What is wrong with my thinking?
How did I get this way?
How should I be reacting?
These are among the most common questions I get asked by my clients concerning their Codependency. The thing to remember is that a Codependent suffers from a form of arrested development. The six year old, abused or neglected child learned coping mechanisms to help them survive their environment. The problem is that rather than grow and learn newer, more mature and healthier ways to cope as they got older, they became emotionally stuck and continued to use the same coping mechanisms in adulthood as that traumatized six year old.
What works for a six year old isn’t always going to work for an adult in an adult relationship. You can’t expect to have a healthy relationship when a child is in charge of your emotional reactions.
Here’s one example of what I mean: a neglected 6 year old that is desperate for love, affection and attention learns that she can get attention and praise if she’s perfect, neat, helpful, quiet and doesn’t cause a fuss like her sister does. She grows up and still uses this same mold for her adult relationships. The neglect and emotional abuse has given her the basis for her belief that she is not good enough and not worthy of love and so now she behaves in a manner that suggests that just being who she is will not garner her love, attention and affection – so she reverts to what has worked for her in the past – now she will have to be little miss perfect. She won’t act out even when she’s being treated poorly or unfairly, she’ll help too much, she’ll give too much because this is what she was taught she had to do to get what she needed.
So we have a faulty childhood belief which creates the need for a dysfunctional strategy. This strategy we never grow out of and it causes a plethora of problems for us as we develop and grow.
Breaking Down the Codependent Coping Mechanism
Childhood belief: Nobody’s going to want me because I’m lacking or flawed in some way.
Coping mechanism learned in childhood: If I’m better than everyone else – if I’m perfect – if I’m special then people will love me, if I’m not, no one will love me, so I have to try extra hard and put in extra effort.
How this manifests in adulthood: As an adult you believe that just being yourself isn’t good enough you have to give more and be more than everyone else just to get attention, love or affection. When you enter into a relationship prepared and even looking to give and do the lion’s share of the work it sets the stage for an uneven power dynamic. Manipulators look for these qualities to take advantage and exploit in others.
Healthy coping mechanism: Systematically growing out of each coping mechanism as we learn and adapt to our surroundings. The belief is that I am good enough just the way I am. I need not do or be anything other than what I am. I look for reciprocity in relationships, as well as fair and respectful treatment.
Childhood belief: I am responsible for the moods and behavior of my loved ones.
Coping Mechanism learned in childhood: I need to learn how to read your behavior – do I become invisible, do I try to comfort you, do I nurture you, do I hide, should I be afraid?. I am always walking on egg shells, nothing is stable so I must always be on my toes.
How this manifests in adult relationships: I always say that codependents make the best hosts because they are so good at anticipating people’s needs. They are over nurturers, looking for that broken bird to fix and comfort. They accept blame when it does not belong to them and believe that everything is their fault.
Healthy coping mechanism: I am an autonomous being responsible for my own moods and behaviors and you are an autonomous being responsible for your moods and behaviors. Your behavior has nothing to do with me and everything to do with you. I don’t absorb your blame or your energy. I pass it back to you and carry none of it with me.
Childhood belief: I feel guilty or shameful for having needs and wants, other people are more important than me.
Coping mechanism learned in childhood: I need to suppress my desires in favor of yours. I should feel bad for having human needs and desires.
How this manifest in adult relationships: Giving to the point of exploitation, surrendering your own identity, making the relationship all about the other person, being other person focused.
Healthy coping mechanism: I am responsible for satisfying my own needs and wants. You are responsible for yours. I am an equal partner in my adult relationships and they are based on respect, fairness and equality.
The common theme in most Codependent, childhood coping mechanisms is a lack of autonomy between the caregiver and the child. There are few to no boundaries, no separation and part of recovery is learning how to have a healthy detachment from those closest to us, especially those that we are in an intimate relationships with.
Healthy detachment means knowing that each of us are responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors and that we don’t go looking to others to validate us and tell us who we are. It’s about having separate lives and interest outside of our relationships and allowing our partners the same freedoms. It’s about encouraging each other’s growth and not requiring stagnation or sameness in order to feel secure.
