Updated: Mar 7, 2022
"It's not just about how to provide for a safer world but how to allow for a more functional one with more functional regions consisting of more functional communities that are comprised of more functional individuals—on every level!"
What Are Theoretical Models and Why Are They So Important?
While studying academic theories on human behavior at American Military University, I learned that most students (and even some professors) tried to avoid this difficult subject. Creating a research question, hunting for sources, and even writing in the APA style seemed to be easier than finding academic theories and incorporating them into your research design. This is mainly because the concept of theoretical models is so abstract that most of us don’t actively think about these concepts on an everyday basis!
What is a theoretical model? Essentially, a theoretical model or framework is a worldview—a perspective lens—that we choose to put on and take off like glasses to view the rest of the world. Theoretical models are important for us to identify and acknowledge because it helps empower researchers to admit our own biases, mental limitations, and belief systems that we are intentionally adopting in order to try to approach and (hopefully) understand an issue….
Beaches, Sunglasses & Theoretical Models
"I’ve seen researchers try to avoid theoretical models altogether, but inevitably they adopt a specific perspective nonetheless when viewing the world—whether they like to admit it or not…."
Imagine walking along a beach boardwalk and local vendors are selling myriads of different sunglasses on display. You get to try them on to see how each one fits, how well you can see, how much of your periphery is obscured, and to what extent the colors are distorted.
Theoretical models function very much like this scenario. They work very much like different pairs of sunglasses that scholars choose to put on in order to view the objects of their study in a certain way, to help create new knowledge about that subject, and to be transparent in their research design. This allows future researchers to reattempt your study but by trying it from a different theoretical approach, much like try putting on a different pair of “sunglasses”—who knows, maybe the study will yield completely different results, create new knowledge, and perhaps change the world just by approaching the topic from a completely different point of view.
All because you've specifically decided to identify your study's theoretical model, others can work with or modify it as needed or desired. Again, don't feel intimidated by this concept! I’ve seen researchers try to avoid theoretical models altogether, but inevitably they adopt a specific perspective nonetheless when viewing the world—whether they like to admit it or not….
What You May Have Heard About Codependency
"By 1986...a young researcher in Arizona was in the midst of developing a model explaining not only what [codependency] is, but where it comes from,...and how this phenomenon affects the rest of the world…."
On the street, I mainly hear people speak of codependency (or codependence) as describing an overbearing or needy romantic partner. They seem to frame the term to encapsulate individuals who have difficulty spending time apart, who excessively avoid displeasing their partners, or who are maybe a little bit “stalker-ish.” Alternatively, you may have heard it used as a synonym for addiction—especially in relation to drugs, alcohol, or other substances.
WELL, very little was published regarding the concept even as late as the 1980’s (Mellody, 1989). For example, T. Gierymski and T. Williams (1986) of Journal of Psychoactive Drugs had “express[ed] skepticism concerning the validity of codependence” (Mellody, 1989, p. 210). In their own words, “[We] the authors wonder if the term ‘codependency’ has not been given connotations far exceeding justifications, . . . whether or not the implications . . . have been sufficiently examined and the consequences considered” (p. 7). In other words, by 1986 codependence was still not widely recognized seriously in psychology journals. However, during this time, a young researcher in Arizona was in the midst of developing a model explaining not only what it is, but where it comes from, how it sabotages countless lives, and how this phenomenon affects the rest of the world….
Pia Mellody—A Pioneer in the Field of Codependency & Recovery
"[Mellody's] clinical work in the 70’s and 80’s revealed that a common underlying factor in all of her [codependent] clients was childhood trauma or abuse."
Pia Mellody is a senior fellow at The Meadows, an addiction and trauma recovery center based in Wickenburg, Arizona. Her clinical work in the 70’s and 80’s revealed that a common underlying factor in all of her clients was childhood trauma or abuse (abuse defined broadly here, as explained below).
AFTER A DECADE of research, she published an intricate, yet coherent, model based on her clinical experience. This model presupposes that all children “come with” exactly five specific characteristics that—depending on how well they are facilitated throughout childhood by a parental figure—can morph into five functional survival traits as adults. Otherwise, children tend to develop up to five dysfunctional survival traits, resulting in infinite versions of codependency….
Five Natural Characteristics of ALL Children
"Mellody identifies that children naturally feature five inherent characteristics that are relevant to codependency."
Mellody identifies that children naturally feature five inherent characteristics that are relevant to codependency:
SO THEN when transitioning to adulthood (under functional-nurturing parenting models), these characteristics respectively transform into the following:
1. Value --> Intrinsic Self-Esteem—Able to Draw Value from Self Non-Narcissistically
2. Vulnerability --> Safeguarded Vulnerability—Able to Maintain Functional Boundaries
3. Imperfection --> Accountable Imperfection—Able to Truthfully Claim Responsibility
4. Dependency --> Interdependency—Able to Recruit the Resources of Others Functionally
5. Immaturity --> Age-Appropriate Maturity—Able to Live Moderately Outside of Dysfunctional Extremes
Parents: The Intermediary Factor Between Childhood Fragility to Adulthood Competency
"Humans aren’t like moths, butterflies, or lizards that hatch and independently grow into adulthood without ever seeing their parents!"
Humans aren’t like moths, butterflies, or lizards that hatch and independently grow into adulthood without ever seeing their parents! Human children require an essential intermediating variable to enable them to successfully transition from their five innate childhood characteristics into their functional adult variants of the same. This intermediating variable is simply the existence of parents (or some other adult caregiver) placed in these children’s lives.
