The phenomenal growth of AA and the success of the disease concept in the treatment of Alcoholism generated the founding of treatment centers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These early treatment centers were based on what had been successful in early AA. They focused on getting the Alcoholic sober and paid very little attention to the families of Alcoholics.
As these treatment centers matured and evolved, they noticed that the families of Alcoholics seemed to have certain characteristics and patterns of behavior in common. So they started to pay some attention to the families. A term was coined to describe the significant others of Alcoholics. That term was "co-alcoholic" - literally "alcoholic with." The belief was that while the Alcoholic was addicted to alcohol, the co-alcoholic was addicted, in certain ways, to the Alcoholic. The belief was that the families of Alcoholics became sick because of the Alcoholic's drinking and behavior. With the drug
explosion of the sixties, Alcoholism treatment centers became chemical dependency treatment centers. Co-alcoholics became named co-dependents. The meaning was still a literal "dependent with," and the philosophy was much the same.
In the mid-to-late seventies, however, certain pioneers in the field began to look more closely at the behavior patterns of families affected by addiction. Some researchers focused primarily on Alcoholic families, and then graduated to studying adults who had grown up in Alcoholic families. Other researchers started looking more closely at the phenomenon of Family Systems Dynamics.
Out of these studies came the defining of the Adult Child Syndrome, at first primarily in terms of Adult Children of Alcoholics and then expanding to other types of dysfunctional families. Ironically this research was in a sense a rediscovery of the
insight which in many ways was the birth of modern psychology. Sigmund Freud made his early fame as a teenager with his insight into the importance of early childhood trauma.
What the researchers were beginning to understand was how profoundly the emotional trauma of early childhood affects a person as an adult. They realized that if not healed, these early childhood emotional wounds, and the subconscious attitudes adopted because of them, would dictate the adult's reaction to, and path throughout life. Thus, we walk around looking like and trying to act like adults, while reacting to life out of the emotional wounds and attitudes of childhood. We keep repeating the patterns of abandonment, abuse, and deprivation that we experienced in childhood.
Psychoanalysis addressed these issues only on the intellectual level - not on the emotional healing level. As a result, a person could go to psychoanalysis weekly for twenty years and still be repeating the same behavior patterns.
As the Adult Child movement, the Family Systems Dynamics research, and the newly emerging "inner child" healing movement expanded and developed in the eighties, the term "Codependent" expanded. It became a term used as a description of certain types of behavior patterns. These were basically identified as "people-pleasing" behaviors. By the middle to late eighties the term "Codependent" was associated with people-pleasers who set themselves up to be victims and rescuers. In other words, it was recognized that the Codependent was not sick because of the Alcoholic but rather was attracted to the Alcoholic because of his/her disease, because of her/his early childhood experience.
At that time, Codependence was basically defined as a passive behavioral defense system, and its opposite or aggressive counterpart was described as counter dependent. Then most Alcoholics and addicts were thought to be counter dependent.
The word changed and evolved further after the start of the modern Codependence movement in Arizona in the mid-eighties. Co-Dependents Anonymous had its first meeting in October of 1986, and books on Codependence as a disease in and of itself started appearing at about the same time. These Codependence books were the next generation and evolved from the books on the Adult Child Syndrome of the early eighties.
In 1991, codependency was addressed when a recovering alcoholic, John Baker, started Celebrate Recovery in California. Celebrate Recovery has spread throughout the U.S. and internationally. Utilizing the same 12 steps of AA, it provides help for codependence, and other issues, within the Christian church setting.
The expanded usage of the term "Codependent" now includes counter dependent behavior. We have come to understand that both the passive and the aggressive behavioral defense systems are reactions to the same kinds of childhood trauma, to the same kinds of emotional wounds. The Family Systems Dynamics research shows that within the family system, children adopt certain roles according to their family dynamics. Some of these roles are more passive, some are more aggressive, because in the competition for attention and validation within a family system, the children must adopt different types of behaviors in order to feel like an individual.
A large part of what we identify as our personality is in fact a distorted view of who we really are, due to the type of behavioral defenses we adopted to fit the role or roles we were forced to assume according to the dynamics of our family system. In Codependency Series Part 3, we will look more closely at those behavioral defenses.
You may recognize yourself there and other family members, as well.
Resources: "Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls"