The last time I checked my “Miss Daisy Flower” Twitter account, I received a Tweet from someone who sent me two links in response I did to a Tweet with a link to one of my blog posts – this one: “Codependency Is Real And It Can Leave Women Vulnerable to Being Abused or Taken Advantage Of.”
The two links sent to me pertained to boys who had been sexually or physically abused – one story was based out of the U.K., and if I remember correctly, the other dealt with boys who had been sexually abused in some sort of Jewish religious context (by a rabbi or something).
At the moment, I’m too lazy to visit my account, log in, and re-read my notifications area to see exactly what those articles were (perhaps I’ll log back in later and post links to those articles in this post at a later time).
I did ask the person who Tweeted me what she was getting at, because at the time, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t understand the relevancy of the links she was tweeting at me. I mulled it over and now believe I may understand what she was trying to say. Here is my response.
I am a woman. I was born and raised in the United States. I was brought up in a traditional Christian family (of the Southern Baptist, evangelical variety) that believed in gender complementarianism (i.e., a belife in traditional gender roles buttressed by references to cherry picked or mis-applied Bible verses).
As I wrote in an older post,
but it’s passed off by Christian gender complementarians as being “godly” or “God’s design” for women.
In blogging about abuse and codependency, I am most competent – and most interested in and familiar with – addressing codependency as it relates to girls and women in American culture and American Christianity.
All I can fathom at this point is that the individual who Tweeted me was perhaps assuming that saying that there are ties between some girls and women and abuse and codependency is some form of victim-blaming (or sexism?), which, as I explained in a previous post, no, it is not victim-blaming to point out the links between abuse of females and codependent behavior.
I’m a former codependent myself who used to attract users and abusers, and who used to silently endure abuse from certain family members for years, precisely because of my codependency – and I’m certainly not victim-blaming myself!
Some boys and men are codependent too. Yes, codependency in a male can make that male vulnerable to attracting mean, selfish, manipulative, controlling, or abusive people. This does not mean that such males are to “blame” for being abused or taken advantage of.
Some abusers or “mean” people, are, by the way, female! Over my life, in my personal and professional life, I’ve had both males and females use me, exploit me, abuse me, or be rude towards me.
Some boys and men learn codependent coping methods in childhood when abused and carry these mal-adaptive coping habits into adulthood. I learned this from reading books and blog posts and articles about codependency (and some about abuse).
Christian author Paul Couglin was a codependent at one time. I’m unsure if he would use the term ‘codependent’ to describe himself or not, but that is more or less the sort of behavior he displayed for many years.
Coughlin wrote a book about his experiences (entitled”No More Christian Nice Guy”), explaining how his childhood abuse at the hands of his mother lowered his self-esteem and fostered codependent traits in him that carried over into his adult years, that he had to later un-learn.
Coughlin also explains in that book, and another one he wrote, how the teaching he received in his adult years by Christians perpetuated the codependent thinking and behavior, rather than eradicating it.
On Crosswalk’s site: (I have much more to say below this excerpt from this Q and A session with author Paul Coughlin, so please continue reading):
Christianbook.com: What’s wrong with being nice [codependent]?
Paul Coughlin: What we often label as “nice” behavior [which is often codependent in nature] is a disguise for passivity and fear. Historically, calling someone a “nice” person has not been a compliment. It has meant “dainty,” “unable to endure much,” and “effeminate” among other adjectives.
…CB: You say Jesus wasn’t a nice guy. He was a good guy instead. Please explain.
Coughlin: The Gospels show a man in near constant conflict and tension with his surroundings. Fearful Nice Guys avoid conflict and tension, often through dishonest means.
Nice people worship at the altar of other people’s approval. Jesus did not. Nice people when criticized often crumble and hide. Good people keep going, the way Jesus did.
…CB: Can you explain what you mean when you say that Christian men have it worse than non-Christian men when it comes to relationships at home and at work?
Coughlin: Christian men are expected to be mild and amiable, though Jesus was far from mild and amiable. They aren’t expected to show much emotion either, especially passion, since the “ideal” Christian man is primarily stoic. This makes him emotionally unavailable, which statistically leads to divorce.
