Codependency has been described as a dysfunctional relationship with the self. What that means is that the view that we have of ourselves is skewed, both internally and in our interpersonal relationships, because of our early childhood experiences.

It can manifest as hyper self-criticism, low self-esteem, self-sabotage, obsessive thinking, people pleasing behaviors, a lack of boundaries, rescuing behaviors and it makes us hyper-sensitive to the needs of others. As we gain awareness of some of these issues, we realize that there is something off about the way we are interpreting our environment.

I wanted to point out the difficulties, we, as codependents, experience in the way that we think and act to illustrate that perceptual deficiencies exist in a variety of different disorders. For instance a Codependent can be hyper-sensitive to the needs of others and almost seem to have empathy on steroids. Conversely, a Narcissist is self-focused and has an impaired ability to experience empathy. So a Codependent trying to decipher the behavior and motives of a Narcissist is going to have a pretty tough struggle on their hands, mainly because your Narcissist does not think like you and vice versa.

Earlier this week a former employee came by my work to say hello to everyone and to drop off a CD he had just recorded. He was fired about a year ago and had been diagnosed as bi-polar and the word psychopath was also heard around the water cooler. I don’t know if he was diagnosed correctly or not, but I know that there was something really off about him. He did exhibit attention seeking behaviors, a desperate need to be liked and admired, entitlement and several other Narcissistic-like traits. There is some overlap between Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Anti-Social Personality Disorder and it is also possible to be both as long as they fit the criteria for both, but bottom line was, this person, psychopath or not, was a little scary.

The next day the boss came to my office with the CD, “Listen to this,” he said, his face grim. The CD was called Lost and the very first track started with the sounds of a man breaking into a woman’s apartment, her crying and screaming as he beat and strangled her, followed by her rape and murder. In an Eminem type of rap, he rhymed about the joy he was feeling at the thought of her parents finding her that way. There were nine tracks on the CD and every song was about his hatred of women and his desire to do them harm.

Pretty soon an audience gathered and we all stared at each other, as we listened, with wide eyes and our jaws on the floor. “He’s always been dark. It’s just his art,” came one explanation. “Have you heard some of these rap songs today? Much worse than this one,” said another, dismissing it. Once we were alone again my boss asked me, “So what do you think?”

“Recording a CD takes a lot of time and effort,” I said. That’s a lot of time thinking about the subject matter, writing the lyrics and the music, practicing it, recording it. If it was one song, maybe it’s just there for shock value, but knowing him the way we do, the misogyny is there in every song, the desire to act out violent and disturbing behavior is there and what kind of person talks about feeling joy at another’s suffering? I honestly think these are his deepest, darkest desires.”

“Do you think he’ll act on them?” He asked

“I don’t know. Not all psychopaths or narcissist have violent tendencies. He’s never been in trouble with the law for harming anyone before, but he has overdosed. He has very weak impulse control and I hate to think the only thing keeping us and everyone else safe is his ability to maintain that control.”

“I don’t think he’d hurt any of us,” my boss said. “I told him that I was here for him if he ever needed anything. We have some comradery. He thinks of me as a friend.”

“No he doesn’t,” I said. “He does not see you as a friend. He has no friends and when you offer yourself up like that he perceives you as a resource he can exploit, nothing more. You are looking at the situation the way you would think and the way you would behave, but that is not the same way he thinks and perceives the world. That’s where you’re making your mistake. You can’t imagine what it’s like to have no, or at least an impaired ability to feel empathy, because you have empathy. There is no depth to his feelings. There is no bond, no brotherhood. There is only, ‘what can I take from you,’ and ‘how can I get an advantage,’ very predator-like. That’s the lens he views the world from.”

ASPD and NPD are disorders of scale. On one end of the ASPD spectrum you have the serial killer, who enjoys torturing their victims for their own amusement and on the other you have a high functioning, risk taking, self-interested, white-collar worker, who has never harmed anyone, but is always out for their own gain. But as victims of their brand of abuse we have to come to terms with the fact that the way these people think and behave is very, very different from the way we think and feel and trying to fix them and even understand them is preposterous.

I get so many emails from readers asking me to interpret their partner’s behavior. Codependents have a great need to understand. Perhaps it’s because they need a reason to explain away someone’s bad behavior, or they need to have some type of assurance that it wasn’t their fault. They will list a page full of relationship crimes that has left them devastated, peppered with a few nice things he/she has done for them. Because of the codependents poor boundary creation and enforcement, they have great difficulty discerning what proper relationship behavior looks like or how they should be behaving.

“Anyone can be fooled once. The second, third and fourth times require your participation.”

If you’re involved with someone and they are compulsive liars – that’s enough for you to end the relationship. You don’t owe someone your undying support and commitment because they have problems.

If someone cheats on you one time, that’s enough to walk away.

If someone belittles you, shames you, puts you down, blames you, yells at you, that’s enough to end it.

If someone blows hot and cold, that’s enough for you to blow on out of the relationship.

If someone treats you in a demeaning or disrespectful manner, that’s enough for you to end the relationship.

If someone has moved themselves in to your house, they don’t work, or contribute and they suck away all you resources – give your head a shake, no genitalia is worth all that and get them the eff out.

If they are giving you mixed messages it’s enough to say, “This is BS. I deserve better,” and you walk away.

Emotional manipulators exploit. That’s what they do. The reasons they do what they do don’t really matter. The bottom line is that they need you, so they are going to say and do what they have to to elicit your cooperation and if that means lying, stealing, cheating so be it. They’ve got to get their needs met. That in and of itself is the epitome of their existence. It’s pretty simple really and then they have you trying to come up with excuses for them and reason away their behavior – how lucky can you get. When you understand the way they think it should make your decisions a lot easier.

Don’t try to reason with them. Don’t try to get them to see your point of view (which is impossible for a person with no/little empathy). Don’t try to guilt them, or even think that they should know better.

Stop trying to figure them out. They can’t figure themselves out, so you aren’t going to fare any better. It’s enough to know that there is something wrong with the way they interpret their environment and the way they act on that interpretation.

Once you know what you’re dealing with, the onus is on you to get yourself out. I get how hard it is to get away from these types. I’ve written extensively on just why it’s so hard. I get it. I really do, but you really only have two options, get the hell away from them, or let them keep kicking you.

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Image courtesy of Graur Razvan Ionut at