The Two Functions of Codependent Behaviors: To Cause Something And To Prevent Something

By Marshall Burtcher

Codependency functions from two types of behaviors: preventative and causal. Basically, this means we do certain codependent behaviors to either prevent something from happening or cause something to happen. More often, we’re attempting to prevent a thing and cause another thing instead.

Knowing what we’re trying to prevent and trying to cause can help us decode what needs we’re trying to meet and how we’re trying to do that.

An example: I fear being rejected by a person I really like. I start to shape-shift myself to them, aligning with their preferences in hopes they’ll like me.

In this scenario, I am attempting to prevent rejection AND get them to like me.

This is how I’m attempting to meet my need for a sense of safety, connection, and value in relationship with that person.

This approach to your codependent behaviors helps you detect what you’re trying to create and prevent in your life. It empowers you to see that codependency isn’t who you are. Instead, it is seen for what it really is: the strategy you’ve used to try to feel safe, connected, and have a sense of value.

You can start to decode what you’re trying to get by asking these questions and listening to the answers your body gives you:

Question one: What am I trying to prevent from happening here?

Question two: What am I trying to cause to happen here?

Take your time with these questions and with the answers that come up. Sometimes we will find answers we are not comfortable answering and acknowledging. That is normal. Consider giving yourself permission to acknowledge that you don’t want to acknowledge it. That often helps me become a bit more willing to be accept what is showing up for me.

Once you know the answer, you can ask yourself these questions:

Question one: What scenarios fill this need for me?

Alternative question: When I imagine what it feels like to have this need met in my life, what are others saying to me or doing with me?

Write down examples as best you can. It is ok if you draw a blank. Usually that happens because we’re initially trying to find the right answer. Continue to ponder the question and see what else you notice in your awareness.

Question two: What scenarios drain this need or hurt me in this area of my life?

Write down the examples that surface. This is crucial as it gives you criteria to use to help evaluate if someone is showing up in ways that are aligned with what you works for you and your needs.

Taking this approach to your needs helps you pivot from using codependent habits like people-pleasing and perfectionism to meet your needs. Instead, you can begin to do the work of identifying people who respond in ways that actually nourish your needs, and then start inviting them into your world more.

This is the importance and power of understanding what your codependency is trying to cause in your life and what it is trying to prevent.

By Marshall Burtcher

Learn more about this in Marshall’s on-demand workshop, Decoding Codependency: Origin of Codependency And The 6 Habits. It is free to attend. Sign up here:

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