Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Victim Blaming, Codependency, and the Analogy

Here's how I view this idea that the pain I feel in my relationship is "my fault", and stemming from "old wounds" or due to my "codependency".  

Let's say when I was three I fell down some stairs and broke my leg. And let's say that I fell down those stairs because someone bigger than me, someone who was supposed to care for and protect me, pushed me. 

Let's also say that as a three year old I couldn't get myself to a hospital and no one brought me so my leg never healed right leaving me with a bum leg that I could eventually walk on, but not quite right. In fact, my whole skeletal structure became compromised because I had to favor one leg over the other causing all sorts of other things to get thrown out of alignment. Back problems, neck problems, muscle problems, etc. But I learned to live with it, and I was functional as best I could be. 

Years later I meet a man who loves my quirky crookedness and we fall in love. He is kind. He is attentive. He makes me feel good. But then things start going a little awry. Then one day, with not a whole lot of warning, man walks up to me with a baseball bat and nails me on the bum leg, breaking it again. 

So I've got a broken leg, a re-broken leg, and I go to the hospital. 

Here are two possible scenarios. 

What should happen: 

At the ER the doctor takes some x-rays and comes back to tell me what's what. "You've got a pretty hefty fracture and we're going to have to set the leg and then put a cast on. After 8 weeks in the cast I'm going to want you to do some physical therapy. What I'm concerned with is that you also appear to have an  old fracture that didn't heal right, and we're going to have to fix that too. The good news is that the new fracture is on the same line, so by fixing the new fracture, and with intense therapy, you'll be almost as good as new, in fact better than you have been for years. I'm sorry this happened to you. We'll give you something for the pain for a few days, and after that the pain will be bearable enough for you to handle on your own, but you'll be coming in for regular check-ups so we can be sure you're healing properly this time. Also, I think you might benefit from a self-defense class so that once you're healed you'll have a much better chance of keeping yourself safe from harm. Good luck and we'll see you in two weeks." 


What happens in the codependent/co-addict model:

At the ER the doctor takes some x-rays and comes back to tell me what's what. "You've got an old fracture and that's what caused this new one, so really it's your fault that your leg is broken. As for the pain you're feeling, that's also your fault. Clearly you are focusing on the pain too much and if you could just detach from it you'd realize there's really nothing to fuss about. You're bringing up your old pain and that's simply not the correct way to go about this. You say you were hit with a baseball bat? Obviously you put yourself in a situation to get your leg broken again because you're addicted to getting your leg broken. Look at how many times this has happened to you? Given your history, it's likely your leg is always going to be getting broken, but if you learn to realize that the pain your feeling is just wrong thinking, and as long as you go to a support group for the rest of your life, you'll be able to learn how to not worry or feel pain when your leg is broken. We good here?"


  1. I lol'd at parts in scenario #2

  2. I lol'd darkly as I wrote some of scenario #2. :P

  3. I love this!!!!!!! SO good!

  4. Just saw this referred on FB by Barbara Steffans - glad she recommended it. Great analogy! =)

  5. I feel a little blushingly honored that Barbara shared this on FB. Yikes!

  6. Yes! Yes! Yes! Six weeks ago I discovered my husband of almost 23 years has been cheating on me with lots of internet porn and with prostitutes for the last 7 yrs. I confronted as soon as I had evidence. He is in therapy, going to support grps, etc. I feel like I have been stabbed repeatedly, and then somebody kicked me in my gut while wearing a size 14 Army boot. And my psyche is NOT helped by being labeled as a "codependent/co-addict" just because my husband is a sex addict. I can't go to a support grp unless I buy into that crap. And as a mental health professional myself, I am appalled that most working in this field classify all partners as "codependents/co-addicts" without knowing the individuals, the relationships, and the history. This is a classic case of blaming the victims and retraumatizing us.

  7. Anonymous - First, I am so terribly sorry about your recent discovery.

    I read "Codependent No More" years ago when I was in a marriage with an alcoholic, and there were definitely things in there about myself that I recognized. And I can certainly relate to the trauma model now, and I think sex addiction is a relational trauma. How could it not be?

    At the same time, I think we'll get to much more deeply effective treatments through understanding it's not an either/or proposition. The codependent model is the "inner" model, and the trauma model is the "outer" model.

    Meaning, the codependent model has us look inward for our source of trouble, and the trauma model has us look to what's going on outside of us. I think it's a combination.

    However, having said all that, the most emotionally healthy person on the planet would have difficulty not being traumatized by such a discovery of betrayal. I wish you healing as fast as it can possibly come, but for as long as it takes to get to the root.


  8. love the page/blog I’m so glad Barbara shared it to my domestic violence by proxy page, thank you

  9. Brilliant, brilliant analogy. Thank you so very very much. I subject myself to more than enough scrutiny and own my isms enough. I don't want or need to be pathologised because I am a bit wonky, v. empathetic and have demonstrated loyalty (albeit of the misguided kind)