THAT IS, it’s the role of adult caregivers to equip children with functional survival traits to enable them to successfully transition from their vulnerable, imperfect, dependent, and immature status into responsible, interdependent, mature adults who practice reasonable boundaries and possess a healthy sense of self-esteem. This role of facilitating children into adulthood is called parenting, and it is a role that is not exclusive to biological parents. Other adults can fulfill this role as well, such as close relatives, family friends, babysitters, ministers, teachers, and coaches….
When Does “Parenting” End?
"Though we adults can always choose to 'always be in their lives' (even after they grow up!), we adults also aren’t going to be around forever."
Though it can take a village to raise a child, it does require at least one adult to facilitate and guide a child through childhood and adolescence. Again, the role of adult caregivers is to present the child with functional survival skills and to exhibit long-term patience with the child as he or she repeatedly tries and inevitably fails to properly execute such survival traits over many, many, MANY years (basically, to act as their long-term guide and life coach)!
HOWEVER, though we adults can always choose to “always be in their lives” (even after they grow up!), we adults also aren’t going to be around forever. At some point, the adult children must acquire a set of functional survival traits to independently pursue their own happiness in this world, while continuing to maintain appropriate boundaries with others, taking responsibility for the continued mistakes they will make whilst sustaining a moderate sense of self-value, and tempering their emotional responses with critical self-initiated problem-solving techniques, coupled with the skill to recruit the resources of others as needed. It sounds like a mouthful, but this is the exact presentation that Mellody uses to frame her approach to treating codependency in adults. And it works….
How ALL Codependency Comes from Childhood Abuse or Less-Than-Nurturing Environments
"[Mellody's model] also explains how generations of codependent, dysfunctional behavior can be detected in the same family as 'a vicious cycle.'"
Mellody refers to this parenting behavior—which helps facilitate children from these five childhood characteristics into their appropriate adult counterpart characteristics—as nurturing behavior. Parenting behavior that neglects to adequately facilitate children into adulthood, that fails to equip them with functional survival traits, is, therefore, less-than-nurturing parental behavior. Mellody also uses this term as a synonym for abuse, but she employs the term in a much broader sense than what most people seem to typically think.
Accordingly, parents (or parental figures) can technically perpetuate this abuse, or less-than-nurturing behavior, without intention, due to carelessness, ignorance, or something else. And, it also explains how generations of codependent, dysfunctional behavior can be detected in the same family as “a vicious cycle.” Regardless, less-than-nurturing parenting equips children with dysfunctional survival traits that get carried on into adulthood. This results in children developing various symptoms of codependency as adults:
1. Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem
2. Difficulty establishing and maintaining functional boundaries
3. Difficulty accepting and/or addressing one’s own imperfections
4. Difficulty identifying and/or meeting one’s own needs and wants
5. Difficulty living moderately without resorting to extreme behaviors
Was My Upbringing “Normal”?
"Normal means 'what most people do,' and many people do engage in thinking, feeling, and behavior that is not healthy."
“Is this normal?” “Am I normal?” “What is normal?” These are understandable questions to pose after reading the above sections. It is interesting to note, however, that Mellody does not concern her model with normalcy or abnormality. Instead, she says:
"The word 'normal' is misleading. In my opinion using the word 'normal' to describe recovery is inaccurate. Normal means 'what most people do,' and many people do engage in thinking, feeling, and behavior that is not healthy. And often, what is considered normal parenting in our culture [or any culture] is actually much less than nurturing to our children. So instead of 'normal behavior versus abnormal behavior,' I use 'functional behavior versus dysfunctional behavior.' Functional behavior is healthy" (Mellody, 1989, p. 42).
How Mellody’s Model is Integrated into OSIRIS’ Mission and Operations
"All of this philosophical reasoning derives from and is relevant to Mellody’s (1989) Model of Codependency."
In our work at OSIRIS, we often consider this functionality vs. dysfunctionality matrix within the context of Mellody’s (1989) Codependency Model. For instance, when it comes to individual sovereignty initiatives, we consider how our work contributes to an individual’s capability to become more functional and less dysfunctional. When it comes to pro-civil society initiatives, we consider how a community can become more civically and peacefully functional rather than operating under the dysfunctional systems of over-burdened governmental bureaucracies and authoritarian political infrastructures.
When it comes to global security initiatives, we consider how a community benefits from increased functionality by featuring less armed conflict and violent crime. Therefore, it's not just about how to provide for a safer world but how to allow for a more functional one with more functional regions consisting of more functional communities that are comprised of more functional individuals—on every level! All of this philosophical reasoning derives from and is relevant to Mellody’s (1989) Model of Codependency.
Brennan, D. (2020). Signs of codependency. WebMD. Retrieved June 6, 2021 from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-codependency
Gierymski, T., and Williams, T. (1986). Codependency. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 18(1): 7-13. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.1986.10524474
Jones, H. (2021). What is codependency? VeryWellHealth. Retrieved June 6, 2021 from https://www.verywellhealth.com/codependency-5093171
Mellody, P. (1989). Facing Codependence: Where It Is, Where It Comes From, and How It Sabotages Our Lives. HarperSanFrancisco.
Mental Health America [MHA]. (n.d.). Co-dependency. Retrieved June 6, 2021 from https://www.mhanational.org/co-dependency
Sun, F. (2014). Are you in a codependent relationship? WebMD. Retrieved June 6, 2021 from https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/signs-of-a-codependent-relationship