A Research Definition
Parent-Child Codependence frequently if not typically occurs within the modern nuclear family. I use the following terms synonymously with codependence: co-fusion, secondary fusion, pseudo-fusion and symbiotoholism.
The major part of the literature deals with codependence in the partner relation, while my own research focuses on parent-child codependence and the resulting lack of autonomy in children, typical for modern society.
The problem manifests in the parent-child relation typically for the first time after the critical mother-infant symbiosis, and thus as a general rule after the first eighteen months of the newborn.
What is generally very little known is the fact that even before the completion of the 18th month of the infant, mother and child are interacting in a subtle communication about limits which reveals to what extent the mother is able and willing to give the infant autonomy, or not. This early dialogue, that is most of the time nonverbal, has been found to deeply condition people for their later relational behavior patterns.
In other words, codependence is a compensation reaction of entangled organisms that tries to heal a split caused by a lack of early parent-child intimacy.
The entanglement paradoxically comes about through a lack of physical closeness, and of communication, and generally the tactile deprivation of the child, and also through non-physical elements such as parents’ thoughts constantly focused on money and status or children generally relegated to receiving affection from secondary caretakers, babysitters, house teachers, and the like.
The entanglement specifically comes about through lacking autonomy of the child, and of lacking exposure to experiences and a social life outside of the family. This has been shown with abundant evidence by the long-term research of James W. Prescott, Ashley Montagu, Michel Odent, Frederick Leboyer, Alexander Lowen and the outspoken teaching on the matter by the late child psychotherapist Françoise Dolto.
The problem of codependence is for obvious reasons much more stringent in the individualistic and separative modern consumer culture than in highly sociable ‘open’ societies such as African, South American or Asian cultures. Yet in these societies today we face the problem in the middle and upper classes as well because they have adopted consumer values and a lifestyle that is modeled by the media, thereby shunning their own perennial wisdom that their grandparents still were knowledgeable about.
There are many false signals in today’s popular culture and vulgarized psychological publications. These false signals lead to parents’ becoming more and more insecure as to the role physical affection plays in parenting. This makes that parents are more or less constantly bombarded with ambiguous messages with the result that many of them anxiously retreat physically from their children, thereby enclosing them in atrocious feelings of abandonment, loneliness and despair.
As a result of the misguided 1960s American pediatrics, that fostered a physical separation between parents and child which in the meantime is seen as a fundamental error, many of today’s parents have never had an affectionate childhood themselves and become dysfunctional parents of their own children.
Another important insight into mother-child codependence is that it deprives the child, typically the boy, of the time and care needed for developing his true intelligence.
Men who grow up entangled with their mothers are caught in a net of stiffening responsibilities, or obligations, or what is felt as such, which impedes them from really thinking of themselves, and minding their own business. The result is that they hardly think their projects through to the end, constantly harassed by their demanding mothers, threatened with love denial or even financial starving in case they disobey and begin to live their own lives. In this sense, the son bears the cross, so to speak, for the sins committed by his mother.