Living With A Codependent Is Also Not Easy

By Dr. Nicholas Jenner

We all want someone who is going to love us and accept us for who we are. What lovely
words but I wonder how complex that statement is? The first question that comes to
mind is, which part of us should they love and accept? Should it be the easier parts to
handle or should they accept us warts and all? Ideally yes, you might say but again, are
we as humans truly capable of accepting someone 100 percent without judgment of
some sort? I wonder how many of us create a version of ourselves that is lovable
enough to keep the relationship going while subduing healthier independent parts of
ourselves? I believe it is a struggle that codependents face on a daily basis. Just who
am I? Or more usual, who should I be? How can we be accepted when in reality, we find
it hard to accept ourselves?

Codependents are the good guys, when compared to the self-centered alternative. The
problem is that it is not as clear as it should be and how people see it. Browse quickly
around the internet after putting a certain word in a search engine and you will find posts
full of people who have been affected by partners, lovers, friends and family members
who have treated them in a certain way. Some of these stories talk about abuse and
controlling (unforgiveable and should never be tolerated) which is, of course, part of
being involved with a certain type, but we should never lose sight of the fact that living
with a codependent is never easy. I have worked with the concept “codependency” for
fifteen years and while it is yet to be recognized as a disorder (I hope it never will), it
clearly causes issues for millions of people in a relational and behavioral sense.
Codependents, shorn of true connection, bonding and lacking self-esteem, come into
their adulthood totally unprepared for the rigors of being in a relationship. Used to
manipulating and chasing validation from caregivers who are either too busy, unable,
unwilling or unaware, they adopt the same tactics in adult relationships that they did in
childhood. The classic “give to get” is employed to control and make themselves
indispensable in the eyes of their chosen one. It makes sense that if you are pushing
towards someone, the most natural fit is someone pulling in the other direction and
these are the very types codependents are generally attracted to. A perfectly
dysfunctional jigsaw comes together.

Anyone with even a scant knowledge of codependency will know that the people they
involve themselves with will usually create a certain dynamic in the relationship. Many
codependents are vulnerable (the vast majority are women) and there are many who
willingly take advantage of their “good nature”. If someone of a certain personality type
breezes through your life and leaves again, it can be the equivalent of being hit by a
tornado and will take time to recover. However, not everyone in a relationship with a
codependent can be described with the “narc” moniker, despite that seemingly mostly
being the case when codependents are asked to describe their current or ex-partner.
Some are actually healthy people who have learned that it is also healthy to pursue
individual time and interests and have both quality time for self and relationship. This is
where a grey area exists in the polarized narcissist-codependent argument.

Codependents are generally threatened by independence in their partner. It is alien to
them and stirs up abandonment issues if the full focus is not on them. Ironically,
when two codependents get together, this focus on them is also threatening, leading
to counter dependence. They gain this focus via use of the drama triangle, the chosen
method of control. It all sounds very dysfunctional and deregulated and it is. It is a mirror
of childhood. Caregiving, surpressing needs, fixing (sacrificing) and manipulating and
victim mentality, all in the name of finding a true connection. One that they have never
experienced fully.

So what is it really like to live with a codependent? It’s not easy for anyone and through
my experience (and my own struggles), I can give an insight. Some years ago, I made
a podcast with my wife concerning the four pillars of a successful relationship. We
emphasized the importance of such things as trust, honesty, respect, meeting needs,
communication and conflict management. We talked about our struggles in certain
areas, especially in terms of how we communicate and try to resolve conflict. Coming
from very different backgrounds, we had different expectations in these areas and some
conflicts dragged on and remained unresolved, others were buried leading to
resentment on both sides. We are learning daily to understand each other better and the
work goes on.

What wasn’t discussed on the podcast was the codependent aspect to my behavior,
something that has been a struggle for me all my life. My wife, by her own admission,
has her own issues and tends to be more counter-dependent. It has created a dynamic
in our marriage that has threatened to engulf us at times. At this point, I would like to
state that my wife is not a narcissist in any way, shape or form and her issues are not for
me to comment on. I can only focus on my side of this and this is a dynamic I see over
and over again in my work. It is embodied in the very high expectations that
codependents have of anyone who becomes involved with them.