Christian men have heard countless sermons on what it means to be innocent as a dove, but very few on what it means to be wise as a serpent. Some translations say “cunning and shrewd as a serpent.” As a result, they are ill-equipped to take on dishonest and deceptive forces at work. They are naïve, and we don’t respect naïve bosses, co-workers, husbands, or fathers.
They have been told for decades that personal integrity alone will help them succeed in life. This is naïve and detrimental both at home and at work. It goes against what Jesus told us.
….CB: What are the common sources of passivity in our culture?
Coughlin: There are three common sources: A culture that at best is confused about masculinity – at worst vilifies it; a dangerous caricature of “gentle Jesus meek and mild” that is as fictitious as “The Da Vinci Code”; Childhood traumas that create fear and anxiety, which are brought into adulthood, often undetected.
Coughlin later co-wrote a follow-up to that book with a female co-author, psychologist Jennifer Degler, entitled “No More Christian Nice Girl.” That book addresses, in part, how Christians encourage codependent behavior in Christian girls and women (and Christians do so in the misguided notion that such behavior is godly, good, biblical, or desirable).
Coughlin and Degler’s book to women admits that churches and secular encourage girls and women to be codependent far more often and strongly than they do boys and men. (Additional books bear out this same point as well, such as the work, “The Nice Girl Syndrome” by Beverly Engel.)
In their book “Boundaries,” Christian psychiatrists Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend both offer case studies of male and female patients.
Not only do their female patients lack boundaries (and lacking boundaries is one very large tell-tale sign of codependency), but so do some of their male patients.
From page 49, 50 of the book Boundaries:
“May I tell you something embarrassing?” Robert asked me. A new client, Robert was trying to understand why he had so much difficulty refusing his wife’s constant demands.
He was going broke trying to keep up with the Joneses.
“I was the only boy in my family, the youngest of four children. There was a strange double standard in my house involving physical fighting.” Robert cleared his throat, struggling to continue.
“My sisters were three to seven years older than me. Until I was in sixth grade, they were a lot bigger and stronger. They’d take advantage of their size and wale on me until I was bruised. I mean, they really hurt me.
“The strangest part of it all was my parent’s attitude. They’d tell us, “Robert is the boy. Boys don’t hit girls. It’s bad manners.” Bad manners! I was getting triple-teamed, and fighting back was bad manners?” Robert stopped.
His shame kept him from continuing, but he’d said enough. He had unearthed part of the reason for his conflicts with his wife.
As you can see, this client’s parents coached him into behaving codependently while he was still in childhood.
Robert was taught by his parents while he was still a boy to be passive in the face of female aggression and bullying, which left him wide open to being controlled, bullies, and so forth, by his wife when he was in adulthood.
Robert never learned as a child how to stand up to people, how to navigate conflict, or even heard the message that it is acceptable to have boundaries in the first place.
I would say in light of this information and other things I have read from other sources, that boys and men can be codependent, and that having been abused or brainwashed in childhood to be passive, can cause some boys and men to be codependent as adults.
Further, that this in turn can make such boys and men “easy targets” for mean, abusive, selfish, or manipulative people. These males then (like their codependent female counterparts) have to go into therapy, or read books and blog posts, about how to change this self-defeating behavior.
However, it is my contention that females are far more often and more strongly conditioned while in childhood to be codependent than males are.
American culture and American Christianity strongly confuse and conflate many traits considered feminine with codependency, which I explained in more detail in this other post:
While there may be some U.S. denominations, Christians, or Christian parents, that teach boys to be doormats – to associate being passive, weak, and unassertive with being a “nice guy” or “good Christian – I would say that more often, I have seen Christian men online complain of getting the opposite message from (gender complementarian) churches, parents, and pastors: that “real” Christian men are “tough” or “take charge” kind of guys, which means they aren’t taught to be sweet, compliant, passive, or agreeable.
Christian men are usually told to “man up” and to “be leaders,” especially if they go to their pastor complaining of marital problems. Rather than be told to “be more submissive,” they are told to be “Alpha” male tough guys.
It is usually Christian women who are told by pastors and Christian marital advice literature to be more passive and more submissive to a spouse to rectify problems in a marriage.
