Hearing, for the first time, P!nk’s unaccompanied voice punching “Da da da da da” in the intro, even before the relentless, driving guitar kicks in, left me winded. A foreshadowing of the breath-taking push-pull tussle that ensues. “I always say how I don’t need you.” followed a few lines later by “I need you.”
For those unfamiliar with the song, or who need reminding, here is the You tube link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-XLvUpvjZo. A warning though, this video contains disturbing images of brutalising behaviour by one human on another.
Co-dependence is learned through placating the chaotic, incessant demands of a forebear or sibling who is perceived as a helpless victim, in a vain attempt to ‘rescue’ them. Self-respect is abandoned and self-development subjugated in the mistaken belief that meeting the needs of another is the route to bolstering self-esteem and finding identity.
Subconsciously, we are attracted to partners who display what is familiar. Those who have experienced co-dependence growing up are drawn, undiscerningly, to the seemingly helpless, even when their suitor may prey on their benevolence. Such relationships are exploitative as the predator parasitically sucks life out of their helper leaving an impoverished husk. Enmeshment makes escape challenging, particularly as separation is perceived as threatening to existence. The myth of co-dependence is ‘There is no me without you.’ As P!nk repeatedly observes, clingingly, “it’s always gonna come right back to this. “Please, don’t leave me.”” Better to suffer accustomed abuse than face the unpredictable danger of the unknown.
Realistically, as finite human beings, we can never fully fulfil the needs and desires of our partner. Only God, who is infinite, can completely meet human need. Rescuers and victims do not always play the same role around the drama triangle. Either, can turn persecutor where their fragile self feels threatened by the other’s lack of ability to satisfy. P!nk describes humiliating victimisation of her partner by “yelling”, “kicking”, “insulting”, “cutting”, “hitting”, objectifying him as “my perfect little punching bag”.
With remarkable self-awareness P!nk confesses she “can be so mean” and “capable of really anything”. Realising she hasn’t always been as “obnoxious” and “nasty”, with a hint of blame shifting and allusion to awareness of co-dependence, she questions, “What is it with you that makes me act like this?” Before, alarmingly, justifying, her abuse, on the grounds, that her “heart is broken” and concluding relationships are “just a contest” won by “the one that hits the hardest”. The tragic irony of co-dependence is that it is not motivated by altruistically meeting the needs of another; rather, it is about getting my needs meet even if that means abasing myself. And, yes, there are times in relationship when we think situations are our partner’s fault; and we may feel like breaking their heart like we, mistakenly, believe they are responsible for breaking ours. What we are coming to terms with, in that moment, is our own inflated expectation of our partner’s ability to fulfil our lack, ending, yet again, in disappointment. But the co-dependent acts compulsively out of woundedness, “Baby, I don’t mean it,” P!nk sings poignantly, landing a pre-emptive strike to protect what remains of their fragile self, which serves, only, to escalate emotions.
Where relationships become a contest, nobody wins. Both are left broken in the aftermath of domestic violence. Mature adult attachment characterised by the mutual honouring of interdependence offers an opportunity to nurture and encourage one another to become fully the people we are intended to be.
Co-dependence also manifests in work place bullying and between church leaders and their congregations.
David Sinclair is a registered accredited psychotherapist, counsellor and supervisor.
He is the Pastoral Care Director of the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC), a faith based soul care agency.
David is also the Service Manager of Wessex Psychotherapy and Counselling CIO (WPC), a registered charity dedicated to relieving psychological and emotional distress.