Codependence became a popular buzzword for unskillful self-care starting in the 1980s. Back then, you could hear sayings from Alcoholics Anonymous, like scratch an alcoholic and you will find a codependent. Codependence as I understand it mostly means when we abandon ourselves to take care of another emotionally.
In a world of universal needs consciousness, we can see codependence for what it is: Unskillful habits to meet our needs. This separation of the universal need or needs we are trying to meet with our behavior and how we go about meeting those needs can do more to ease the shame and guilt of codependence than probably any 12-step meeting. Which isn’t to say that 12-step meetings are not useful when someone has years and decades of habitual patterns to change. They are. But the behaviors themselves do not make us a bad person or even a codependent person. They are just actions and strategies that often do more harm than good.
By becoming more aware of what needs are in play–the needs we are trying to meet, what needs are left unmet–we can have more choice about what actions we take to care for ourselves. Even taking care of others is a form of self care, possibly to meet long standing needs for security, connection, safety, belonging, etc.
For instance, some people are called “people pleasers” because they will often contort themselves to be liked or to not upset anyone. As a result, these people often fail to meet other universal needs they may have. In a needs-based consciousness we can ask ourselves, why do I people please? What needs am I trying to meet? Usually there are many: Safety, friendship, harmony, connection, belonging, love. The list could go on and on. Trying to please others is a very common and in many ways effective way to meet many of our needs.
But it has it’s consequences. People pleasing as a strategy to meet needs might leave unmet needs for integrity, honesty, authenticity or even nourishment (have you ever skipped a meal to do what someone else wanted to do?) It also contributes to a sense of disconnection, especially from ourselves. It is hard to feel embodied or grounded when our head is obsessively thinking about what other people are thinking about them or what they are wanting.
Often I will hear how “tiring” it is for people who are habitual codependent. Since first they cannot know for sure what they other is think, and second what the other is thinking is always changing, it can be very tiring for the codependent to maintain that feeling of safety or connection.