Codependency is based on Fake Facts

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Symptoms of Codependency

Codependency is based on a lie. Its symptoms develop to cope with the deep, but false and painful belief – that “I’m not worthy of love and respect.” The chart to the left shows core symptoms in red, but nearly all the symptoms revolve around shame – the shame that accompanies rejection. This entire system operates unconsciously. Until we know it and feel it, we’re caught in its grip.

Symptoms of Codependency

The symptoms of codependency are either caused by shame or are or are defenses to feeling shame, as explained in Conquering Shame and Codependency. Most codependents grow up feeling ashamed of their real feelings, wants, and/or needs. As adults, they deny, devalue, and/or don’t express them to avoid their shame. Some people can’t identify them at all, and willingly put those of others first. This leads to anxiety, depression, obsessions and addictive behavior. Later, they feel anger and resentment or hurt and uncared about. Especially during courtship, they accommodate and please in order to be loved by someone to avoid a breakup. Once married, there’s often disappointment when the relationship feels unequal.

Shame is a feeling that leads to self-destructive thoughts and negative self-evaluations, which produces low self-esteem. Self-esteem isn’t so much a feeling, but how we think about ourselves. When we have toxic shame and make a mistake, whether real or imagined, our feelings of guilt are exaggerated and irrational. If we don’t believe we’re worthy of love, we must control what we show to others. We don’t communicate what we feel, or express our needs and wants.

Instead, we have hidden expectations, and manipulate, hint, or become passive-aggressive. We hide who we are. Authenticity is compromised, and communication becomes dysfunctional. When we can’t be real, intimacy suffers. Initially, there may be wonderful romance, but eventually couples’ behavior becomes ritualized; sharing and closeness that first brought them together happens less frequently, because they conceal anything that might upset the status quo for fear of feeling rejected or judged.

Still, “shame anxiety” – the fear of being judged or rejected – haunts codependents. To cope and to get what they need and want, they attempt to manipulate and control others. This becomes a necessity when we’re dependent on someone loving us or just staying with us in order to feel okay about ourselves or just to feel safe. Being alone for some people triggers feelings of shame, fear, and loneliness, while others manage fine on their own, yet are very reactive or lose themselves in relationships. This is their dependency. Their mood and happiness depend on someone else’s, and their self-esteem depends on acceptance by other people. They then have to manage other people’s feelings and behavior. People-pleasing and giving are ways to do that, as are creating drama, threats, and demands.

If our well-being and self-esteem depend on another person, it makes sense to think a lot about his or her motives, intentions, feelings, and behavior in order to feel secure. This accounts for codependents’ focus on and obsession with loved ones. Caretaking others is another form of control. If someone is dependent on me and needs me, then s/he won’t reject or leave me. Also, if I’m the one giving and helping someone else, then I don’t have to be vulnerable. My partner can be the vulnerable, “Underdog,” while I can feel strong as “Top dog” and Underdog’s protector, helper, or confidant. Such an imbalanced relationship breeds anger and resentment by both partners.

Many codependents are perfectionists. In their mind, they must be perfect, because the alternative is that they will “look bad” in some way or feel like a failure. Mistakes or flaws create great discomfort due to shame arising within. They may feel anxious, angry or driven to fix something, when really they’re attempting to fix their own inner, unconscious, sense of inadequacy. They live with the “tyranny of the should’s” fed by shame anxiety and perfectionism. Making mistakes, being human, feeling ordinary, are not acceptable; these are experienced as shame.

Recovery from Codependency

Learning new behavior, such as learning to be assertive, go a long way to raise self-esteem and build autonomy (rather than dependency). These steps can empower you and give you a greater sense of control and happiness in your life. (See my Resources page for books and webinars on building self-esteem and learning to be assertive.)

Changing lifelong habits isn’t easy or quick. It requires real courage and the support of a therapist or experienced sponsor in a 12-Step group to do the recommended work in the Twelve Steps. However, for enduring recovery, we must truly undo the lie that envelops us. Confronting and healing the core issue of shame are required for lasting change and to prevent relapse into unhealthy relationships. Start by working the steps in Conquering Shame and Codependency. Ideally, begin therapy with a trained, licensed psychotherapist.

©Darlene Lancer 2017

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Sai
Sai
3 years ago

I am just knowing that I am suffering from codependency on my girlfriend. She is not talking to me properly and making excuses to relieve her completely as she is focusing on studies .she agreed to talk with me once in a month. Even at that time also she is talking in a normal manner and not at all like a girlfriend of mine. I am trying really hard to get her attention for which she is repeatedly denying. She quoted problems facing with her family on the behalf of me. It’s ok for me to have a talk monthly,… Read more »

Still confused
Still confused
4 years ago

My ex-wife recently admitted that she had knowingly engaged in passive aggressive behavior, during the majority of our 10 year marriage, because she did not like conflict. Additionally, she claims her therapist told her, she was codependent, as a result of my mental illness – ADHD, generalized anxiety and mild OCD, for which I take prescription medicine for, since 2007. Can you please explain how my mental illness caused her to become codependent and extremely verbally and emotionally abusive, during most of our marriage? For example, she withheld ALL affection from the marriage, for 8 out of 10 years and… Read more »

sally
sally
10 months ago

Do you ever get fully healed of codependent ways! You have to put into practice something that you have learned, take more risks. People might choose to live with some pain, to “get by.”

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
10 months ago
Reply to  sally

It depends what you mean by fully healed. Recovery is life-long, but by raising one’s self-worth and self-esteem, healing your past and setting boundaries, the pain caused by codependency fades away. Of course, life brings us pain, but we handle it more effectively.

Sai
Sai
3 years ago

I am just knowing that I am suffering from codependency on my girlfriend. She is not talking to me properly and making excuses to relieve her completely as she is focusing on studies .she agreed to talk with me once in a month. Even at that time also she is talking in a normal manner and not at all like a girlfriend of mine. I am trying really hard to get her attention for which she is repeatedly denying. She quoted problems facing with her family on the behalf of me. It’s ok for me to have a talk monthly,… Read more »

Shana
Shana
3 years ago

I fit with every single symptom on the list of codependency with my younger sister. I have always been her protector and I think everything was just “fine”, until I got married. My husband is extremely frustrated by my relationship with my sister and feels that I put her ahead of him and us all the time, which is true! And if he criticizes her I get defensive and try to turn it around on him and blame him for being too sensitive or not accommodative enough. He is right about it all, but I just don’t know where to… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
3 years ago
Reply to  Shana

You might read Codependency for Dummies and attend Coda meeting. Also consider couples counseling for you both.

Still confused
Still confused
4 years ago

My ex-wife recently admitted that she had knowingly engaged in passive aggressive behavior, during the majority of our 10 year marriage, because she did not like conflict. Additionally, she claims her therapist told her, she was codependent, as a result of my mental illness – ADHD, generalized anxiety and mild OCD, for which I take prescription medicine for, since 2007. Can you please explain how my mental illness caused her to become codependent and extremely verbally and emotionally abusive, during most of our marriage? For example, she withheld ALL affection from the marriage, for 8 out of 10 years and… Read more »

Darlene Lancer, LMFT
4 years ago
Reply to  Still confused

My guess is that she’s misstating or misunderstanding her therapist’s words. If your behavior made her afraid to discuss problems with you or confront you, then she might do so passively; however, in most all cases, codependency starts in childhood, and her lack of assertive communication skills would have led to her passive-aggressiveness, even in the face of abuse.

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