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Codependency and #MeToo: A Brief History of Abuse

Our History

When we look at the history of women as it relates to men, we see that it has only been in the last 100 years that we were given rights. Before we had rights, women and children were the property of men. Men could do with us whatever they pleased, whenever they pleased. This included all forms of abuses: sexual, physical and emotional. Having no rights, we were groomed to be compliant, to obey, to serve, to not speak up, to not have a voice, and generally be an extension of the man. Both church and state enabled and didn’t interfere with this paradigm.

There were start and stop efforts, but the abuse laws did not really gain “teeth” until around the middle to late  20th century. Around this time, money was allocated to professionals and agencies to identify abuse, educate people about abuse, and begin to enforce the laws which made it illegal. It would be nice if once a law was passed, it would be obeyed, but as we can see almost a century later that is not the case. We still have large systems (e.g. Catholic Church and military) where they are allowed to “take care of their own” and thus these systems just enable the abuse to continue.

Belief Systems

Some of the belief systems that must be changed and challenged are:

  1. I own you. I can sexually, physically, and emotionally abuse you. I am the stronger sex so I can overpower you and I will.
  2. What I do in my home with my property is my business. This is a private matter and I don’t have to discuss it with anyone.
  3. If I get into trouble for what I am doing it is not my fault. I will take it out on and blame you. (In Malaysia, if a man is arrested for a DUI, his wife may go to jail as well regardless of where she was at the time of the offense. Part of the paradigm that women are fighting.)
  4. There are still countries that do not have strong laws to protect women and children. This fact enables men’s belief that “I own you.” It takes years to give laws “teeth” and change the belief system “I own you”.

The Challenges

If I have been able to control all the people around me, and I sense someone is going to take that control away, guess what I am going to do? If I am not ready to give up, I am going to fight!

Again take a look at the Catholic Church, a system which has maintained severe inconsistency in addressing this pervasive issue.  It is a system which continues to “fight” to take care of its own, and in doing so enables them to commit abuse.  In this day and age no system should be above the law, and abuse should be tried by a judicial system. Why is this distinction important? This is the power of denial, enabling, and control that all those abused have to have the courage to confront.

Another challenge the abused will face is “all fingers pointing in their direction”:

  1. Why now, why not then?
  2. Why didn’t you fight back?
  3. Oh, look we found this in your life-you are not perfect, so we are not sure about you.
  4. You are not credible
  5. You don’t look the way I think you should look
  6. Why did you continue to be there?

The doubting questioners continue. They represent the history of denying and enabling. They enable the paradigm of abuse was legal. They forget sexual and physical abuse are illegal now!


Now let’s look at the phenomenon of codependency.  We are going to stick with our understanding of codependency as a system of distortions that exists on a continuum. Codependents learn personality traits that interfere with knowing one’s self and others. The people pleasing aspect of codependency might drive the ignoring of who we are trying to please. The focus of wanting others approval may keep us from acknowledging there might be abusive behavior coming from the person whose approval we want.

The need for harmony might prevent us from realizing we may be enabling abusive behavior. Or any combination of the above.  We don’t have the tools to deal with abusive behavior, so this also drives us to avoid bringing it to consciousness. And we probably have a history of being abused or exploited so it feels familiar. We add these traits to our history of being property which taught us to be compliant, obey, no rights, no voice, serve, be the extension of the man and we are completely groomed and ready for sexual abuse.


The #MeToo movement has given the abused strength in numbers, solidarity, an energy to join, an awakening, and so much more. Having the right to say “No” is not enough. As you can see from the history of denial and enabling, no one is going to

“Whenever one person stands up and says,’ Wait a minute, this is wrong’ it helps other people do the same.” ~Gloria Steinem

thank you when you say, “Stop Now” or “What you did to me is wrong”. The only thanks you might get is from another abused person who may borrow your courage to find her own.

Every step of the way, it is so important to remember the denial and enabling sludge you will be fighting (some may be from women stuck in the denial and enabling sludge). We are changing one of life’s major paradigms: we are changing the ethos from “I can do whatever I want to you” toNo, you can’t! It’s my body and I have rights now!”

Those who like the old paradigm may get vicious. Changing this paradigm is going to take generations. There are many who will go to their grave holding on to their right to abuse others. Once you are free from them, focus on educating and being with those who honor everyone’s rights.

In Part Two we will give you tools to live in the new paradigm.


Images Courtesy of Shutterstock

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