Codependence Through the Lens of Developmental Immaturity*

Codependent. Codependence. You’ve likely heard the terms, maybe even used them, but may not be clear on what they mean.  Is it being too dependent on another person? Is it two people being too dependent upon each other? There was a time when that was my approach to Codependency. It was a familiar term, but I wasn’t clear on the concept or why it mattered.  Then I heard about Pia Mellody and her book Facing Codependence. I read the book, trained with Pia and my life and work haven’t been the same since.  Pia established a Developmental Immaturity model of Codependence that makes a lot of sense. For the next few weeks, I’m going to discuss Codependence from a Developmental Immaturity perspective that I hope will provide a catalyst for you to think about its application in your own life.

Codependency is essentially a state of Developmental Immaturity. This means that your emotional and relational development isn’t congruent with your chronological age.  A healthy family system provides a context for appropriate emotional and relational development, but an unhealthy family system hinders that development.  The symptoms of Codependence are the result of the trauma that we experience in our families of origin.

We begin life with five characteristics that are basic to our nature:

  1. We are Valuable – we have inherent worth
  2. We are Vulnerable – we need appropriate protection; we are open about who we are
  3. We are Imperfect – we are fallible human beings (and are okay with that) with the capacity to have our own thoughts, beliefs, and ways that we experience life
  4. We are Dependent – we have needs and wants
  5. We are Spontaneous and Open – we live from a place of freedom and openness

The childhood trauma that we experience is around these natural aspects of who we are—and that leads to the symptoms of Codependence. The Developmental Immaturity lens of Codependence includes five Core Issues. It is by recognizing these issues that we can begin to address the unmanageability that they cause in our lives. At the core of Codependence are issues of:

  1. Self-Esteem – An inability to esteem from within; relying on external factors to determine our sense of worth
  1. Boundaries – Being inadequately protected or overprotected in our physical or emotional boundaries

      3.  Reality - Difficulty with appropriately understanding and owning your reality

  1. Dependency - Difficulty with self-care and being interdependent with others
  1. Moderation and Containment – Difficulty owning and expressing our reality in a moderate way 

The Core Issues show up in our adult life in various ways:

  • You have difficulty saying no to people
  • Your thoughts and opinions are easily changed by others
  • You don’t believe your thoughts and opinions matter
  • You’re too controlling or controlled by others
  • You take on too much responsibility for other’s thoughts and feelings
  • You have to feel better than others in order to feel okay about yourself
  • You don’t let yourself ask for help and/or convince yourself that you don’t need anyone
  • You measure your worth and value by external criteria (what others think of you, your success, etc.)

There’s much more that can be said about this but I wanted to provide a simple introduction as a starting point. If you identify with what I’ve written here, I want you to know that there’s hope for healing and change. Like anything else, the heart of recovery around the issues of Codependence is dealing with the trauma at their root. And that is possible, one day at a time.

Peace on the Journey,



*The Developmental Immaturity model was developed by Pia Mellody and is a primary treatment modality of The Meadows in Wickenburg, AZ.