I’ve not yet heard of a situation where a pastor has told a Christian wife to be more “tough” or “take charge” towards her husband, or to be stronger, and take more of a leadership role, to alleviate marriage difficulties.
Even secular culture entices men to be tough and take-charge (and rewards them for it), and discourages them from being passive, loving, gentle, meek, soft spoken, and compliant.
When women in American secular culture display qualities that Americans generally consider to be “masculine” and admirable in men (such as being tough, take charge, driven, ambitious, blunt, etc.), they are referred to in derogatory terms (bossy, bitchy, unfeminine, and they will be told that they are “trying to be like men,” and this is unappealing).
I have read of studies of American teachers that show that many teachers reward and foster sexist stereotype behaviors in their classrooms: girls are rewarded by teachers for being neat, quiet, and agreeable (i.e, for culturally preferred gender stereotyped behavior in girls), while boys are rewarded by teachers for being assertive, out-spoken, etc. (i.e, for culturally preferred gender stereotyped behavior in boys).
For more on those topics and related, please see the following (I have more commentary below these links and excerpts):
“Cultural sexism in the world is very real when you’ve lived on both sides of the coin”
Even when women are as good as their male peers, they don’t get recognized.
For example, if a job posting uses words like “determined” and “assertive,” women are less likely to apply since the descriptors are associated with male stereotypes. …Wording on the advertisements made no difference to men. ….Ideally, wording shouldn’t impact whether a woman applies for a job, but the researchers showed that stereotypes persist, and play out in the application process.
In her review Gender Bias in Education, Amanda Chapman summarizes research from the 1990s through the early 2000s that look at the ways gender biases are reinforced in elementary school, at home, and in the larger culture. In particular, she found that girls are rewarded for good behavior and compliance, while boys are given positive feedback for assertiveness.
More recently, David Sadker and Karen Zittelman wrote about similar concerns in an issue of Principal Magazine. Among their findings, they note research showing that boys view literacy as a “feminine” area, and that girls believe their technology skills are lower than boys’.
Researchers believe that such differences between boys and girls originate in the ways that they learn to play in early childhood: Girls attune to social structures, while boys master spatial reasoning, experiences that are continuously reinforced by social expectations and educational experiences.
Some academics contend that children’s toys steer kids in gendered directions; boys often receive Legos and robots to play with, while girls are given dolls. Through such early experiences, boys learn problem-solving, building, and critical thinking abilities, while girls develop social-emotional, language, and collaborative skills. And these divisions seem to deepen as kids get older.
…The experiences of boys and girls in actual classrooms reinforce gender stereotypes as well. According to Chapman’s research, assertive behavior from girls is far less tolerated than it is from boys. The cultural edict “boys will be boys” also has a palpable effect on the severity of punishments. Behavior that would be overlooked or lightly punished in a boy may result in far harsher penalties for a girl because educators consider it aberrant, outside of acceptable social norms.
…Classrooms are generally sedentary environments that may be difficult for boys to thrive in — especially since they are socialized to be active. By contrast, girls are routinely encouraged to be neat, quiet, and well-behaved, and are praised for this behavior. And while such characteristics may enable girls to navigate traditional expectations of schools more successfully than boys, they can, over time, result in the sort of quieter, more hesitant participation I experienced with my female college students.
While it’s true that some males are codependent, and it can leave them vulnerable to attracting abusers, it’s my contention that Christianity and American culture encourages girls and women to be codependent far, far more so than males.
American males are not typically socially conditioned to display codependent traits as much, or as often, as American females are, because many of the hallmarks of codependency also coincide with traits our culture considers “feminine.”
Codependency may exist among some males and even be the reason why some end up with abusive or exploitative wives later in life, but I think codependency is a far more serious or far more common problem for females than it is for males.
But there is a link and a danger there, regardless of gender, of biological sex: people who are codependent will in fact tend to attract to themselves selfish, mean, or abusive people. This is reality. This is not victim-blaming.
I’ve discussed the ties between codependency, complementarianism, and girls and women on several other blog posts, so I would ask you to please read those.
There’s not much else I can say about it here that I’ve not already said in other posts – except I’d like to repeat that it’s NOT victim-blaming or sexist to discuss a link between abuse of females and codependency.
Other Posts (this blog) about Complementarianism and-or Codependency: