by Andrea Elizabeth

About 1/4 of the way into Bleak House, it seems to me that Charles Dickens is describing Ada as a codependent personality to Richard’s irresponsibility. She is determined to believe in him no matter what and to squelch any misgivings she may have about anything that bothers her. Mr. Jarndyce is continuously hopeful for the best, but is also forthright with Richard about his need to not disappoint those his irresponsibility affects. Esther seems the most worried and open about her concerns while maintaining a close, warm relationship with him and Ada. Since I’ve seen the Gillian Anderson made for TV version, I know that none of these treatments save Richard from himself. Esther probably is least affected by it because she is neither dependent upon Richard, as Ada is, nor responsible for him, as is Mr. Jarndyce. I think I mentioned in another post that Dickens blamed Richard’s shallow education. Mr. Jarndyce comes to blame himself for being too hard on Richard.

I wonder what would have happened though if Ada had exhibited a bit tougher love. I think there is a way to be too hard. Dickens criticizes the stern punishments that didn’t really deter debt. People seemed to have a fatalistic, self-destructive attitude towards it instead of being motivated to change their ways. Dickens probably favors Esther’s non-dependent, yet open and loving manner towards him. Perhaps Ada should have distanced herself until he made healthier choices too.

Enmeshment In Co-dependency

Enmeshment has come to be a popularly used term when speaking about co-dependence. Co-dependence is defined as, being psychologically influenced or controlled by, reliant upon, or needing another person to fulfill one’s own needs or to complete oneself. Originally being co-dependent originated from the recovery movement in Alcoholic Anon. Co-dependents, in that sense were defined as those who were dependent upon or in relationship to or with someone addicted to alcohol or drugs.

Now, generally, people are defined as being co-dependent if they are in a situation where they are psychologically mutally reliant on someone else to meet needs for them that they “should” be able to meet for themselves.

“A co-dependent person is one who has let another person’s behaviour affect him or her, ans who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behaviour” (Melody Beattie, in her book, “Codependent No More”.

What is enmeshment?

“We’re enmeshed when we use an individual for our identity, sense of value, worth, well-being, safety, purpose, and security. Instead of two people present, we become one identity. More simply, enmeshment is present when our sense of wholeness comes from another person.

We hear enmeshment phrases everyday such as, “I’d die without you,” “You’re my everything,” “Without you, I’m nothing,” “I need you,” or “You make me whole.” Many of us find our identity and self-worth by becoming the mate, parent, or friend of a successful and/or prestigious individual, or we find the need to fix and caretake individuals to give us a sense of purpose.

Enmeshment doesn’t allow for individuality, wholeness, personal empowerment, healthy relationships with ourselves or others, and, most importantly, a relationship with our Higher Power.”


The fact that I’m discouraged that even Esther’s treatment didn’t fix Richard, and wanting Ada to be tougher, perhaps that I am “obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior”. Hmmm….. But…. Even Charles Dickens has spent a lot of energy analyzing, diagnosing, and possibly alleging guilt in order to affect change. Is that so bad? I’ll admit a certain disillusionment about Mr. Dickens when I read that he ended up leaving his wife and multiple children for another woman in his mid life. So what did all that relationship analysis accomplish for him? Is it ok to leave people to themselves (not isolating, but learning to not try to control them) and just pray as Elder Zacharia says? Can we not possibly presume to know what’s good for others? At least our own kids? To some extent?