Something that got me thinking about my own co-dependency issues was Pia Mellody’s theory of how this works. I now use this model and theory when working with co-dependent clients. It works very well in one to one sessions and in groups. I used to think what is it about me that struggles in relationships and being able to be me. What parts of me am I prepared to show and which parts do I feel I can’t show. The intimate parts that prevent me from functioning as an adult in relationships. Getting irritated, resentful, shamed and at times acting like a teenager when I was 45!!
Pia Mellody states, “Co-dependency is a disease of immaturity cause by childhood trauma” Childhood trauma in this sense is the wounds and trauma experienced by a child in any family that is considered to be dysfunctional. This can be parents arguing, divorcing, a parent being ill or hospitalised, death, mental health and addiction. Anything that creates a dysfunction from the ideal, loving, caring, nurturing, boundary setting security hoped for by most. Things that are perceived by the child or that go under the radar-feelings of being abandoned or neglected, feelings of uncertainty and feeling unsafe, confused, anxious and overwhelmed.
She goes on to say, “Co-dependents are immature or childish to such a degree the condition hampers their life. A disease process according to Diland’s Medical Dictionary is, “ A definite morbid process having a characteristic chain of symptoms. It may affect the whole body or any of the parts, and it’s etiology, (or cause), pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown”
Pia calls the chain of symptoms that characterises co-dependency the ‘core’ or ‘primary’ symptoms and they describe how co-dependents are unable to be in a healthy relationship with themselves. These 5 core symptoms, which helped me understand my early relational trauma and wounds are;
- Difficulty experiencing the appropriate levels of self-esteem, that is to say, difficulty loving the self.
- Difficulty setting functional boundaries with other people, that is to say, difficulty protecting oneself.
- Difficulty owning one’s reality appropriately, that is to say, difficulty identifying who one is and knowing how to share that appropriately with others.
- Difficulty addressing interdependently, one’s adult needs and wants, that is to say, difficulty with self-care.
- Difficulty experiencing and expressing one’s reality in moderation, that is to say, difficult being appropriate for one’s age and various circumstances.
Pia goes on to explain that this followed by a further 5 secondary symptoms that are;
- Negative Control
- Impaired Spirituality
- Addictions, or Mental Health or physical Illness
- Difficulty with Intimacy
I will go on to discuss these in more detail in the next blog linking it to how we end up in a Drama Triangle, (Karpmann) that centres around blaming others or shaming ourselves due to the developmental immaturity to be able to represent ourselves with dignity and respect. The cycle of co-dependency.