Codependency: Walking on Eggshells
‘Codependency’ is a psychological artifact whereby one human being bases her or his mood, plans, or behaviors upon what another human being does, says, is, does not do, does not say, or is not. This, like most things, exists on a spectrum and is not binary: we are not either codependent or not-codependent; instead, we are codependent to different degrees with each of those whom we consider more than acquaintances. Likewise, they are codependent on us to different degrees. Only at a certain point on this spectrum does codependence become pathological. Pathology occurs either when the codependent person is emotionally or behaviorally debilitated by the actions or omissions of the person upon whom she or he is codependent, or when the object of the codependence is forced to lash out at the codependent person to establish space or reset boundaries, due to the codependent person’s pathological encroachment.
We are all codependent to one degree or another. We are social animals. If another person comes up and slaps us, chances are we will be immensely affected by the action of the other person. But if someone instead merely insults us verbally — “my aren’t you one big fat fuck there, Jelly Roll?” — chances are most of us will be affected, but less of us than those affected by the outright physical assault, and likely to a lesser degree. Some of us are enlightened enough to embrace the fact that we are big fat fucks and to be jolly as a Jelly Roll about it.
On and on down the line of possible actions or omissions and possible responses. If she forgets my birthday, must I cry for two days? Why does she have this power over me?
We can place the marker for what is a pathologically codependent personality somewhere on the spectrum of allowing other persons’ actions and omissions to affect us. Those of us on the ‘normal’ side of the marker will not generally allow our moods, plans, or behaviors to be affected by social stimuli, or the absence of expected stimuli, that fall within the everyday range of subjectively-perceived human shittiness, rudeness, meanness, flakiness, irresponsibility, or unaccountability. Faced with such stimuli, a ‘normal’ person will just shrug and go back to whatever endeavors interest or motivate her or him.
(“Fuck it Dude, let’s go bowling.”)
On the ‘abnormal,’ or pathologically codependent, side of the marker, however, the ‘abnormal’ person acts differently. She or he becomes socially toxic when faced with subjectively-perceived (whether correct or not) human shittiness, rudeness, meanness, flakiness, irresponsibility, or unaccountability by the object of her or his codependence. The codependent person thinks, unjustifiably, that she or he is owed something by the other person. This is different than a justifiable, material debt; it is instead a psychological, imagined one. The codependent person will lash out at whomever has dealt her or him the perceived (usually trifling) injustice, or at whomever has failed to deliver to her or him some unreasonably-expected set of behaviors.
This is absolutely fucked. Try your best to fall on the normal side of the codependency marker. There are few things worse in the social world than dealing with a person codependent upon you for her or his own personal emotional or psychological homeostasis.
You can tell someone is codependent upon you by applying a simple ‘eggshells’ test: if it feels like you are constantly walking on eggshells while interacting with someone — such that if you make one wrong step the whole interaction could crack into a shitty mess — you are likely dealing with someone codependent upon you. That is an impossible role to fulfill. No matter how delicate your step, you will eventually crack the eggshells, and there will eventually be a shitty mess.
‘Normal’ persons simply go about their days in ways that makes sense to themselves. They are the owners of their own lives and choices: what to do and what not to do; what to be and what not to be. We get but one short life. We ought to optimize that life and be afforded the space to do so. Others, pathologically codependent upon us, may try to stop us from doing so due to their own pathology. For ‘normal’ persons, having someone codependent upon them is like having vicious hooks in their flesh. Vicious, blameful hooks, dragging the ‘normal’ person to a less optimal state for someone else’s pathological ends. This is tiresome and harmful.