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Codependence and Empathy

December 5, 2007

What is generally called codependence is, as it is defined in much of pop psychology, a control issue. Supposedly, the codependent feels as though her or his life is out of control and, therefore, attempts to control others in order create a sense of personal security.

As I recall, the term “codependence” originated when the wife of the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, came up with the concept of a “co-alcoholic” to describe the control and enablement behavior patterns of the spouses (then almost always wives) of AA members. It was later expanded beyond the context of the alcoholic marriage to include almost any control issues in relationships.

Due to the fact that codependence has so many different usages, many of which are closer to social criticism than to psychology, most academic researchers do not take it seriously. It is very unlikely, given present circumstances, to ever be incorporated into the DSM.

Empathy, on the other hand, is usually understood as being able to relate to a person’s feelings and experiences. I think that is the definition researchers have in mind when they say that people on the spectrum of autisms tend not to have as much of that trait as others.

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