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2002-10-02 - 4:38 p.m.

Hey ho, here's some stuff I wrote today, I thought it might go well here too, so here it is.



Pop-psychology uses the word “co-dependence” as a derogatory term for a relationship in which two people are dependent on one another. But its origins (according to Craib) are in the field of alcoholism and drug-dependence. The person who is addicted to the drug is dependent on it, but often they have a partner or relation who is not addicted to the drug, but enables that addiction and gets certain psychological satisfactions from their relation to the person who is addicted; they are co-dependent. That is, they are indirectly dependent on the drug, because if the addict is able to overcome their addiction, then the co-dependent person loses the source of satisfaction which they had grown to depend on. They co-operate or collaborate in the person’s dependence.

So what’s the cause of the popular misunderstanding of the word? I want to substitute another word for it, and I think that word ought to be “interdependent”, but this is… problematic. Everyone can accept that, at the very least on an economic level, we are all interdependent. What the word “co-dependent” is being used to describe is a kind of “binary interdependence”, that is, an unbalanced mutual dependence between two people that makes them each utterly dependent on their relationship with the other.

Posed against this is the fantasy of independence. In this fantasy, the independent person is able to engage in significant and rewarding relationships with other people but without being dependent on them. The reality that undermines this fantasy is the obvious fact of interdependence that I mentioned earlier; at the very least we require others to buy things from us and sell things to us, or if we are operating a self-sufficient farm, to recognise our property rights over it. But, more than this, it’s obvious that we all have emotional needs which cannot be fulfilled except by our relationships with other people.

I imagine the way to defend the fantasy of independence is to create a sufficiently large and complex network of interdependence that can sustain an illusion of choice in the matter of emotional need. One can apportion out one’s emotional needs into categories, and one’s life into matching categories, so that each category of need is met by a different section of one’s activities, and these activities are independent from each other, thus making one independent from each of them. If any one part of my network of relationships breaks down, then I am not broken down myself, because the other relationships form a “safety net”, which will sustain me while I replace the missing category of need-fulfillment.

What this structure requires of the self, however, are two impossible or near-impossible things. First, one must be in control of one’s emotional needs, such that they can be apportioned out or classified neatly into sections, so that the structure may be suitably balanced. And second, one must ensure that none of the areas of one’s life overlaps with any other area; as soon as there is “interference” between different regions, then the careful balance of these regions is lost, and one begins to feel once again, overly-dependent.

And this is ignoring another vital problem, which is that, if as Sennet suggests, among our needs is the need to feel dependent, then it’s hopeless to try and establish oneself as independent and also satisfied.

If we accept that life inherently involves some degree of dependence on others, however, a different problem arises. The fear of dependence that drives the fantasy of independence is a genuine one. Which is to say, to be utterly dependent on one other person is to live in constant fear and insecurity, because if at any moment they withdraw from you then you will collapse. It’s a terrifying and I think ultimately unstable condition, because the fear of abandonment will make your company unpleasant to the person whom you depend on.

Again, thinking in Craib’s terms, once the phase of omnipotence has been outgrown, it’s impossible to believe again that there is security in a relation of one-way dependence.

Which brings me to so-called “co-dependence” or what I’ve called “binary interdependence”. This seems like a possible solution to the problems of total dependence on another person; if that person is equally or at least greatly dependent on you, then you have some safeguard against abandonment, and thus you can relax in their company.

This solution, though, does seem to have something of the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction about it, and also presumes a sort of daggers-drawn theory of human relations. But, this is I think part of its appeal, because it does not depend on perfect people to make it work. If we could just choose who we were and what we wanted, none of the problems I’ve discussed here would even exist, because we’d just choose to be self-sufficient and caring and strong and so on. But what… see, there are times when everything I’ve discussed here is superfluous, and seems ridiculously distant from the safe relationships we have with people whom we care about and who care about us and seem to give without demanding in return, to whom we can give without feeling at all put-upon. The trouble is that it isn’t always like that, so if we are to maintain meaninglful relationships between these effortless periods where they simply maintain themselves, something more is necessary… perhaps something ugly, bestial. This is sort of what I was talking about in “A Beast’s Mercy” – presuming that everyone is sometimes weak, petty, selfish, paranoid, and so on, what can be done to make human relationships bearable? The beast’s solution, it seemed to me, was to just disappear into his palace until everything was easy again, at which point it would be alright for him to return to the world. But this – this can go on forever. Once you’ve fallen out of relation then there’s no simple falling back in again – it’s possible to remain stuck permanently. It is the acceptance of the beast as beast by Beauty which makes him human again.


"You call that driving?

Why didn't you stand on it?" - Bruce Springsteen

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