If you have been involved with a Narcissist, an addict, someone with a compulsive disorder or anyone with emotional or psychological issues, you are about to have an Oprah Winfrey sized Ah-ha moment.
Many of you will see the word Co-Dependent and think, “I’m not an addict, this isn’t about me,” and you’d be wrong. If you are involved with these types of men, by the end of this post you will view things in a whole new light, you may just see yourself and your behavior. In the words that follow you will begin to have an understanding of yourself, your relationship and your life that has alluded you till now.
What is Co-Dependency?
This is a harder question to answer than you might think. Initially it was coined in the 60’s to describe the spouses of alcoholics. It has since evolved to encompass a variety of people and situations. Co-dependents are people that give too much. They are the caregivers of the relationship, the ones that rescue and you will find them involved with people that need to be ‘fixed;’ people that are broken and people that have problems of all sorts – people that are incapable of having normal, healthy relationships.
Co-Dependents feel compelled to help and solve the problems of others. They are Florence Nightingales, always on the lookout for an injured bird to mend. They put up with way too much and receive way too little in return. They are nurturers and will take on other people’s baggage, anxiety, guilt, pain, anger and make it their own, spending all of their energy on others. They become obsessed with the person in their life and their problems and in the process they forget about themselves.
Co-dependents are the responsible ones in the relationship. They are the ones with the job, they take care of the money, the home and the kids. They make sure the bills get paid, dinners on the table and that everything looks normal from the outside. Because their partners have proven to be untrustworthy or irresponsible they have taken on almost all of the responsibility in the relationship.
While co-dependents appear to be in control they are really in control of nothing. They live in a constant state of anxiety that at some point and in some way the world that they have tried so hard to keep together is going to tip over and shatter into a million little pieces.
That false world is always threatened by the irresponsible behavior of their partner. They’ve put the kids to bed, cleaned the house, done the laundry, but that anxiety is always there, looming in the shadows. Will tonight be the night he comes home drunk and destroys the house, or the car; yells at the kids; or is tonight the night he doesn’t come home and you get that phone call in the middle of the night. Or is tonight the night he meets another woman, even though he promised you it wouldn’t happen again, or is tonight the night he’s been unlucky at the casino and cleans out the bank account?
Just how long can someone live with that kind of anxiety, of never knowing when the precariously balanced shoe will drop? The answer is sadly, a lot longer than you may think. To some people that unease has become their norm. They’ve lost themselves in their relationship and since their sense of worth comes from their ‘rescuing habits,’ they become dependent upon their partners – they become stuck and can remain in this position for decades.
Co-Dependents need unhealthy people and their problems, because it allows them to not look and focus on what is broken inside of them. Their helping abilities, their martyrdom are actually where they derive their sense of self- worth, because at the heart of this disorder is a lack or non-existing sense of self-worth. Co-Dependents feel worthless, always putting other’s needs ahead of their own and often living vicariously through someone else.
This ‘helping‘ action momentarily allows the Co-Dependent to feel good and for those eager to prove their worth the more of someone else’s problems they can take responsibility for and the more hoops they can jump through, they believe demonstrates their value.
And the problem with that coping behavior is that when your entire focus is on the behavior of someone else, when your energy and attention isn’t on you, your life, your needs and wants, your health and your goals, is that your energy becomes depleted, you stop being you and you become a shell of a person, an empty, defeated vessel.
The Karpman Drama Triangle
Within the Co-Dependent dynamic is a pattern of behavior coined by Stephen B. Karpen and that pattern is: rescue, persecute, victimization.
The first one, rescue, we’ve been discussing, it’s this idea of how co-dependents like to save people and take on their problems. The persecution part comes in when we get angry at our partners for what they’ve done, we try to make them feel guilty and ashamed for their behavior and how they’ve made us feel. This anger is always brimming just below the surface and is ready to be unleashed at a moment’s notice. Lastly, the victimization phase sets in when we feel used and unappreciated for all the sacrifices we’ve made and all the hardships we’ve endured on account of our partners. “They give more than they receive and they constantly feel abused and neglected,” says Melanie Beattie, author of Co-Dependent No More.
Todd: “You know Jenn you really are a horrible person.”
Jenn: “If I am, it’s because you made me that way.”
Co-Dependency and Control
Co-dependency is really about control. When we take on too much responsibility, it leaves others with too little responsibility for themselves and their own actions. This communicates to our partner that they cannot be trusted with even the simplest of tasks, that you need me to tell you what to do, think and feel, because you are incapable of making the right decisions.
When we try to control someone else’s behavior there is an innate desire for them to rebel and prove that they cannot be controlled by us, so our attempts at ‘helping’ actually make matters worse.
When we take on the responsibility for someone else’s actions they learn that there are no consequences for their behavior, because we are always there to bail them out and take care of everything. We become enablers. We’ve made it easier for them to act irresponsibly because we are always there to pick up the pieces.
How Did I Get This Way?
If you’re reading this and it sounds all too familiar, you’re probably wondering, how did I get like this? Researchers believe it is a learned behavior, started in early childhood. According to Beattie she says, “there are rules that you are brought up within your immediate family, rules that prohibit discussion about problems, open expression of feelings, direct and honest communication, realistic expectations, such as being human, being vulnerable or imperfect, selfishness; trust in other people and one’s self; playing and having fun; and rocking the delicately balanced family canoe through growth or change – however healthy and beneficial that movement might be.”
One grows up accustomed to having their thoughts and feelings repressed and always directed on the needs and wants of other people in their family. And at some time have felt unloved, abandoned and let down time and time again.
It’s Time To Wake Up
As women we generally tend to be hard wired to be the caregivers in our families. This caregiving becomes a pathology when we don’t allow others to experience the consequences for their actions, when we make excuses for their behavior and most importantly when we completely and totally lose ourselves in our relationship, when we forget about our happiness, and our needs and wants.
The key to getting healthy is to recognize that we cannot control other people. An alcoholic is going to drink, a Narcissist is going to be abusive and there is nothing we can do about their behavior. But there is something we can do about our behavior. What we need to understand is that nothing is going to change in our relationship until we take control of our selves.
A good wife, good friend, good mother, good daughter isn’t one that is always giving and doing for everyone else. Healthy people recognize that each of us is responsible for ourselves, our own happiness and our own needs and wants.
“When you have to choose between a relationship and you, always choose you.” Natalie Lue
If you have had an eye opening experience while reading this and you are wondering what to do next the key is taking back your power. Taking responsibility for yourself, your life and you do this by detachment. Only through detachment can the irresponsible actions of others cease to have an effect on us. If we continue to do the same thing, in the same relationship, we will always get the same results. Detachment doesn’t mean that we stop caring, but it means that we start to care about ourselves. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is over, but it means that you are no longer willing to allow someone else’s behavior to effect you in a negative way. It means your desire for calmness and peace outweighs your desire for chaos and uncertainty.
When we step back we can put our energies into making ourselves healthy, so that we make better choices. We cannot affect change if we are standing still, only by stepping away from the relationship can we begin to see clearly and what we must do for ourselves to become healthy. We cannot change other people no matter how much we give up or suffer for them, but we can change ourselves and making the break is the first step to getting healthy.
If you plunked an emotionally healthy woman in your shoes right now what would she do? She’d get the hell outta dodge. Healthy women don’t put up with being mistreated and having their wants and needs ignored, so why should you? It’s time to break free and reclaim your life.