As a teacher and writer on the subject of codependence, I often question its relationship to global issues. What, if anything, does codependence have to do with poverty, violence, corruption, hunger …? How important is the study of codependence in alleviating these conditions?
My answer, briefly stated, is very.
Everyone in this world exhibits some aspect of codependent behaviour, so it should go without saying that the structures we build (and the devastating conditions that sometimes result from these) will have at least an element of this human condition. Moreover, it is a general truism that external states mirror our inner ones. Therefore, if we tend to let our internal, codependent parts make choices for us, the implication is that we will be more comfortable with schools, work places or government that also make codependent choices.
Codependency, as Charles Whitfield (1991) states, is the act or “addiction to looking elsewhere … we believe that something outside of ourselves … can give us happiness and fulfillment.” This something can be a person, animal or even one’s career or belief system. If we were to incorporate this definition into any of the aforementioned institutions, we could see that often it is not whether we feel good about ourselves but whether we get the good grade, earn a promotion or, on a governmental level, have the Olympics come to our city. As a resident of Vancouver, I was told repeatedly how hosting the Olympics would make us a world class city. Were we not already up to standard before we put in the bid? And were we not told the same thing regarding Expo ‘86?
So how can the realization of codependency’s external manifestations alleviate poverty, violence and corruption?
Whitfield (1991) suggests that codependents do not see themselves as separate from others or do not see the other as separate from themselves: boundaries become blurred if not tramped upon. To illuminate this, let’s use a stereotypical codependent partnership that involves a “victim” and an “abuser”. The victim does not see themselves as separate from the abuser: if only I had cleaned the house; made more money; not embarrassed them, they (the abuser) would not have hurt me. The abuser does not see the victim as separate from themselves: its only because they did this action that I am driven to drink; hit them; or have extramarital affairs.
It all comes down to how we relate to one another. If we see in the “other” an opportunity to fulfill our internal needs, we won’t see the other as human – we will objectify them and disrespect their boundaries. On a global level, if the sweat shop owner looked at their employees as less of an opportunity to make money and more of a human relationship, would they not treat them accordingly? The owner, however, cannot look at the employee as human if he or she is determined that making lots of money through their employee’s labour is the road to happiness. The institution of capitalism, if left unchecked, can breed abuse and poverty.
The same goes for unbridled nationalism, an institution for many countries. If we put more value on our country than the people who inhabit it, do we not lose some sense of our humanity? And through that loss, is that not how wars begin?
The road to happiness (or love, validation, safety) can only be found if we direct our first steps inward. If we recreate these conditions within ourselves we will be more likely to create those same conditions in our external environment. We then build institutions of governments, commerce and education that respect boundaries and value the individual as well as the community. By coming into recovery of our codependent parts, we not only take the first steps into healthier living but progress towards making this world a better place in which to live.
Jo-Ann Svensson is a teacher with The ARC Institute and a Certified ARC Health Practitioner.