Is There A Codependency Type?
Dr. Nicholas Jenner
We frequently read about the various forms of narcissism in the countless articles available on the internet. There are some that are official and others that individuals use to explain their experiences. In this scenario, it’s important to keep in mind that anything other than an official diagnosis of NPD is merely a description of behaviour. However, I’m curious as to the number of undiagnosed narcissists, given that many of them would refuse to be examined. In any case, I digress.
In my everyday work with codependents, who do not need to be tested, I see a variety of different “types” of codependency, to the point that we may assert that not all codependency is the same. Through my work, I’ve observed how these personalities affect behaviour and the relationships in which they find themselves. As with any definition or classification of “types,” one might envision that the individual impacted may exhibit a combination of these traits and may even evolve into one “type” or another at different times depending on the relationship and possibly even the period of life in which they find themselves.
To refresh your memory, codependency is a coping/survival strategy that formed in childhood as a result of a broken connection with caregivers as a result of inadequate or inattentive parenting. Codependency stems from toxic shame, as well as developmental and relational trauma. Codependents replay this trauma in adulthood and use the same survival strategy in adult relationships, believing that constant giving and external emphasis on others provides them with emotional security. This approach is ultimately flawed since codependents are frequently in relationships with others who are unable or unwilling to reciprocate, therefore perpetuating the cycle of push/pull.
This list is by no means comprehensive nor does it represent any kind of official diagnosis. It is just a series of observations I have made over the years. Please keep in mind while reading that all forms of codependency are defined by a need to control to feel secure. Controlling others can be done directly or, as in the case of codependency, quite indirectly.
The Compliant Codependent: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Dependent Personality Disorder is the closest thing to codependency. Affected individuals will completely immerse themselves in the world of another, complying at all times and viewing the world as only safe when viewed through the eyes of their partner (could also be a friend). Shades of this can be found in the Compliant Codependent, who not only performs everything required of them and more, but who also anticipates their wants and adapts to satisfy them through constant hypervigilance.
It is, in fact, a complete loss of one’s sense of self and the inability to successfully address one’s own needs. Contrary to popular belief, the compliant will frequently complain to others about how horrible their situation is while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing about it. There is just one thing they want out of life: to satisfy their
codependent object at all costs, no matter what the consequences are for themselves. If they are left alone, their worst case scenario is that they will get overwhelmed by feelings of abandonment. Because they are always in denial, they are frequently the most difficult form of codependent to treat.
The Masochistic Codependent: Masochistic Personality Disorder was dropped from the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Some distinguished scholars, most notably Theodore Millon, view its omission as an error and advocate for its return in future editions. Whether or not it is described in the handbook, there is abundant proof that it exists in some form and causes suffering to those who are afflicted. This has been seen in my work, where clients almost relish the thought of self-defeating behaviour, anticipate it, and are never startled when it occurs. Additionally, sufferers frequently avoid or disregard pleasurable events. They frequently allow themselves to get dragged into dangerous circumstances or relationships.
Additionally, they typically refuse assistance from others. They frequently choose partnerships that are detrimental to their well-being despite the availability of better choices. Pleasurable experiences are met with guilt, despair, or even more self-defeating behaviour. They frequently elicit angry or rejecting responses from others in order to achieve a sense of failure or humiliation. One particularly unfavourable component of this disease is that sufferers actively choose not to pursue personal objectives even when they are capable of doing so, and they reject anyone who attempts to assist them while selflessly devoting themselves to others. It’s a never-ending spiral of defeatism. From an early age, the masochist is trained to despise themselves, to believe they are undeserving of love and worthless as a person. As a result, he or she is more likely to engage in self-destructive, punitive, and punishing self-sabotaging behaviours. This brings me to the codependency connection. The distinctions between the two topics are frequently blurred. Codependents frequently utilise victimhood as a controlling mechanism to perpetuate their dependency, and this frequently leads to self-defeating behaviours. Numerous characteristics of the disorder can also be linked to codependents. This adds additional layer of complexity to treatment that every therapist working with codependents must consider.
The Drama Triangle Codependent Version 1: The drama triangle is a form of codependent control that is used to alter the narrative of a relationship and keep a codependent safe by keeping their partner in a controlled environment that is comfortable for the codependent. Given the use of the term “triangle,” one might infer without too much thought that this method of control consists of three components. That is a reasonable assumption, but the situation is more complicated than that. It can be used as a control cycle, progressing from one element to the next, or each point could
be used indefinitely. The cycle, in my experience, is the most prevalent manifestation of this. The most frequent form of codependency is the “Fixer,” which is a reflection of childhood dysfunction. The Fixer is the type of codependent who is constantly available to help others, serving as the lifeblood of the family or community. They will take on any issue and attempt to resolve it. The consummate people pleaser who has been taught by ineffective and inattentive parenting that they must perform increasingly more tasks in order to be validated. This people-pleasing effort comes at a significant cost to everyone engaged, since they are expected to provide a “return” of validation. The codependent is frequently fatigued and prone to depression and burnout.
The Drama Triangle Codependent Version 2: Codependents, it’s a little-known fact, can get very angry. At times, all of the suppressed feelings from childhood come gushing to the surface. It’s common to see this in conflict or when attempts to fix (as in the previous paragraph) have failed. This is the triangle’s second component. In the event that codependents believe they are losing control or are at risk of being abandoned, (or at least feel they are) rage can ensue. There are many reasons why codependents lash out in rage, but the most common are despair, fear, and frustration. To keep themselves safe, some codependents go to extremes, such as being continuously furious and manipulating others. Because of the intensity of their feelings of rage, some of these codependents may be mistaken for narcissists.
The Drama Triangle Codependent Version 3: Often when fixing and anger don’t bring the needed rewards, a codependent will turn to victimhood. Victim mentality is a psychological term that refers to a form of disordered thinking that seeks to feel persecuted in order to get attention or avoid taking responsibility for one’s actions. Individuals who battle with victim mentality believe that life is not only beyond their control, but is actively seeking to harm them. This assumption results in a never-ending cycle of blaming, finger-pointing, and pity parties, all of which are fueled by pessimism, fear, and wrath. Codependents utilise it to be rescued, and it is the polar opposite of “fixing,” in which they view others as victims. Playing the victim implies that they are looking for someone to rescue them. They are seeking attention and require a sense of belonging. However, when the cycle continues, this frequently results in more fixing.
The Controlling Codependent: A controlling codependent feels secure only when the object (partner) is insecure and the power balance shifts in his or her favour. With this sense of uncertainty, the codependent can set about repairing and gratifying others (to their advantage). They maintain control in this case, they accept and agree with their spouse, and they do all possible to give the idea that everything is well. Generally, what they do not want is for their partner to feel secure. This may arouse fears that they may be abandoned and alone. Codependents who are in control would then use subtle and not-so-subtle strategies such as silent treatment, passive-aggressive conduct, and victimisation to erode their object’s sense of security. Additionally, they are acutely aware of changes in the object’s mood or behaviour, which may indicate that the tide is turning in either direction. This is very much a part of the drama triangle I previously explained.
By Dr. Nicholas Jenner
Dr. Nicholas is a regular contributor to the #1 Online Magazine For Codependency, Codependency Recovery.