This week’s flash fiction challenge from Carrot Ranch to write about “something frayed” inspires this post on the variant, “fraying.”
In thinking of a flash story, the well known fable The Bridge came to mind. Written by rabbi and family therapist Edwin Friedman, this parable illustrates Friedman’s technique in treating patients with co-dependency issues. Rather than trying to educate such people with a traditional therapeutic approach, Friedman instead began trying to free them from this “syndrome”. As Justin Hughes explains in the linked post above, co-dependency has expanded to include not only relationships with alcoholics, but with people suffering from any kind of dependency:
Today, the word is often used to describe anyone in a significant relationship (or relationships) with a person who exhibits any kind of dependency. Such dependencies could include alcohol, drug, sex, food, work, gambling, success, perfectionism or something else. Being in relationship with this type of person often results in codependency, which involves an imbalanced sense of responsibility to rescue, fix and help this person.
Co-dependency and Learned Helplessness
Perhaps most of us have had co-dependent relationships. I certainly have, with alcoholics, substance abusers, possessive lovers and friends. But I’ve also experienced a more subtle challenge with people who suffer from what psychologist Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness.”
This condition, discussed in his book, Helplessness
, describes “individuals [that] may accept and remain passive in negative situations despite their clear ability to change them.”
Sadly, this inability to take the initiative to improve ones situation seems to stem from earlier learned behaviors, often enabled by the concerned party. The more a partner or parent tries to “rescue, fix, and help” a loved one by doing things for them, the more that person learns to be helpless. This, in turn, can lead to a co-dependent relationship. It’s a complicated subject, not given to easy applications for people with serious mental health issues. But I’ve seen many classic examples of enabling behaviors on the part of well-meaning friends and relatives, including myself.
The “Failure to Launch”
Seligman stumbled across his revelation back in 1967. In the ensuing years, one particularly “helpless” demographic has claimed much attention in the popular sphere: the “failure to launch”
population of young people. How many of us have suffered fraying nerves and domestic upsets in attempting to help a young adult make the difficult transition from adolescence to adulthood, with little effect at bolstering the necessary motivation to successfully span this developmental stage? And yet, how many of us really want to resort to the advice of (often childless) friends to simply “kick the bum out”?
That brings us back to “The Bridge.” The parable has been a useful resource for therapists and others in the helping professions, and has a large following on the Internet. Here is my flash take on it:
Fuck. How did I get in this position, she thought.
Her hands burned, the rawness bleeding the rope red.
“Come on! You have to help me.”
She watched the young man through the slats of the bridge. He looked up from where he dangled, the ground a mile down. Still he did not speak.
“I can’t hold you. Climb up or swing to the supports. Are you listening?”
The rope jerked, sawing at her hands.
“There’s no more time,” she screamed. “The rope is fraying.”
She saw herself then, and let go, falling back, gazing into the cloudless blue.