What Codependency Really Is & What It’s Doing For You

Have you been told any of these things about codependency:

  • That it is a disease?
  • That it is an identity?
  • That it is part of who you are?
  • That it is permanent?
  • That you’ll have to cope with it for the rest of your life?

This is what I was taught in my own personal therapy years ago, and it devastated me. I was left feeling empty, hopeless, and drowning in self-loathing and shame. I was at a loss for why I was even in therapy at times if there was no escape from the crippling anxiety, self-doubt, paralyzing analysis, and the shame that infected everything I tried.

I saw others who were not people-pleasers, perfectionists, or over-performers that were happy. They had relationships, friendships, and purpose in life. What if I could have those things, too?

This question drove me to exit traditional therapy and seek out real, lasting solutions to my codependency. I wanted to find out if I, too, could be confident and at peace with who I am.

Maybe I could even like or love myself.

I discovered I was right.

My journey with codependency shifted when I learned about a biological response called “Fawning”. I first encountered this term while studying the book, Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker.

Most of us are familiar with the Fight-Flight responses the body has in response to danger. Many of us are also familiar with the Freeze response that the body can do if it cannot fight or escape a threat.

But, if you’re like me, the Fawn response was not something I’d encountered in any of my training or personal research on trauma and codependency.

What is fawning? It is when you try to please or appease a threat in hopes they’ll stop threatening you or creating danger with their behaviors.

This was eye-opening to me, especially since fawning points directly to codependent behaviors. This means the six core codependent habits (people-pleasing, perfectionism, fixing, earning worth, merging with others, and accommodating toxic behaviors) are actually caused by the body trying to keep itself safe.

It also means that codependency is not an identity, a disease, part of who I am, and is not permanent. This gave me real hope and a path to follow, which lead to my next question:

How do I stop fawning?

Fawning happens as a last resort for the body to keep itself safe. This means three specific things have been threatened chronically and profoundly. Those three specific things I call “The 3 Necessities”. They are:

  • The need for Safety emotionally, physically, and in relationship with self and others
  • The need for connection with self, others, and life
  • The need for a sense of value and identity (what I call value-identity)

Codependency’s purpose is to help you secure and maintain these three needs while in abusive, threatening, unstable relationships. It’s ultimate goal is to help you get to a place where you can exit that threatening dynamic and create these in your life without having to tolerate harm and chaos.

I discovered these three needs in my own personal healing work and now teach students and clients how to create them in their daily lives without the need to give themselves up. I will be discussing each of these in-depth in my next 3 articles.

For now, ponder on this question: what shifts in your healing if you trust, just a bit, that your codependency is a
survival strategy?

To your well-being and happiness,

By Marshall Burtcher

Learn more about Marshall’s work here:


Marshall is a regular contributor to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency, Codependency Recovery.

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