The Sexist Roots of Codependency – The mindset that makes many women stay in toxic relationships by Melissa Petro
I’ve writen posts on this blog previously explaining that Christian gender complementarianism is Codependency for women – it encourages women to exhibit and practice behaviors that make them more vulnerable to being targeted by abusers, con artists, manipulators, and the selfish.
Codependency can also leave a woman trapped in an abusive relationship much longer than normally, whether that is a romantic relationship, a family one, a friendship one, or a workplace one.
I was shouted down any time I mentioned any of that here or on other sites, though, by people who run domestic violence blogs who argue the concept of Codependency is supposedly victim-blaming, and I’ve explained time and again, that no, it is not victim-blaming.
Notice that there is an overlap between the sexist gendered stereotypes women receive (to be caring, nurturing, passive, to endure abuse, etc) from secular society, and what the church tells women is “godly” behavior that they are expected to possess and demonstrate under complementarianism (eg., to be caring, nurturing, passive, to endure abuse, etc).
I have further commentary to make below this long excerpt:
[The author opens by describing a relationship where she had a drug addicted boyfriend named Mark, who she ended up acting as a care-taker for (she both financially and emotionally supported him), and he exploited that; she eventually broke up with him]
….Like many women, I was raised to believe that a woman’s role was to take care of the home and support her partner unconditionally.
In exchange, I was taught, men were the breadwinners and protectors. Women put their romantic partners and their families before themselves; men called the shots.
At the time, I believed that helping him to stay off the streets, get medical care, and get help for his psychological problems and addictions was the right thing to do, no matter what it took.
Eventually, I would learn that I was co-dependent. But for a long time, I had no idea that my behavior was a problem—because everything I did conformed to social expectations about how women are supposed to behave in relationships.
Like many women, I was raised to believe that a woman’s role was to take care of the home and support her partner unconditionally. In exchange, I was taught, men were the breadwinners and protectors. Women put their romantic partners and their families before themselves; men called the shots.
I didn’t realize how much I’d internalized these ideas about gender roles when I first met Mark at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. …
[For six years, she and Mark danced the codependent dance while he went up and down with drug or alcohol relapses – she took care of them and her home, which he had moved into]
The word “codependency” gets thrown around so much that many people are unfamiliar with what it actually means. Often described as a maladaptive reaction to the tumultuous experience of living with an addict, it refers to the ways that the partners and relatives of addicts—or other people who need a lot of support—adopt the role of rescuer, protector, and confidante.
A codependent person enables an addict by helping them to avoid suffering the natural consequences of substance abuse. Self-help books such as Melodie Beatty’s bestseller, Codependent No More and 12-step programs like Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous insist that family members of drug users need care, too, and will often encourage those affected by addiction to detach or remove themselves entirely from people who are a danger to themselves and others.
[The author cites criticisms of the term or concept of “codependency,” where some women authors, such as Szalavitz and Tavris, argue that because women are “natural caregivers” -(no, we are not!)- that society has tried to pathologize the stereotypical feminine care-taking role]
I concede that detaching in an attempt to help an addicted person hit bottom can backfire.
But in my experience, it’s dangerous to assume that caregiving is a woman’s natural role. From my own experience, as well as having worked for over five years in harm reduction, helping addicts reduce negative consequences associated with their drug use, I know that codependency is real.
It’s not love, as some claim, although it can look or feel as if it is.
While co-dependency certainly affects both men and women, I’d argue that women experience codependency uniquely. What’s worse, it may be more likely to get overlooked by women as a result of prescribed gender roles. [I totally agree with the author here, and it’s point I’ve tried to make in older posts on my blog.]
…When he [her adult son] behaves in ways that are unacceptable, Felicity says, “I don’t demand respect or get angry in response; I cower and avoid.”
The larger issue, Desiree says, “is that women are not taught to say ‘yes’ to our own feelings and ‘no’ to what is around them.”
Women, she says, tend to imagine that they can take care of other people’s issues—precisely because the world tells them that’s the case. When other people have problems, women are more likely to internalize them as their own.
Szalavitz and others argue that family members are the right people to help drug-addicted loved ones, because spouses, parents, and children are highly motivated to see their loved ones do well.
It’s true that I was highly motivated for Mark’s behavior to change.
But it’s also true that while I took responsibility for my partner’s problems, my own needs weren’t being met.
Besides the erosion to my self-esteem, the greatest consequence was the financial abuse, which experts say women are at greater risk of experiencing.
While there are varying forms, financial abuse includes relationships in which the man controls everything financially even though they aren’t working.
In our case, Mark couldn’t hold a job for longer than a couple months at a time, and so all the household expenses fell on my shoulders. All the bills were in my name, including the credit cards I had begun using to make ends meet.
I shouldered many of Mark’s personal expenses as well. When Mark had a job interview, for example, I took him to buy a new suit, desperate for him to begin contributing to our household income. I ended up having to work twice as hard to support us both, ultimately driving me deeper and deeper into debt.
[The author discusses the relationship of Zak and Eliza – Zak was sponging off Eliza, who didn’t make much money to start with]
…In treatment, I learned that some people are more predisposed to have codependent relationships than others. People who’ve grown up in dysfunctional family systems are at risk of repeating these patterns in our adult relationships.
I also learned that codependents are often people who rely excessively on others for approval and a sense of identity.
For the enabler, a codependent relationship fulfills the desire to feel needed, which we mistake for love.