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I am so happy I found your site!!! Your blog is amazing!
Many thanks for your advice Sarahlynn. I think you are correct in what your saying about third partner. I think she is the giving too much type but its what she wants to do also and as you say he can adapt to that. She keeps him happy with whatever he wants and needs. Ialso believe she may be stronger than me as she doesnt have kids with him as she had them with a previous partner. Sp she is able to work and money is his God. So there is enough in that relationship to keep him happy. But what he used to do to his family and anyone who tried to wake him when having a nap on settee is that he would automatically take a swing at you with his fist. I often wonder if he does this with partner number three.As it seemed to be an inbuilt thing.x Thank you for your replyxx
Sorry i hit enter too soon.
I then went to blaming all of it on N and started feeling pretty good & stronger. But then I read about My inner weaknesses & how they kept me clinging. Often to points of panic.I wanted him to stay in my life. Savannah is so right.
I am thankful to know better. It was a fantasy of mine. I put myself in his shoes looking at me and my behaviors throwing myself at him.Practically begging. Well no wonder he took advantage of me & kept coming back.
There is no in between trying to stay friends with N because you are still feeding his ego just to get a fantasy crumb from him to validate You. Those crumbs will never manifest to an honorable commitment from him. Meanwhile you may miss out meeting someone who would appreciate having you for a partner while you’re so busy in fantasy land.
I feel Savannah was a Godsend for me. I couldn’t quite do it on my own without all of her tips. She filled up most of my jigsaw puzzle & I will keep reading for enrichment.
I know that with more knowledge & wisdom, many others will climb the fear & pain mountain to really let go & find peace on the other side. Once the N is cleared out, you have new refreshing clear space to rebuild the way you want it.
Thank you everyone. Go forward to find your real treasures of meaningful value, not delusions.
Savannah. Cant praise you enough for what feels like saving my life thru your site. Each lesson is another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of my life of turmoil.i never focused on codependency before to see how building ones self esteem helps conquer the toxic relationship.
It took me two years to finally “let go” of the Narc. I kept recontacting him out of weakness. I didnt even know he was a narcissist until a month ago. Didnt even know the definition but it all fits him and so does codependent fit me.
I loved learning this toxic reltionship it was not all my fault
I have tried really hard and been doing good going no contact with my N it’s been 3 months! However, He continues to call me at least a few times a months, there’s been times where I have hung up on him. He showed up at my house on my bday. according to what he tells his friends he’s happily in a new relationship. He said he was in the area working, remembered my bday and wanted to wish me a good day. All he did was made all those painful memories come to light again. I told him how I felt honestly I don’t think he gets how much he hurts me every time he tries to make contact with me. After a few minutes of talking I looked at him In the eyes and told him how much he has hurt and that I NEVER want to talk or see him again. He tried giving me a hug before leaving , i pushed him away and told him to stop contacting me. At one point I felt like he was being honest apologizing. BUt, it’s so HARD forgetting all those horrible things he did to me.
I just want to share my story to illustrate how much your website positively impacts women (and men) struggling to get free from toxic relationships.
I was married for 9 years (involved for 11) with an almost text book example of a narcissistic man. He did all of the typical antics of gas lighting, withholding affection, infidelity, etc. I finally had enough this past December 2016 when during an argument, he physically assaulted me. At that point, I made up my mind that it was time to go. We had house guests so I decided not to bolt right away. Instead, I slowly started to pre-position some of my belongings at a relative’s home. At the same time, I started doing some research online and stumbled upon your website. Like many of your readers, I had the “a ha” moment when I realized what I was truly in. That the marriage I thought I had, never actually existed. And that if I had any hope of a truly happy future, I needed to get the hell out then work on figuring out how I got myself into that situation. Three weeks after the physical assault, I left for a pre-planned work trip and sent my divorce request via email. I have never seen him or spoke to him since. He has agreed to the divorce without any reluctance, which makes me believe he has already moved on to his next “supply”.
