True Love or Co-dependency?

Is the book the Giving Tree about true love or co-dependency?
One of my many insightful clients brought up recently that the book “The Giving Tree” seems more about a person’s co-dependency with a partner who takes, is selfish, and never gives, than a beautiful friendship or loving partnership. So I had to open up that old book on my shelf and take another look at it from a therapist’s perspective. Wow, did I agree.

From my perspective, giving of oneself selflessly is not what love and friendship are about. I find that many of my clients are caught up in patterns of rescuing behaviors that result in their partners being dependent upon them. Ultimately they end up feeling resentful about their partner‘s lack of responsibility, neediness, or selfishness yet struggle to get out of their patterns of giving or pursuing. Sometimes this is the only kind of love we  know and this is where the work begins to decrease unhealthy enmeshed behaviors that result in resentment, dependency, and co-dependency. Increasing healthy differentiation and ultimately learning to soothe ourselves when our partners may appear to need us to save or protect them is essential to changing the relationship dynamics and eliminating our own tendency towards co-dependent behaviors.  As the old saying goes, “It takes two to tango” is relevant here. In order to change a relationship we ultimately need to change how we react to our partner’s behaviors and their patterns of relating.

According to Wikipedia “Codependency is defined as a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (typically narcissism or drug addiction); and in broader terms, it refers to the dependence on the needs of, or control of, another. It also often involves placing a lower priority on one’s own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.” I actually don’t think that the person one is co-dependent with has to be narcissistic or an addict; that sometimes, that person could just be enjoying receiving like the boy in the giving tree. When my clients get caught up in co-dependency or acting like a parent to a child in their adult relationships, I encourage them to consider what they are getting out of relating with their partner in this way. While there are many disadvantages to having a partner be dependent upon us there are advantages to this as well – it can feel pretty good to feel needed or to feel in control.  But when does this get confused with feeling loved? Without the support of an objective supporter, it may be hard to pull back and see how the dynamic maintains itself and how we continue to feel like the victim in our relationships.  If you find yourself experiencing these feelings repeatedly in your relationships it may be time to take a look inward… if you want to create something different.

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