The term “codependency” has negative connotations. Yet our relationship with our domestic cats is nearly always positive, isn’t it? If so we cannot say that any one person has a codependent relationship with their cat.
However, it isn’t as straightforward as that and it might be worth exploring the idea that some people have a codependent relationship with domestic or feral cats. There is no certain answer and if there is codependency, sometimes, I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing.
What is codependency? One dictionary definition states that it is “a psychological disorder or relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another”. On a slightly amusing level, that does seem to have the flavour of some relationships between cat and person. There are many articles about the human to cat relationship in which it is stated that the cat is the master and the human is the slave and there is a little bit of truth about that. Cats can manipulate us but we allow it willingly.
One website states that codependency is a pattern of behaviour in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity. Codependency is really defined by reference to human to human relationships. However, I don’t see a need to limit it to such relationships. Scott Wetzler PhD, says that in a codependent relationship “one or both parties depend on their loved ones for fulfilment”.
Another definition states that co-dependency often involves putting one’s needs at a lower priority than the needs of others and being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others. It involves excessive caretaking which negatively impacts a person relationship and quality of life.
These definitions could conceivably apply to some human to cat relationships but at an extreme. Some people are devoted to their cats. Some people are devoted to a feral cat colony. But they’re certainly not manipulated by the cats that they care for although they may allow the cats’ vulnerability to affect their emotions. And I don’t think people who care for feral cats seek fulfilment from the vulnerable animals that they care for, or do they? They do it because they want to help and they enjoy helping. They wish to care for the animals that need caring for.
Codependency has been referred to as a “relationship addiction”. This refers to one-sided relationships which are emotionally destructive. Most often codependent relationships occur within dysfunctional families and therefore under these circumstances the term can only apply to human to human relationships. Typically the codependent person sacrifices her needs to take care of a person who is sick. Once again, there are undertones here of a relationship between some people and their cats in that sentence if you change “sick” for “needy”. We are told that cats are independent creatures but they need us for all the basics. Are some examples of cat hoarding about co-dependency of the cat hoarder to her/his cats?
I can sense that in some situations taking care of feral cat colonies or a group of domestic cats may take on the appearance of a codependent relationship by the cat caretaker. If that person relates to cats if they are humans meaning that they anthropomorphise the cats and if they make a sacrifice to attend to the needs of cats and do this unrelentingly at the expense of the person’s health et cetera while at the same time feeling that they are victims of their love for the cats then there may be a justifiable argument that these kindly people are in a codependent relationship with cats.
What do you think?