Recently, I was pleased to come across country singer Luke Combs’ gorgeous version of a favorite song from my teenage years, “Fast Car,” by Tracy Chapman. It took me down memory lane and was a reminder of how moving this song about hard times and hope for the future was to me as a younger person.

Now, listening to “Fast Car” with fresh “therapist” ears, I am for the first time noticing how meaningful this song is from a mental health perspective. At the root, “Fast Car” touches on the generational codependency that so many people – especially those with family addiction issues – struggle with.

The song’s narrator talks about the cycle of dysfunction and addiction she experienced growing up and her role as caretaker:

“See, my old man’s got a problem
He live with the bottle, that’s the way it is
He says his body’s too old for working
His body’s too young to look like his
My mama went off and left him
She wanted more from life than he could give
I said somebody’s got to take care of him
So I quit school and that’s what I did.”

In her adult relationship, the narrator is reliving her childhood experience of keeping the family afloat, despite all intentions to escape it:

“I got a job that pays all our bills
You stay out drinking late at the bar
See more of your friends than you do of your kids
I’d always hoped for better
Thought maybe together you and me’d find it.”

The song ends on a hopeful note, suggesting that she is ready for change:

“You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so you can fly away?
You gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way.”

What is Codependency?

Codependency came to light about two decades ago, following years of research into interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. More recently, the language on codependency has broadened to include relationships that may not have an addiction as part of the dynamic.

Just as in “Fast Car,” usually one person in a co-dependent relationship puts their needs aside to care for or attempt to rescue, their partner, parent, child or friend.

This is learned behavior, frequently stemming from childhood experiences with neglect, abuse, and dysfunction. The child learned to put their needs second to those of a difficult parent – often an addict – when they were young and now, is repeating this pattern in their adult relationships.

Codependents tend to be so busy caring for others that they forget to take care of themselves. This results in stunted development of identity. They don’t know themselves and are out of touch with their emotions. Issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, the inability to set appropriate boundaries, substance use problems and abuse often grow out of codependency.

Are you in a Codependent Relationship?

The first step to overcoming co-dependency is to recognize and identify your behaviors.

There are some simple questions you can ask yourself for signs that you may be in a codependent relationship:

  • Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of a specific person?
  • Do you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your partner but stay with them despite their issues?
  • Are you giving support to your partner at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health?

(A more extensive list of questions can be found at Mental Health America. )

If you are concerned about your relationship patterns, you may want to reach out to a mental health professional, who can work with you on healing childhood traumas, building a stronger sense of self and developing healthier relationship strategies

You may also want to consider couples therapy. But, keep in mind, that both partners in the relationship must be committed to change and both must feel safe in the relationship. It’s also key that the individual (or both partners) seek appropriate treatment for their substance use issue(s), if addiction is part of the relationship.

What Does Interdependency vs. Codependency Look Like?

The goal is to grow from codependent to interdependent relationship patterns.

According to the Codependency Recovery Council, “Interdependency refers to a dynamic and mutually beneficial state in which individuals rely on one another for emotional support, fulfillment of needs, and personal growth while maintaining a sense of independence. It is a balanced blend of autonomy and connectedness that fosters a strong foundation of trust, respect, and interwoven support within relationships.” 

Some qualities of interdependency in a relationship include:

  • A balanced give and take in the relationship, with mutual reliance, where boundaries are established.
  • Both partners are able to ask for help and give it.
  • Each partner has a sense of being an independent, separate person and feeling free to be their own authentic self.
  • A safe space for open communication, active listening, and empathy, where both parties feel valued, heard, and understood.
  • Adaptability and resilience, where both individuals can work together to overcome relationship challenges.

If you are interested in working toward healthier relationships in your family or partnership, I am here to help. Contact me at (303) 542-0180.

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