, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 9-28

“Even Better Than the Real Thing”: Narratives of the Self in Codependency

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This paper argues that the self is best understood as a narrative in progress, rather than a collection of roles or the outcome of a competent performance. Self-narratives draw integrity from institutions, without which they would be groundless, inconsistent, or fanciful. Institutions make self-stories convincing—for tellers and others—by providing formulas, supporting characters, and “autobiographical occasions” that trigger the telling. Relationships are especially significant institutional anchors for selfhood. The loss of that anchor through breaking up, or “uncoupling,” requires a particular kind of story that accounts for the loss and minimizes the stigma of failure. A ready-made formula for such stories is offered by the self-help group Codependents Anonymous. Those attracted to the discourse of codependency gain a formula and occasion for generating revised self-stories. Consequently, the group becomes a new institutional anchor for the self that replaces the one lost during uncoupling.