Understanding Why Codependents Push People Away

By Susan Ball, Unapologetically You Mentor.

I fought the label “codependent” for ages simply because I consistently pushed people away. How could I be codependent when I slammed the door on so many relationships, friendships, family, and colleagues? It didn’t make sense to me.

The easy part of understanding codependency is the need to excessively care or create unhealthy attachments while ignoring  your own well-being. However, a less-discussed but equally important aspect of codependency is the tendency to push people away. This behaviour can be confusing and frustrating for both the codependent person and those around you. 

Healing codependency means exploring why you push people away. What is the underlying trauma and how it impacts your sense of security, safety, and self.

The Fear of Rejection and Abandonment – This was me!

One of the core fears for codependents is rejection or abandonment. Despite your desire for closeness and approval, codependents often struggle with a deep-seated belief that they are unworthy of love and acceptance. This fear can lead to a paradoxical behaviour: pushing people away to preempt the potential pain of being rejected.

When I would sense myself enjoying the company of someone or thinking about being with or near them, I would get nervous anxiety. The what-ifs would rear their ugly head with all the questions: what-if he says you’re not for him or he wants to date others or not ready for a relationship, you will be crushed, hurt, and left behind. So the logical step to stop the what-ifs was to push him away first. It made me feel in control, empowered, and independent.

But the truth was the exact opposite – I was reacting from a place of fear of rejection and abandonment. I didn’t want to feel pain or hurt so I disengaged before they could hurt me.

By distancing myself, I was attempting to protect myself from the anticipated and feared hurt. This self-protective mechanism is often unconscious but can manifest in various ways, such as withdrawing emotionally, becoming overly critical, or engaging in self-sabotaging behaviours that drive others away.

Past Trauma and Unresolved Issues: Unhealthy Attachment

Many codependents have a history of trauma or unresolved emotional issues, often stemming from childhood – the child wound. Experiences of neglect, abuse, or inconsistent caregiving can lead to unhealthy attachment issues showing up in adult relationships. For example, during my childhood, I learned early on that getting too close to someone could result in pain or disappointment.

As a result, I developed a defense mechanism or protector part to shield myself from further pain and harm. Pushing people away becomes a strategy to avoid re-experiencing the hurt associated with the past. Even when you crave connection, the fear of repeating past trauma can cause you to keep others at arm’s length.

Low Self-Esteem and Insecurity: They Will See You’re Unlovable

Low self-esteem and insecurity are common traits when you’re codependent. You often have a negative self-image and doubt you are worthy of love and respect. The lack of self-worth can make it difficult for you to believe that others genuinely care about you.

When someone shows interest or affection, it is common to question the person’s motives or feel unworthy of their attention. Pushing people away is a way to protect yourself from them discovering the truth: that you believe you are unlovable.. The cycle of self-doubt and rejection becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sense of Control: Vulnerability is Scary

By pushing people away, you feel you are maintaining control over your emotional environment. Allowing others to get too close means relinquishing some level of control and opening yourself up to potential hurt or disappointment. Closeness and openness equals vulnerability and that doesn’t feel safe. To protect yourself, you run away and decide it’s for the best.

You get to avoid facing your own vulnerabilities, child wounds, traumas, and unhealthy relationship patterns and that feels safe. But ultimately, you are denying yourself the possibility of fabulous friends and relationships.

Breaking the Cycle

Understanding why you push people away is the first step toward breaking the cycle of self-sabotage. Healing and shifting your protection behaviour of pushing people away begins with Self-Awareness.

This is the most important step – being aware of your pattern of pushing others away. Getting to a deeper understanding of your fears and triggers and seeing the signs that you are about to push someone away. 

It can be difficult to begin the process of understanding your own patterns, so to get you started, use this series of journal prompts:

  1. Reflect on Recent Interactions:

Think about your last few interactions with friends, family, or colleagues. Were there any moments where you felt the conversation turned negative or awkward? What were the triggers, and how did you respond? Could there have been a different approach you might have taken to keep the interaction positive and engaging?

  1. Analyze Your Emotions and Behaviour:

Recall a time when you believed someone was distancing themselves from you. How were you feeling during that period? Were you experiencing stress, frustration, or anxiety? Write about how your emotional state might have influenced your behaviour and how it could have been perceived by others.

  1. Identify Patterns and Solutions:

Do you notice any recurring patterns in your behaviour that might push people away? For example, do you tend to be overly critical, dismissive, or withdrawn? List specific instances and reflect on why these behaviours occurred. What steps can you take to change these patterns and build healthier relationships?

These prompts will help you reflect on your actions and emotions while building greater self-awareness and the opportunity for personal shifts.

In conclusion, the tendency for codependents to push people away is a complex behaviour rooted in fear, insecurity, and past trauma. By addressing these underlying issues and developing healthier coping mechanisms, you can build more fulfilling and stable relationships.

Susan Ball is an Abuse Recovery Expert who works with women ready to free their voice, break the cycle, and live life unapologetically. You can begin your healing journey by downloading her free ebook “Falling in Love with Myself Again” https://sendfox.com/lp/1dd5kk

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