Context: Finished this off as we moved from our old place to this new place… much nicer… same rent!
While I was back in the UK for a few months earlier this year, I took to hanging around the psychology sections of bookshops. I know some of you do that too and so I know that I share with you that strange feeling of self-consciousness that goes with this practice. It takes some courage to stand in public and flick through a copy of “Why My Life is a Mess and How to Sort it Out by the Weekend” and other such titles. Still, I’m getting old enough not to care a fig what others think of me, so I threw my social status to the wind and spent many hours waving my “I Need Help!” flag in Waterstones. One of the books that struck me was this one and I’d like to tell you about it.
Codependency is difficult to define. It’s basically what happens when someone abuses themselves, and then, because you love them, you try to help them and, in doing so, get abuse from them which, far from driving you away, spurs you to love them ever more selflessly. But as you continue to pour out love on the dysfunctional object of your affection, they can no more love you than stay sober, or stop beating you, or [fill in your own condition here]. As a result, you start to shrivel and decay. Your life implodes in a mess of need. You are codependent. They need you to survive and you have begun to need them to stay in a mess so you can love them and somehow justify your existence. Beattie defines it well as
a way of getting needs met that doesn’t get needs met
You might have to read that a couple of times to take in the full subtlety of its genius.
As I read through Beattie’s book, I was struck by two things. Firstly, how common codependency is. I saw not only myself but many of my peers, parents (I have a few) and it became a bit hard NOT to see codependency somewhere in everyone at times. But then a second thought struck me: codependency varies in its intensity. It can destroy your entire self. But for the most part, it seems, it simply makes life more complicated and sad than it need be… and it doesn’t need help in that department often, does it.
Beattie does an excellent job of describing how codependents come to be. Childhood is the fertile ground and often an alcohol-dependent parent sows the seeds into this. I had just such a parent. She describes typical characteristics of codependent people with long lists that, I have to admit, you can probably find a little of anyone in they’re so exhaustive.
But where this book shines is in the practical and encouraging way that she starts to help us out of our situation. She helps us detach, find ourselves, fans the flames of self-love in a healthy way and learn to love in a way which not only helps ourselves but the person we’re trying to help.
Having said this, the book did go on a bit. I think it could be about ¼ shorter than it is and still pack a punch. It starts to get a bit samey at the end, a bit pep-rally and that doesn’t really work with us Brits. Anyway, it was very helpful for me in getting a better perspective on my role in the relationships I’m part of.