I got invited to a local restaurant, to celebrate an ex-coworker’s birthday, last weekend.  I didn’t know anyone else there, aside from my friend, and I was late, so I was relegated to the end of the table. What could have been an uncomfortable and awkward evening, turned into dinner theater – or at least some really good people watching, for one massively, psychoanalytic, nerdy girl.

Across from me sat an early 30-something couple, we’ll call Brian and Gwen. After about two hours I witnessed the following behavior:


  • Dominated the conversation and steered it back to him when it veered elsewhere
  • Responded aggressively to anyone questioning his subject matter
  • Seemed to sulk when he wasn’t the center of attention
  • Didn’t seem to notice he was making others feel uncomfortable
  • Seemed to be very sensitive and paranoid
  • Bad mouthed others
  • Was rude and mouthy to Gwen
  • Seemed smug and angry

Gwen on the other hand:

  • Tried to smooth everything over and put Brian at ease
  • Laughed at Brian’s jokes and off color anecdotes
  • Complimented him repeatedly
  • Smiled a lot
  • Seemed passive, quiet and content to listen and not stand out

I wouldn’t ever want to label anyone after only one meeting, but if you’re ever on a first date with someone who acted like Brian, I would say that behavior constitutes a, sneak out the bathroom window, escape tactic.

What fascinated me most about the evening wasn’t Brian, it was Gwen. She seemed lovely, sweet, kind, easy-going and a little sad. What on earth was she doing with a guy like that? And why did she seem to be okay with his behavior, when everyone else was clearly thinking, ‘this guy is a complete a-hole.’

The sad part was, I knew why. Just listening to Brian had my own Spidey Senses tingling. As a former co-dependent, his behavior was triggering my old desire to soothe, comfort and make everything alright.

You see, Co-dependents have special skills that other’s don’t have.  They are masters at reading social cues that most tend to miss. Some people use the term Highly Sensitive People or HSP. While it is true that some individuals are born more sensitive than others, I believe that Highly Sensitive People are made, not born.

The Making of a Co-Dependent

When you are born into an environment with an emotional manipulator, you learn that love and attention are conditional. They are conditional upon your ability to pick up on the cues and moods of your care givers. If you make your care giver feel good, then you will get love. If you put your own needs first, act out, upset or aggravate your caregiver, there will be punishment and love will be withheld.

So the child develops a radar system, which allows them to pick up on the body language, tone, vibration, and other non-verbal cues of other people.  They have to become experts at this, because their safety and need for love and attention is in jeopardy.  It’s classical conditioning at it’s best. Consequently, a child becomes adept at picking up subtleties, which tell them when to approach, and when to be invisible. They can also learn to model the behavior of a co-dependent parent.


  • Are very good at pretending things are ok
  • Learn how to cater to the needs of others
  • Learn how to suppress their own needs
  • Believe that they must be perfect in order to be loved
  • Mold their personality to make other people happy
  • Become rescuers and people pleasers
  • Learn how to twist reality
  • Minimize problems
  • Readily and easily accept blame when it is not theirs
  • Become passive
  • Learn how to sacrifice and endure
  • Believe that they deserve or they become accustomed to poor treatment
  • Don’t voice their displeasure
  • Have terrible communication skills
  • Avoid conflict
  • Believe that they have to solve everyone else’s problems
  • Believe that just being who they are isn’t good enough
  • Need to mend and tend the wounds of other people
  • Learn that love is conditional
  • Derive their sense of self-worth through helping others

The ability to read someone, once learned, never leaves you. I don’t know when, or how I acquired this skill, but I know it’s always on and always working.  It just works a little differently for me now.  In the past when my Spidey Senses were tingling and I was with someone that was damaged and broken, instinctively, I would smoother that person with love and boost them up with compliments and attention. I would soothe them, make them feel better and I would give and give and give, until it hurt.

Now-a-days when my Spidey Senses go off, I don’t storm in and envelope someone in my sympathy. Now I see it as a warning signal, telling me to beware, back the truck up, do not proceed, danger- there is dysfunction in the area and I get the hell outta Dodge. I don’t even entertain the thought that it’s my job to fix someone, or make someone feel better. If I meet a man, or a woman, that has emotional problems – I’m not interested in their sob story. I look for the exit and I make no apology.

It’s not that I’m not compassionate, but it’s like a recovering alcoholic walking through a bar, you just don’t want to be around your vice – and – this is a huge AND – and it’s not my place to deprive someone of a lesson to be learned, or from all the benefits of solving their own problems.  I didn’t feel compelled to warn Gwen she was headed for trouble, when she is ready, she will look for answers just like the rest of us, but Brian was a different story and I’m a little embarrassed to say I couldn’t help myself.

I kind of had a sneer on my face, as I sat across from him. It was hard for me to hide my displeasure watching his antics.  Massively, dysfunctional people repulse me, to the point where I am often the one provoking them, because I know just what buttons to push. I poke the bear just enough, to see it stick its head out of the cave and show itself. Just enough, so that it knows I see it and it sees me.

The Brian’s of the world steer clear of me now, because they too, are excellent at reading people. They know I’ve switched teams, I’m no longer on team – Let me take care of you, and you can abuse me, now I’m on team – I know what you’re all about , and you repulse me.

I felt good as I left the restaurant, I felt strong and proud of myself, because I have come a long, long way. I kind of felt like a Narc Buster – and on my way back to my car I actually started to sing:

“If there’s somethin’ strange in your neighborhood”

“Who ya gonna call?”

“Narc Busters!”

“I ain’t afraid o’ no Narc”

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