- I regularly find myself inhabiting a perspective that is not my own.
- It’s a systems-thinking perspective.
- This is often lauded! But in my case, it’s bad.
- Why is it bad?
- It’s often inaccurate.
- It presumes I know how other people will react to things.
- It presumes my needs are not important.
- It’s not motivated by knowledge, it’s motivated by fear.
- I don’t tell someone who trusts me what I’m thinking because I’m afraid they’ll feel hurt, so, I attempt to manipulate the situation by withholding information and reducing their suffering. This backfires more than it succeeds because I often underestimate how much they’ll be hurt by not telling them, and overestimate the long-term negative impact of telling them. I also underestimate how much other people can be trusted to represent their own interests, especially loved ones.
- The failure mode is one of refusing to represent your own interests faithfully because you’re gambling on being able to manipulate the whole situation to achieve a better outcome. This is, at least, the conscious reasoning. This is often motivated by a deeply-held, often-subconscious belief that any kind of conflict is unproductive, or even intolerably painful.
- When you do this, you are denying others agency, and you’re denying yourself the respect and importance that only you are tasked with upholding and giving yourself. Relying on other people to give you that respect and importance is bad, even if it’s good when they give it freely.
- The thing that separates codependency and interdependency is interdependent members of couples faithfully represent their own needs and then negotiate and try to fill them together, explicitly, while codependent members of couples ignore their needs in favor of what they deem as the collective need, which is often just the needs of the other person, while refraining from thinking about their own needs, which they simultaneously view as a nuisance and subconsciously have assigned as their partner’s responsibility. And the outcomes are way worse for codependent couples because each person has pretty bad truth access to the real needs of the other person. They’re going to get it wrong a lot of the time. And if you depend on someone else to fulfill those needs entirely, you’re going to be deeply, deeply afraid of losing them, and possibly even afraid of them as a result. I am not advocating for a culture where neither partner should do anything without being asked. And I’m not advocating for a couple culture where every person is completely individual and doesn’t need the other person for anything. What I’m advocating for is a culture where there is room for misunderstanding and miscommunication: where being let down by the other person doesn’t mean falling all the way down, it just means tripping up.
- When you have this, you can start establishing real trust: when you are not permanently indebted to someone else, and permanently reliant on them, you can start making high-trust requests, building towards real vulnerability, and testing the waters to see if they can handle that kind of support. When you can ease in slowly into trust, you can engage in it authentically. And to establish trust, you have to do things that feel risky. So interdependence is all about tolerating risk in a way that ultimately builds safety, whereas codependence is about being risk intolerant in a way that slowly erodes safety, or at least prevents it from building. This is why codependent couples might feel so relieved after expressing their emotions. Not only were they able to release the pressure valve inside them a bit, but they learned something important: they can trust their partner to not disappear when something mildly or majorly difficult (depending on the case) comes up. This is the stuff that meaningful, long-term, unglamorous, committed, beautiful, satisfying relationships are built from.
Rejecting the Godview
The Systems-Thinking Dilemma:
Adopting a systems-thinking perspective is a double-edged sword. While it offers a broader view, it often leads to a detachment from one’s own desires and needs. This way of thinking, while praised in certain situations, becomes a hindrance when it results in misjudgments, like assuming one can predict others’ reactions or underestimating the importance of personal needs. These misjudgments are typically driven by fear rather than genuine understanding.
I propose the term “Godview” to draw into relief how presumptious and lacking humility it is to assume you can tell what other people think. For people who are driven by shame, it might be useful to think of applying a “Godview” perspective as also sort of shameful.
The Pitfalls of Withholding:
Out of a misguided desire to protect others from potential hurt, one might choose to withhold information. However, this tactic can backfire spectacularly. By not faithfully representing our own interests and sidestepping potential conflicts, we inadvertently deny others their agency and deprive ourselves of the respect we deserve.
Codependency vs. Interdependence:
In relationships, there’s a fine line between codependency and interdependence. Codependency sees individuals prioritizing collective needs—often just the needs of their partner—over their own. This approach is rife with misunderstandings. Relying on someone else to wholly understand and cater to your needs breeds fear, both of losing the partner and, at times, even fear of the partner themselves.
In contrast, interdependent relationships are built on the principle of mutual respect and understanding. Partners in such relationships openly communicate their needs and find ways to fulfill them together. The emphasis is on mutual growth rather than one-sided sacrifice.
Building Trust through Interdependence:
Trust is the bedrock of any lasting relationship. In codependent relationships, expressing emotions can bring a temporary sense of relief, primarily because it proves that the partner remains supportive during trying times. However, these moments of relief are fleeting and don’t necessarily cultivate long-term trust.
Interdependence advocates for a different approach. It’s about accepting and managing risks, thereby creating a safe environment over time. Taking risks—like openly communicating desires or admitting vulnerabilities—paves the way for authentic trust-building. It’s this kind of trust that forms the foundation for meaningful, lasting, and satisfying relationships.
In summary, while the systems-thinking perspective has its merits, it can become problematic when applied indiscriminately. In relationships, it’s crucial to recognize the dangers of codependency and champion the virtues of interdependence for genuine trust and mutual growth.