While there are different types of codependent behavior, the focus is usually on enmeshing with someone in order to feel secure and be wanted, needed and important. Enmeshment starts in childhood as a family dynamic and is described as:

“Someone in an enmeshed relationship is overly connected and needs to meet the
other person’s needs so badly that they lose touch with their own needs, goals,
desires, and feelings.
Often, just the thought of being without the person can be
anxiety-producing.”

This is the true definition of a codependent relationship. My wife and I have recently
been talking about how this affected her and she used the word “smothering” and it led
to her not wanting to ask me to help her with anything in case I “took over”. That is a
sentiment I have heard also from clients who are also dealing with codependent
tendencies. It hit me fairly hard and has been a new feature of my Path To Freedom. I
also discussed this with a trusted colleague who said that I need to be careful that I do
not take 100 percent responsibility for any issues in the relationship as they may not be
genuine. She said, please remember “that is takes two hands to clap”, meaning of
course that I should not be the only one working on myself.

So what is the remedy?

Codependency is a connection issue and children who do not connect with their
caregivers will then continue to attempt to connect with a “moving target” as they grow
into adulthood. By “moving target”, I mean emotionally distant individuals who find
commitment difficult, or in a worst case scenario, manipulative and abusive partners who
take full advantage.

In a developmental sense, the lack of connection with parents and the issues that lead
to codependency, will mean that we often become stuck in one developmental phase or
another. This could be the codependent phase (18 months to 5), where we are needing
our parents to show us the boundaries and limits of our behavior when we are
desperately trying to push those boundaries. This is mostly where we pick up toxic
shame as our parents try to control us rather than guide us. It could be the counter-
dependent phase where we start to become independent from our parents and distance
ourselves (usually 5 to 11). It could even be the dependent phase (0 to 18 months)
where we look to someone to completely take care of all our needs. We need to
navigate these phases successfully to reach a point where we can separate from our
parents and become a fully functioning adult. Parents do not need to be perfect but do
need to be aware, willing and knowledgeable enough to help their children through.

One of the consequences of being “stuck” in developmental phases is that we do not
attain emotional maturity or separation from our parents. We then go into adulthood
trying to fix those issues with other people in a process Freud called repetition
compulsion
. Our child-like self appears and reappears in situations where we feel
triggered in relationships, work, conflict and personal growth. In terms of codependency,
we mirror the tactics we used to provoke attention and validation by overachieving,
caregiving, fixing and sacrificing. These are our coping skills or defense mechanisms
that turn into our thinking parts like the critic, shame and escape voices.

In effect, a childhood as described above means being a fully functioning adult is going
to be difficult. An adult that can make conscious choices, face consequences, set
reasonable targets and not be dragged back to the past. According to Carl Rogers, a
fully functioning person is one who is in touch with their deepest and innermost feelings
and desires. These individuals understand their own emotions and place deep trust in
their own instincts and urges. Unconditional positive regard for self plays an essential
role in becoming a fully functioning person. Rogers wrote in 1962:

“Such a person experiences in the present, with immediacy. He is able to live in
his feelings and reactions of the moment. He is not bound by the structure of his
past learnings, but these are a present resource for him insofar as they relate to
the experience of the moment. He lives freely, subjectively, in an existential
confrontation of this moment in life.”

Recovery from codependency means finding or forming the part of you described above.
It is always there but is often subdued or exiled. Finding that voice and maintaining it is
the key to moving successfully in the adult world.

It also means disengagement from the idea that you only exist to make sure someone else
is fine, giving up the idea that you do things for people with the expectation of being
loved, needed and wanted. Impossible if you don’t find those things within yourself.

By Dr. Nicholas Jenner. Learn more about Dr. Jenner’s work here: https://freefromcodependency.com/

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