We have no kids or shared assets, so splitting up is not that complicated. I feel like I bounced back relatively quickly. I am busy with very interesting work, moved back with my parents while I plan my next steps, and reconnected with friends and loved ones. I am a bit worried that I may be keeping myself distracted from the process of healing but I truly feel like I cognitively understand how I got into the marriage (dependency, low self esteem) and that I am truly better off without the pain of being with him. Is it possible to be okay so quickly after such a break up?
All the best!
Savannah, It amazes me how absolutely spot on you are with all of these articles. I have been free from my narcissistic abusive relationship for about 5 months now and while I know with all of my heart I did the right thing by going no contact (blocking him from my phone and email), my heart aches daily. I want nothing more than to forget him and all of his lies and deceit but it’s on the forefront of my mind daily. I just don’t understand how another human being can be so cruel and manipulative. Any suggestions on how to move on? I did a few therapy sessions and the therapist was very impressed at my knowledge of what was going on in the relationship and why it was so dysfunctional and basically told me he didn’t feel like I needed to pursue anything further as far as counseling. My heart still aches that I’ve made such bad choices in relationships my whole life. I feel like the last relationship was a real eye opener and did end up being a blessing in that I was able to identify what’s wrong with me. I also feel like I’m so damaged on the inside that I’ll never have a normal relationship and who’s gonna want this shell of a person who was once happy, full of faith and hope and now regularly wonders why God would allow me to become so broken. I would appreciate any suggestions on where to go from here. How can I get the old me back? The one that looked forward to each day and the blessings ahead. Now I merely survive and often wonder why me…
Thank you so much. This article is “ME” in its entirety. I’ve been working on my Codependence and even though I recognized this about myself you have put into words what I couldn’t.
I love your posts but I also like to read the other people comments and see what people go through and how does it compare to my experience. It’s good to know that although we are so different, yet we follow the same psychological patterns of human nature.
It took me so long to figure out that no, I am not perfect, and no I am not the best person in the world, and no I can’t please and love anyone and everyone and yes, I am a deeply wounded child and although my parents were not psychopaths, my family was emotionally dysfunctional. My dad was an alcoholic but not the one that beats his wife and kids up but the one that would come home and sleep. The one that would borrow money from other people to buy booze and then my mom, with five kids and not much money, would be approached by those people for overdue payments. All of this, in a small community when everybody knows everybody. I was the youngest and my dad’s favourite child. He was so great with kids, he played with us, he instilled the love of books in me, he avidly supported my education and encouraged to develop my talents. He would do anything for me… but stop drinking. Both parents would confine in me, and tell me things that no child wants to ever hear. When all my older siblings moved out and started their own families and I was and adult, too then really the real hell of a dysfunctional marriage of my parents broke loose. How I often prayed they would leave me alone and divorce. When I was going through my divorcee, my mother would torture me telling me how she lived with my dad till death did them apart and how keeping a marriage is a right thing to do and blah, blah, blah… Finally, I told her blandly that she can claim her prize for staying in sick relationship till the end but I am not her, and no amount of her talking is going to change my mind. Then she admitted that if she had lived her life again then she would everything different. But then she brought back some very untasteful stories how dad cheated on her in his sixties and I almost puked. But what do you say to an old woman who is 84 and means well but really has no sense. In all the honesty I do understand how much easier was for me to divorce, when I have a job, have financial means and don’t have to worry how I shelter, feed and provide for myself and my kid. Those were different times when not only women got horribly ostracized by small communities but also had nowhere to go, no work, no money and no family support. Maybe if I lived then, I would do the same? However, talking of being a divorced woman and being judged, labeled, afraid of (because you might be after other spouses now, or their penises and or money), separated from the ex in-law-family, afraid of leading a “bad” example to other women (this comes from insecure male relatives) did not become any easier in 21st century. Even neighbours who perfectly know that you’re divorce now want even say a beep or run for their life you hint of wanting to talk about your grief. Many of us, don’t even allow ourselves to grief because after all that’s what we wanted and often pursued ourselves. The ex is not dead, and often in a new relationship and we should be just fine. We hear all the time: “Oh, you will find someone, one day, too!” I don’t want to find anybody! I am not looking for anybody! I had enough! But, yes, I am grieving! I am suffering horribly! It breaks my heart to see how my kid is suffering and trying to sort his thoughts and feelings out being torn apart between two now, totally not getting along parents. Whenever I open up and want to talk about my “broken” post divorce heart, people look at me as I was crazy. I am supposed to celebrate and run after other guys like crazy. Some even suggest online dating and I just shut my mouth! Stopped talking, discard more, and more so called friends and family and become more and more of a hermit. Although, I have to admit that I love to talk to sincere divorced women who truly know what I am going through and know better not to say anything and all or just say: “I know how you feel. I went through it, too. It gets a little bit better with the time, but it’s a very long process.” Not mentioning, that they also give good practical advise on how to enforce child support payments, where to get free legal advice, etc. And of course, there are some divorce women who make you feel like you are a total loser because they never ever went through any grief, any after thoughts. they grabbed the next in line guy, are happy as larks, and so on.
