Losing one’s self in a relationship means willfully shedding your own identity, desires and personal goals and instead becoming consumed with the relationship and the needs and desires of the other person in that relationship. This is a common practice for most Codependents.
What it really means is that we place more value on our partner and our partner’s happiness than we do our own. The relationship becomes the center of our universe. We stop being who we are or who we think we are and become malleable and inappropriately agreeable just to keep them happy.
Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or the relationship is relatively new, with both types you’re hoping for the same thing – to be chosen by your partner.
A Codependent in a long-term relationship may think their partner isn’t going anywhere, but they are far from feeling happy and secure. They maintain a hope that their partner will change and that they will eventually receive the love and external gratification they crave. With a newer relationship the target is love bombed by the emotional manipulator. The relationship moves very quickly, with the primary goal of the Narcissist, being the attainment of your affection. Once they know they have you, the hot and cold game begins and this is where a Codependent gets stuck and their old programming kicks in.
A codependent aims to please. They yearn to be loved and they need to be needed. It’s how they gain their worth – through what they can give, or do for another. Oftentimes the behavior of a codependent is baffling even to themselves. Early on they learned that their wants and needs weren’t as important as those of the ones they were closest to. They understood that to even have a chance at being loved they’d have to do more, be more and give more, t hat being themselves just wasn’t good enough. They’ve learned to become other person focused and self-sacrificing, because that’s the behavior that was rewarded or at least not punished in early childhood.
The process is aided by the self-aggrandizing behaviors of the Narcissistic partner. In order for them to feel superior they have to render their partner inferior. They dangle what they know you want most, a real, loving relationship, and the relationship starts to resemble Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football. There are a lot of promises, but you always land flat on your back. If you’d only do X, Y and Z then and only then could you have the relationship that you crave. But even if you accomplish X, Y and Z, your efforts will never be enough and there will always be more hoops for you to jump through, which fits in nicely with the Codependents belief that they are not good enough. This belief fuels the Codependent to try harder. “If I can convince you that I’m worthy then I’ll believe it myself and so will everyone else,” the codependent thinks.
What happens in this dynamic is that the codependent becomes consumed with being chosen and validated by their abuser. This obsession leads them to
- Ignore obvious red flags or signs of abuse
- Display no semblance of boundaries or limits
- Give way too much without appropriate reciprocity
- Ignore or stifle their own feelings of anger and disappointment out of fear their abuser will become angry with them or leave
- Feel responsible for their partners feelings and behaviors
The codependent notices that the attention and admiration they received in the beginning has waned and rather than judging their partner’s behavior as dysfunctional they internalize it and take responsibility for it, thus, they try harder and harder to elicit the return of their abuser’s earlier affection. They are too preoccupied with being chosen and appearing affable that they stop paying attention to what’s really going on, nor do they recognize the beating their self-esteem is taking.
When someone’s behavior blows hot and cold – You have the right to ask questions. You have the right to expect to be treated with respect. If something is legitimately wrong in their life and they are a little withdrawn, I’d give it another shot, but you deserve answers, not attitude. If you keep seeing the same hot and cold behavior… do not pursue them, do not make or seek out excuses for them, do not internalize their behavior or take ownership of it. You have the right to be treated with kindness. If they continue the behavior, end the relationship and don’t keep questioning your decision.
If your partner is insulting, belittling or humiliating you – End it immediately. There is never any occasion in which this behavior is acceptable. “I was only joking,” isn’t an acceptable excuse. People do this to make you feel small, so that they themselves can feel superior. That’s the only reason. They’re testing you and your boundaries. Dysfunctional people do this. Walk.
If your partner gets mad when you express your concern or displeasure over their behavior – They are usually trying to hide something. People that have nothing to hide – hide nothing. Those that are trying to pull one over on you will project – blame you for doing what they’re doing, insult you or blame you, bring up issues from the past where you were at fault, yell, scream or rage– all in an effort to deflect and take the focus off of them and place it on you. You’re allowed to get upset or angry when you don’t like something. You’re allowed to express yourself. You’re allowed to be heard. If you always have to be happy and agreeable in your relationship to keep your partner happy and present, you’re not in a relationship, you’re in a prison and you need to get out.
Codependents coast into relationships like these because they feel natural. They are used to feeling doubt and taking blame. When I talk to my clients, the amount of uncertainty they express is alarming. They aren’t sure if they’re interpreting things correctly and they aren’t sure if they’re allowed to feel what they’re feeling, or think what they’re thinking. They don’t feel confident asking for what they deserve, nor do they feel comfortable being assertive in their relationships. There is a tendency to seek out permission and approval before making a drastic move, like ending the relationship. The Codependent has no reference for what appropriate relationship behavior looks like. They know they don’t feel good, they know their partner’s behavior is wrong, but they get immobilized by confusion and uncertainty and seem to be unaware of what behaviors constitute what consequences.
It’s important that Codependents always be mindful of what they are thinking and feeling. Often their automatic response system is faulty and in need of new programing. When you are evaluating your partner’s behavior, don’t allow yourself to fall into old patterns – don’t shrug it off as nothing, don’t make molehills out of mountains. Challenge what you are thinking and feeling – practice doing this constantly and know that you have a right to your feelings – you have a right to be heard and a right to be respected. If you are getting yelled at, or attitude, or being called names, that tells you all you need to know about your partner and your relationship.
Practice being self-focused, not other person focused. That doesn’t mean you’re being selfish. It means you keep asking questions like, “Is this good for me?” Or, “Does this make me feel good?” You have every right to be happy and do things that are good for you. You don’t need anyone’s permission to end a relationship when it’s not right for you. It’s enough that you recognize it’s not for you.
If you see yourself jumping through hoops, handing over your hard earned resources, accepting disrespectful treatment, being overly agreeable so you don’t upset your partner – you know you’re in the middle of something that is detrimental to your wellbeing and your wellbeing is your responsibility. If it doesn’t feel good, give yourself permission to act in your best interest and walk away. If you need a reminder, buy yourself some decorative pillows like the one above.
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