A revealing article about the origins of codependency. Authored by Darlene Lancer, a psychotherapist who is also an authority on codependency. Check out her personal blog here
Codependents and Power
Codependents generally grow up in families where power was exercised over them in a dominant-submissive pattern. Their needs and feelings were ignored or criticized. When personal power and self-worth isn’t encouraged, we come to believe that power and love can’t coexist. Power gets a bad rep. We’re afraid of our own power and to feel safe and loved learn to accommodate and please others. For girls, this can be reinforced in families where women and girls are viewed as second-class or not encouraged to be assertive, autonomous, educated, and self-supporting.
On the other hand, some children grow up to decide the best way to feel safe and get their needs met is to exercise power over others. This is also presents problems, since it breeds fear and resentment and makes our partner withdraw or behave in passive-aggressive ways.
Many codependents have never learned to be assertive or how to problem-solve. They’re unable to know and assert their wants and needs or make decisions, often even for themselves. They relinquish control over themselves and often defer to others or don’t act at all. Assertiveness is empowering, but requires a foundation of autonomy and self-esteem, both difficult for codependents. However, assertiveness can be learned, and doing so builds self-esteem.
Control is one of the primary symptoms of codependency – control of self and/or others. It becomes confused with power. Because codependents lack a sense of power in their lives, instead try to manipulate and control others. Instead of taking responsibility for their own happiness, which would be empowering, codependents’ focus is external. Rather than attend to their needs directly, they try to exercise power over others and control others to make themselves feel okay on the inside. They think, “I’ll change him (or her) to do what I want, and then I’ll be happy.” This behavior is based on the erroneous belief that we can change others. But when our expectations aren’t met, we feel more helpless and powerless.
Lancer, Darlene. “Power, Control, and Codependency.” What Is Codependency.