My first husband was a narc, My second one was too
I think you are right on target about what worked in childhood. I was 4 when my abuse started. Mental and physical. I told my 16 yr old daughter last night before you published this exactly what was wrong with me and how thankful I am that she will never be exploited by a man to get love.
It is not a cliche. It is true even in this day and age that a person will give sex to feel as though they are receiving love.
When I left my 2nd husband my children were10,3, and 1. I decided that I did not want my son’s to learn to abuse women and I certainly was not going to have my daughter be like me. I raised them alone.
In the last yr I was in a relationship with a closet narc , when I asked him to do something he recoiled in fear ,and I left him where I found him. Several years later and swearing off people again. Five months later a guy came along, everything was fine, and then he started “breadcrumbing”me. I decided to see if this (I’m his mind only) “god’s gift to women” could act like a grown up. I guess not. AT Least I have never been out with him, ( in 6 months he could never find the time.)
What’s interesting is who said the one thing on this latest experience that made the most sense. My original abuser at 4, looks at me and says “addonis” can’t handle having anyone who he perceives looking better then him on his arm.
I promise you I nearly fainted hearing that come out of my aging narc parent’s mouth….
Thanks for hitting the nail on the head and bringing my serendipitous weekend full circle.
Love how you can lay it out on the line like that. Clarity is a wonderful thing, and so is validation for what is really going on. Thank you for sharing your keen insight.
As a “codependent,” I am disturbed by your generalization that we are all in a state of “arrested development” because of an abused, neglected childhood. I had a wonderful, abuse and neglect-free childhood (and NO I am not in some form of denial). I was never demeaned, belittled, or given unrealistic expectations as a child. My parents were supportive and understanding, and I have no history of abuse by any other relative or family friend. And yet….all of the “coping mechanisms” described above are accurate descriptions of my personality. I don’t believe that I am in an arrested state of development. I was married to a sociopath…a mean, manipulative, charming, belittling, master of my emotions. I’ve always been a nurturer…I was the child to scoop up birds with broken wings, abandoned baby mice, and limping grasshoppers. I was the child that always cried pitifully when those creatures perished. I always gravitate toward trying to help and trying to fix. This is how my sociopath drew me in. Like a vampire, he fed on my idealism, my kindness, my (false) belief in the good inside everyone. I don’t believe this had anything to do with my arrested development (HE is the one forever frozen in the selfish emotions of a 12 year old). I was manipulated, suppressed, and beaten down emotionally. I tried to fix and fix and fix, and all he did was break and break and break. I was fighting a loosing battle with a immovable brick wall. It crippled my spirit, broke my resolve, and left me a hopeless shell of the hopeful person I once was. This was not because I was stalled in my development, but because a once strong person, who had a tendency to nurture, was so cruelly manipulated by a sociopath. I was abused, but not as a child. I was abused for 5 years from the age of 33, and the remains are what you described in your article…a confused child.