My fear of being abandoned and left alone was keeping me in a less than satisfying relationship. I subconsciously felt safer in a relationship with someone who was “sick.”
No one ever told me to leave Mark, or insisted that I practice “tough love.” Instead, I learned how to set boundaries and express my needs. I learned what was and wasn’t my responsibility, what I could and could not control.
[The author describes how she finally broke things off with Mark, who kept trying to contact her several years after the break up, and, she says, she finally “let go of the fantasy that he would pay me back the money he owed me”]
…In some ways, I still have traditional ideas about gender roles. But my relationship today is a lot more egalitarian. I may prefer to be the one who makes dinner, for example, but when I do, he takes out the garbage and walks the dogs. Unlike past relationships, my husband and I share household duties.
I just wanted to toss out there that my ex fiance’ who I was engaged to for a few years, and we dated a few years prior to the engagement, was a mooch. The idiot earned way, way more money than I did, yet he’d come to me every so often asking for a hundred here, or a thousand there.
He always promised to pay me back, but he never did.
After it started to become clear to me that the jackass was financially exploiting me, I kept giving him money anyhow – because my codependent mother raised me to be codependent, and all the while the Southern Baptist Churches my parents raised me in also taught me to be codependent.
I was taught very dangerous things like my needs and feelings do not matter, never, ever be confrontational, never show anger, do not have boundaries. I was never taught how to resist people or how to say “no” to people.
I was left feeling very guilty on any occasion when I did happen to go against all that complementarian and parental brain-washing to be assertive and turn someone down. Saying “no” and standing up for myself did not come easy at all.
My idiot ex promised in our last phone call, when I was breaking up with him, that he’d pay me back the thousands he owed me. It’s now over a decade later, and the jackass never did repay me.
Another thing I wanted to mention is that notice the number of men in these anecdotes above who were gold-diggers: they were financially abusing their girlfriends and wives. Yet, complementarians often depict all men as being noble knights in shining armor who will always save a lady and provide for her. But look how common it is for men to leech financially off women.
In my own case, my ex fiance used me for my money, and my older sister’s long time boyfriend (of over 20 years!) sponged off my sister. He rarely held a job, and the few times he did a get a low paying part time gig he’d spend all his paychecks on new stereo equipment he wanted and so on. He was not keen on helping buy groceries or pay light bills.
I’m not sure what religion, if any, the author and the other women in the article happen to be. Perhaps they are all atheists or agnostics, I do not know. Because this essay appears on a secular site, and no religious beliefs are implied or mentioned, I assume most everyone interviewed is non-religious (ie, they are not Christians).
If that is so, note how secular culture pressures many women, starting from the time they are girls, to accept these sexist gender expectations about women should put others before themselves at all times, be passive, be a doormat, always be nurturing, always give a known user a second, third, and fourth chance – women ultimately get harmed by all such teaching. My larger point, though, is that there is nothing counter-cultural about Christian Gender Complementarianism.
Complementarianism makes concessions to culture. Secular American culture (and other cultures around the world) already pressure women to behave in the very doormat manner that complementarians argue is “biblical.” But it’s not biblical; complementarians take secular gender stereotypes and read them back into the Bible.
On a closing note, I remain astounded at the number of people who misunderstand codependency, or, like the dissenting authors Petro mentions in her article, actually maintain that these gendered expectations – which are unfair of women, and sexist to boot – are supposedly good and wonderful.
So much barf. Complementarians used to try to brainwash me that such sexism was great and God’s design, and here we have secular authors trying to convince women that bearing an unfair share of the care-taking in life should be celebrated, because women are supposedly “natural” at it. Double barf.
By the way, in the article, where the author, Petro, mentions breaking up with her boyfriend Mark and writes,
“After three months, he still refused to vacate my apartment—so I moved out…”
Someone more knowledgeable than me can correct me here, but couldn’t she have phoned her local Sheriff’s department and reported him as a squatter, where upon a few law enforcement officers would show up to her apartment to toss the non-rent-paying, his- name- isn’t- on- the- lease, boyfriend out on the sidewalk?
What You Should Do
Try to avoid a squatter situation from happening. If you plan to leave your property vacant, make sure that it’s secure. You or a property management company should also check on the place regularly.
If you already have a squatter, here’s what you could do:
- Call the Police
Act immediately if you discover a squatter by calling the police. The longer you wait, the more likely it will be for the courts to think you gave this person consent to be there. If the police declare this a civil matter and won’t remove the squatter, start the eviction process.
- Give Notice, and then File an Unlawful Detainer action
Once you serve the eviction notice, you could get lucky, and the squatter might leave. If not, you’ll need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, which is the formal way to evict. Make sure you follow your state’s laws.
- Hire the Sheriff to Force the Squatter Out
If the squatter is still sticking around after you’ve won your lawsuit, you’ll need to pay for a sheriff or police officer to get him out.
When the time arrives for you to physically remove squatters, consider using a professional eviction service. Removing squatters yourself can prove to be dangerous and can be fraught with potential liability, even though you are in the right.
Squatters are such a pervasive problem, especially in highly populated areas, that these professional services have developed a way to remove tenants in a manner that limits liability in some states. Be sure to do your research and choose a reputable service.
Usually, local law enforcement can give you information on services that are available.
‘Submit to Your Husbands’: Women Told To Endure Domestic Violence In The Name of God (via ABC Aussie news)