of churches do in fact “do that,” but these days you’re probably more likely to see it in evangelical-type churches than in the mainline or progressive churches. The closer something gets to feeling a little cult-like, the more you’ll see it.
That’s not the topic of this edition of Adult Child, though. The difficulty I had explaining and the resistance of the one host (a host who, it came out later in the episode, had actually lost a family member to alcoholism) got me thinking about how recovery (particularly the type of “recovery” that has stemmed from the AA movement that started nearly 90 years ago now) can become a worldview or paradigm or lens through which you see and make sense of everything else.
And if someone else hasn’t put on that lens, it’s really hard for them to see what you see. This also got me thinking about the AA saying that recovery or the group is for “those who want it, not those who need it.”
That is, you can probably go around identifying a dozen people in your life who need some type of recovery, and feel like “oh, they just need to know this information, and then they’ll make these choices.” I have sent more than one friend copies of some of my favorite books on ACOA stuff, thinking that in a few short weeks they’d be calling me to say “Wow, Sara! This was exactly what I needed and now I understand all my issues, thank you!’
That has literally never happened. And that behavior is a little codependent—oops!
It can be easy to turn your chosen recovery paradigm into something a lot like religion. It becomes the thing through which you understand everything, you are convinced everyone else needs it, and you are tempted to proselytize.
I’m reminded of a family member who was studying and working in special ed who went through a phase where every other person’s behavior led to my family member saying, “I think they have a learning disorder.” Which, you know, they might! Just as a lot of people in our lives might engage in codependent patterns.
But I think that diagnosing someone else with anything is only helpful to the extent it increases compassion, patience, understanding…all that good stuff.
That said, when you’ve gone all-in on recovery stuff, in whatever form, it can be frustrating to wait for the world to catch up! Impatience is one of my more acute character flaws and it’s easy for me to start yelling at friends that they need boundaries, or otherwise try to fix them. Which, again, is codependence in action. 🤠
I have to be careful myself to not immediately pick out “issues-related” behavior or thinking in someone else, or hear about their background and assume they struggle with x, y, and z, because then I don’t see them. While recovery has mostly improved all of my relationships, this is an area where I have to watch myself.
I loved this TikTok. If you know, you know.
And a good ACOA Big Red Book quote to take into the weekend:
While these [ACOA] characteristics stunted our emotional and spiritual lives, we must realize they protected us as children. We grip these common behaviors tightly as adults. They are not easily surrendered even though they create internal pain and isolation … We urge you to be gentle with yourself as you begin to address the most troublesome traits. There is another way to live.