The Codependent Fable: A Learning to Let Go Version

By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.

A woman was walking along a bridge and noticed a man standing near the edge. As she approached, the man called to her,

“Excuse me, ma’am. Can you please hold this rope for a moment?”

The woman, wanting to be helpful, easily agreed without giving thought to her busy schedule, her destination or the dreams that awaited her on the other side.

“Hold the rope tightly, please,” the man instructed.

She grasped the rope tightly. She began to wonder what exactly her purpose would be, and she became concerned with time. She had a million things to do, all of which would open doors to personal success and long-awaited opportunity. Yet, she made no mention of the time for fear of what the man might think. She wanted to appear helpful, selfless, compassionate and kind.

So, she stood there holding the rope, gripping it tightly.

Suddenly, the man leaped off the bridge. The weight of his body dropping to the depths below pulled her violently to the edge. Stopped only by the safety railing, she found herself staring down at the man who now dangled precariously from the rope she was holding.

Little did she know, while she was thinking about her dreams that awaited her on the other side, the increasing scarcity of time and finding herself perplexed by her obvious need to set boundaries versus her tendency toward people-pleasing, the man was busy affixing the rope to his body. Now, she found herself in charge of this man’s safety. His life was literally hanging in the balance, and the rope to which she was now grasping was his only hope for rescue.

“What have you done?” She screamed. “You must climb up! I cannot hold you. Your weight is too much for me to bear. The rope is slipping. Climb up!”

She tried desperately to cling to the rope, bracing her body against the edge of the bridge, but the fibers were now ripping into the flesh of her hands. Her arms were already noticeably scraped and bloody from the concrete edge on which they now attempted to rest. But the constant pull of the man’s body, as it dangled and swung below, shifted her weight, and with every shift came a painful blow from the concrete’s rough surface.

“Climb up!” She shouted. “I cannot hold you any longer.”

The man stared up at her and screamed,

“You must hold the rope! If you let go, I will fall onto the rocks far below. I will die!”

She began to cry, reeling in the physical pain she experienced with every movement the man’s body made and terrified of the responsibility she now faced.

“I cannot hold you!” She exclaimed. “You are too heavy. I need you to climb up!”

The man stared up at her, seemingly helplessly, and shouted a desperate plea.

“Then tie the rope around your body. I gave you enough length when I first handed it to you—just enough to easily secure me to you. Use your body to bear the weight of mine. Do not let go of the rope. If you do, I will surely die.”

The woman immediately replied,

“If I tie the rope around my body, I could easily be pulled off with you. Besides, I have a million things to do. My dreams await me on the other side. I cannot stand here all day. I cannot hold you forever. You must climb up! You need to think about me and my needs too!”

The man became angry and bellowed,

“You’re the one that agreed to hold the rope! Why are you suddenly upset about it now? This is my life you have in your hands. A life is a bit more important than your to-do list, don’t you think? How could you be so selfish?”

The woman, not wanting to seem heartless and selfish, pulled the few feet of rope that remained on the bridge and carefully wrapped it around her body, tying it tightly to prevent release. The weight of the man’s body instantly cinched the rope to an excruciatingly painful point. It felt as though she was being squeezed in half.

She pleaded with the man, again.

“Please, sir. I need you to climb up! You are killing me!”

The man gave one final response.

“I will not climb. Why should I? As long as you are holding me, I will not hit the rocky bottom below. Besides, it was your choice to hold the rope, and now it is also wrapped around your body. So, you might want to think twice about angering me. If I decide to throw a fit, that would be truly painful and possibly fatal for you. As such, it seems your life is in my hands now too. You have no choice. Only I do, and I refuse to climb.”

The woman, hearing those words, knew what she had to do. Valuing her life, the dreams she so wanted and deserved to achieve, she took a deep breath, untied the rope and simply let go.