Check out this article entitled, “Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain” by Kross et al.  For non-geeks, here’s my summary:  Researchers studied the brains of 40 adults (21 women, 19 men) who had been rejected by a romantic partner within the previous six months.  Using functional MRI imaging, they compared the location of brain activity that occurred while the research participants experienced physical pain (heat applied to the forearm just below their pain tolerance) and while they experienced emotional pain (seeing a picture of the rejecting partner and remembering how it felt to be rejected).  The same brain regions were activated with both types of pain, and the authors concluded that “…intense social rejection may represent a distinct emotional experience that is uniquely associated with physical pain” (p. 4).  In essence, “hurting” after an unwanted breakup is not simply a metaphor.

Rejection and Pain  Link to article: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/03/22/1102693108.full.pdf

During the 1980’s, the term “codependent” entered the popular press with the publication of such books as “Codependent No More.”  Regardless of what the author, Melodie Beattie, intended, the word has come to be synonymous with being excessively emotionally dependent on an other person.  The problem with the term, as it has come to be used, is its implication that depending on another human is somehow pathological.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Two decades of research on the formation of attachment bonds in humans and other mammals demonstrates that we are shaped by evolution to need one another.  Hence, we are all dependent.  Worse, a great deal of our suffering is caused by the starvation of our attachment needs.  In my practice as a psychotherapist and marriage counselor / couple therapist in Baltimore, I witness the anguish caused when these needs go unmet. 

Do us all a favor; stop using the word codependent.  The next time you feel tempted to use it, remember that our brains are hard-wired for mutual dependence.

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