#494 Chuck’s Place: Codependency-Tending the Self

Welcome to Chuck’s Place, where Chuck Ketchel expresses his thoughts, insights, and experiences! As I pondered various possible topics this morning, it was Jan who suggested to me that I explore the dynamic of the projected self and codependency. I was struck by the suggestion that all projections result in codependent relationships, a fact I hadn’t contemplated before. Thank you, Jan!

The term codependency has stood the test of time, at least by modern standards, still finding relevancy and usage after twenty plus years. A product of the alcoholism field, the term codependency was coined to describe an addictive disorder in its own right, which manifested in people attached to an alcoholic. The essence of this addiction was an obsession to control the behavior of the alcoholic. Since that time this dynamic of codependency has been broadened to include attachment to all types of dysfunctional people whether they be alcoholic, chemically dependent, rageaholic, workaholic, sexaholic, physically abusive, etc,.

Building upon the dynamic of projection, which we have explored from many angles in past weeks, we can now study the relationship of projection to codependency. All projection creates a codependent relationship. Broadly speaking, when we project we are placing a vital part of ourselves onto another person. This happens, of course, quite outside the province of consciousness: we don’t choose to project, it happens, something within the psyche elects to, literally, give away a part of ourselves to another. By this action the very boundary of who we are is extended to include another person, though we remain totally unaware of this extended aspect of self. What an incredibly vulnerable position this puts us in. How can we be certain when that person goes into the world, beyond our reach, that we will be okay? This can be the source of overwhelming fear and anxiety as the threat of loss of self is imminent. This is codependency in action.

The compulsion to track and control the other, our projected self, is paramount to ensuring our safety. Perhaps we have projected the mother within us. We may have been burdened with a conflicted early parental relationship with our own mother, which has resulted in a failure of our internal emotional regulation system to function positively as we struggle to self nurture, self soothe, or feel basic worthiness. This can make it incredibly difficult to be alone. In a desperate search to emotionally stabilize we unconsciously project mother onto another. Since our internal mother image is conflictual, our projected other will reflect these same characteristics. For instance, we will be drawn to an ambivalent, alternately withholding critical person who holds out the promise of loving us. We desperately seek to transform this other into a loving mother to solve our inner conflict so we can become capable of self love. We remain hopelessly bound to serving the needs of our projected mother, which is our attempt to control the other and get them to love us. If our projected mother is an abusive lover, we strive relentlessly to prove our worthiness by making things perfect, to achieve vindication and deeply hoped for acknowledgment. When we fail and are abused, no matter how brutally, we are driven to remain loyal to our projected other, after all, it is a vital part of our self.

Hence, codependency reflects the mandatory need to tend the needs of the self, the projected self. There is no other option. To not do so is to risk loss of self. This is so threatening that in its extreme can lead to murder, in defense of the self. This is the case where abusive, controlling men, for example, who have projected their inner anima onto their partner, could actually be driven to kill their partner, rather than allow that part of themselves to roam freely in the world, disconnected from themselves. In a strange way, death seems the safer solution, as no one else can then touch this vital part of the self; this is ultimate control.

On a more hopeful note, when consciousness recognizes that the desperately sought after other is actually a projected part of the self, perhaps after countless rounds of repetitive dysfunctional relationships, it will become possible to inwardly bring home the gold and transform the conflicted part of the self through the process of recapitulation. This is when we stop trying to change the other and instead turn to changing ourselves. This is a monumental step forward in maturity. Thus begins the true process of tending the self, beyond codependency.

As always, I am open to discussion or comment. Should anyone wish to write, I can be reached via email at: chuck@riverwalkerpress.com

Until we meet again,