Healing Line

Healing Line

Q&A Forum

by Francis MacNutt
Fall 1997

Q: I have heard that I should not be "codependent." What does this term mean exactly?

A: Both Judith and I have been uncomfortable with the common use these days of the word "co–dependence." We find we are not alone: earlier this year, speaking at a women's conference in Cleveland, Judith was met with sustained applause when she stated her reservations about the term. Judith was surprised, but it shows that many people have had some of the same questions on their own.

We have no quarrel with the excellent, perceptive insights we find in books on co–dependence. Our problem is with the term itself, which implies that being dependent is a weakness. The term makes it seem as if being "dependent" is wrong. If you are "codependent," it is assumed you are weak and need to be set free so you can be independent. But living in a family or in a community means we are dependent upon one another. I am dependent on Judith, as she is on me — and that's the way it's supposed to be. "Co" comes from the Latin meaning "with." "Codependent" means you are dependent on — or with — someone, which is naturally the way it is.

Admittedly, you can become too dependent, or enmeshed, and lose the amount of independence you should have. Your life can be destroyed if you are overly dependent. In Alanon, for example, families of alcoholics have to learn to be assertive and not let their lives be destroyed by alcoholism.

On the other hand, people can be overly independent. They have an attitude of "I did it my way," with no respect for the rights or needs of others. The problem with our society seems to be, at the base, selfishness. Many of us need to learn to be more dependent upon other people — not less.

For these reasons, it might be better to say a person is "overly dependent," rather than "codependent." We can be "dependent" in the right sense — when we balance our independence with our need to be dependent upon others. It's a case of both/and, rather than either/or.

Our entire teenage generation struggles with this. As teenagers seek a growing — and needed — independence from their parents, their natural tendency is to rebel and desire total independence. Yet, to a certain degree, children always will be dependent on parents in many ways.

With all this in mind, I recently read something that confirms this understanding: a sociologist, John S. Rice, maintains that the concept of codependency is rooted in the tenets of "liberation psychotherapy," a way of thinking about one's self that sees all psychological problems as a result of the restrictions placed on individuals by social institutions, especially by the family. Furthermore, restrictions are placed on us by God's commandments, by the church and by our society. At times, we may need to say "no" to unjust laws and restrictions, but to declare total independence is rebellion and leads to chaos.

This explanation confirms our intuitive feeling that something is wrong with the term "co–dependence." Remember that we all need healthy "dependence" upon those whom we love and who love us.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Fall 1997 Issue