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Co-Dependency & The Rope

Danny Raede


Imagine the following.

Once upon a time on a beautiful sunny day, you were hiking through the mountains. You had been going for miles when suddenly you come across a deep ravine with a long steep drop and a river far below glittering in the sunshine. Long ago, someone had cut down a large single tree and placed it as a bridge across the expanse of the canyon - from one side to the other, a single narrow log bridge. The narrow log was strong and sturdy. However, with the passage of time it had been worn down to nothing more than a smooth flat expanse of wood. There were no remaining branches or other handholds of any kind. Stepping carefully out onto the log, you began to walk slowly across toward the other side of the canyon. When you were about halfway across, standing directly above the center of the ravine, you paused for a moment to appreciate the stunning beauty of your surroundings. You even dared a quick glance right over the ledge at the river, far below you. Your eyes followed its path as it snaked along the canyon floor and finally disappeared into the distance.

Suddenly you hear a familiar voice call out to you from behind turning around. You see your friend Joe-Bob dancing there gleefully and waving hello with a broad, cheerful grin on his face. Surprised to see him all the way up here, you glance nervously down at his feet. He is dancing dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. Joe-Bob calls out to you saying, "Hey, fancy seeing you here!" You call back, "Hey, Joe-Bob! Yeah, what are the odds? Hey, be careful there. It's a steep drop." "Ah, no worries." He says, "actually here, catch this." Then suddenly before you have time to think or react, Joe-Bob is throwing you a rope. You catch it just out of reflex.

The rope is thick and sturdy and you hold onto it with both hands. "What's this?" you ask. However, instead of responding to your question, Joe-Bob shouts, "Geronimo!" And then he takes a flying leap jumping off the edge of the cliff. Suddenly you realize that the rope you are now holding in your hands is tied firmly around Joe-Bob's waist. You tighten your grip and hold desperately onto the rope with all of your strength.

You watch as Joe-Bob dangles there in midair, and you are struck with the horrifying realization that you and the rope you are currently holding onto are the only two things in the world preventing your dear friend from falling to certain death. You start shouting at him, "Joe-Bob, what were you thinking? Try swinging and grabbing onto the ledge or climb up the rope. I think we can get you back up here to safety, but you've got to help me. You're too heavy, so I can't move an inch without losing my balance as well, and if that happened we would both fall. I'm stuck. C'mon Joe-Bob... Please do something quick."

But Joe, Bob just smiles up at you and says, "No worries man. It's all good. I just want to hang out here for a bit. You know, I feel so free out here in the wide open air. Just please keep holding onto that rope. You're my friend. I need you to do this for me. Just keep holding onto that rope."

"I can't," you say.

"You're too heavy. I'm stuck and I can't keep holding on forever, my strength might give out at any moment. Don't you understand? If you fall, you're going to die. Please Joe-Bob, for both our sakes, do something. I'm here for you, but you have to do something to help yourself. It's just you and me here. There's no one else up here and I am not strong enough to save you all by myself, so we have to work together on this. Please start swinging or climb up the rope. Do something... anything..."

But still Joe-Bob continues to give you that contented, carefree smile. "No, man, it's cool. I'm groovy. Really, everything's going to be fine. There's no problem here and there's nothing to fix. This is great. I don't need to do anything. I just want to hang out here. Heck, I'd love to stay out here forever if I could just please don't let go of that rope. Whatever you do, keep holding onto that rope. Don't you love me? I'm your friend. If you let go of that rope, I'll die so you have to do this for me. You owe it to me. Just keep holding onto that rope. Don't ever let go."

Here's the thing, a codependent person would never let go of that rope. They would keep holding on forever, unwilling to let go until eventually their strength gives out and they fall over the edge too. A codependent person would rather die suffering the same fate right alongside their friend Joe-Bob instead of letting him go and allowing him to experience the natural consequences of his actions. Joe-Bob did not ask your permission here, he placed this heavy burden in your hands without your knowledge or consent, and this was not some kind of unforeseen accident or tragedy. This sudden crisis was 100% his choice. It's one thing to support someone who is struggling with some very real capability blocks, great challenges, and heavy boulders that they carry on their back that they simply cannot carry alone.

They need help and support. It's quite another thing to continue holding onto the rope, or carrying the boulder, - the heavy burdens of someone who refuses to take action or help themselves in anyway. - Someone who is in fact capable of helping themselves at least to some extent, but they consciously choose not to. Furthermore, they refuse to even take your needs and feelings into consideration. You're not seen as a thinking, feeling, person like them who is deserving of empathy in their mind. You're either an obstacle or a means to an end, so they don't really care how much their actions continue to hurt you.

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Nancy Crawford


Great to remember that how you look at it matters. Connection is there for better or worse. 

Thanks for sharing.

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This is the most meaningful metaphor about codependency I've ever read. Thank you. I just lost my brother to alcoholism. My family suffered greatly for many years. I wish he was still here, but we all did what we could. I miss him terribly but waking up each morning without that constant worry on my mind is freeing me to work on letting go.

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Max Ahlgren


I love your post Danny... it's quite powerful.  It raises a number of questions in my mind.

  • Are we responsible for what we don't understand? 
  • Of what we do understand, how much is available to us when in defense mode? 

A lot of us occasionally get silly as part of recharging.  Sadly, I can identify with Jo-Bob.  In my case, it was unresolved trauma at the core of my lack of empathy. 

The main theme dealing with co-dependency is spot on.  But the language you use in the last paragraph assigns a lot of responsibility on Joe-Bob.  True, Joe-Bob violated a bunch of societal and personal boundaries.  And yes, he is devoid of empathy.  But I question the typical aspie's ability to "consciously choose" or "refuse" empathy.  I was accurately blamed for my unacceptable behavior for 55+ years.  Nothing changed in my life until the truth of my bad behavior was communicated to me without guilt and blame free.  I'm suggesting that you can soften the character of Joe-Bob without weakening your theme.  Joe-Bob certainly is an abuser... but not necessarily a villain.

Keep up the good work Danny.

Best Regards,

Max  Allen (the old aspie with hope)

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Parent of adult “ aspire” and hard time accepting what would be called “ co-dependent” if son does not “ get” that he is putting us ( parents) in difficult situations. Have been told often “ your kids grow up ,, time to let them go” But not when he is so vulnerable to outside world & has blinders to consequences of his actions.  He is very high functioning so makes it difficult for others to see the issue.  & if it wete me on that log I wold si down & secure that ripe to the log to anchor us both ... 

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Jenni Lee


I think I'd do the same.  And I think it's extremely difficult to know where the boundary between disability and dependency lies anyway.  Plus the apparent carefree and joyful weighing down on the rope might also be masking, with the person desperately needing help but feeling unable to show their underlying vulnerability.  I would have to feel very certain indeed before letting go, especially with it being a matter of life or death in the extended metaphor.  

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When I finally let go of the rope for a parent, lo and behold all the illnesses and fragility that required my absolute devotion were, magically, no obstacle to the parent's functioning in the world.  I felt totally hoodwinked by, yes, a villain.  Then others in the family tried to make me feel shame that I hadn't wised up sooner--including the parent. Turns out I had been the lynchpin that allowed the others to go about their lives without dealing with the ill-in more ways than physical-parent.  My siblings may love me in the abstract, but not a one of them tried to help me out of the dank pit of co-dependent abuse.  

A community of people who understand whatever it is you struggle with is key to moving forward. By finding community, I found acceptance and inner strength.

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