I was wondering that, too. I was wondering if their might be more than one path to codependancy. An imbalance in praise/Criticism might have done it for me. I dont think theres anything wrong with being highly empathetic but I believe we go wrong with BALANCE. We forget about ourselves. We overlook the bad when we see it in the beginning bc we NEED to. When I look back on every one of my relationships, they all were showing me who they were right away but I made an excuse and wrote it off bc I obviously needed to. I was on a mission. My experience with self awareness is that it comes in waves, slowly, over time. I’ve wondered if we merely learned what to do and how to be from watching our parents…..how to deal with anger, how to solve problems, how to express ourselves…..when you’re not happy, you just stay there and harp on him to change and that your unhappiness when he doesn’t is all his fault……hmmmm we think as children…..so my happiness is up to someone else. Just thinking back on my own situation as to how I got here. I def wasn’t abused or neglected but rather a spoiled only child. My parents put my needs first. I always and still do think of my mom and dad as good parents. I was not allowed to do my own hair until high school or bathe myself until I was in third grade which sends a signal to the child that, hey, I don’t believe you can do it, so I internalized that I could not do it….or anything else. My daughter is showing signs in her relationship of being codependant and I feel terrible that I unknowingly taught her dysfunctional patterns. She did seem to have self confidence until she began dating him. I made a point to praise and encourage her all her life ( bc I never got that) and I encouraged autonomy. She was self confident and fearless but she saw the complain and fight but never leave scenario that I was reliving in my relationships. I wish you much light and love on your journey! Isn’t it awesome ……every little step closer that we get to that ever elusive state of being we’ve always wanted!! Just an aside and maybe you’ll get a little laugh…..but when I catch myself returning to the habit of focusing on my narc’s issues….i say, “Oh Lord! I’m just as in need of repair! Wouldn’t my energies best serve my goal of happiness if they were focused on me. I’ve got enough on my plate dealing with my own crazy!” Lol
You have just described me to a tee. I was like that as a child and when I met my future husband. One day I tried to fight back and Iwas chased down 3 flights of stairs by him and I was 5 months pregnant. S another lesson learned not to fight back. Now 45 years later I am just learning there is such a thing as a narcissist. I think my husband was one. He was certainly a bully. I also realise thathe was the one who had issues and he would take them out on me. I put him out legally and divorced him. I dont know what happened in his second marriage but I know he had 2 more kids and she left him while he was at work and saved up the debt and bill money for a year behind his back, took the furniture and he came back to an empty house. The third person got on his bus and said how about it. They have been together for about 17 years. Question: how can she get the steady relationship with him that I didnt get and Im sure he doesnt hit her. Because police are more aware of abuse to partners and he could get jailed but someone says she will be ‘able’ for him. Also she had her own kids when they met and they were grown up so she works and brings in a wage. It bothers me that she is now getting the ‘best of him.’ I was 15 when we met and I loved him so much. I am very sad that I had to get rid of him. My children suffered as he stopped seeing them to punish me. Thank you for your writingsx.
I don’t think wife three is really getting the “best of him.” He is not really capable of the best. What is probably happening is SHE is giving him even more of herself than anyone ever did. SHE is sacrificing for HIM, giving everything to HIM, praising HIM, acting as though HE is a god, and in return, she gets the “affection” he withheld from those that stood up to him. That is not 17 years of joy, I’ll bet, but 17 years of a slow death for her. My former in-laws (my sociopathic ex’s parents) have been married for 40 years. My ex learned everything from his father, who is also a narc/sociopath…and all this shows in his mother, who is a pitiful, beaten down woman. She was never physically beaten, but she devotes EVERYTHING to my ex’s father…even over her own children. He is God Superior Dictator of the house, and she is the “good, devoted, loving” wife. That, my dear Artis, is not the relationship that you or I want. I guarantee that relationship is what wife number 3 has. Narcs and Sociopaths don’t change, but they do adapt their manipulation for each unwilling or willing victim. You and I are unwilling, glory be!