3) ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS
Symptoms of codependency are exacerbated when we’re in an authoritarian relationship, where decisions revolve around the needs and authority of one person. This is typical of an abusive relationship, where our partner makes explicit demands. When our partner is insistent, it feels as if we have to choose between ourselves and our relationship―that we must give up our Self to keep it. We become invisible, no longer a separate person with independent needs and wants, assuming we knew what they were. To please our partner and not make waves, we give them up and collude in sacrificing our Self.
Our relationship might be with an addict or someone mentally ill or with a personality disorder, such as narcissistic, borderline, or anti-social personality disorder. These partners are manipulative and can be abusive or threaten abuse or abandonment when they don’t get their way or sense that we’re becoming more autonomous. Any act toward autonomy, such as setting a boundary, threatens their control. They will attempt to maintain power and authority with guilt, character assassination, gaslighting, and all forms of criticism and emotional abuse. If you had a controlling parent, this pattern may have been established in childhood and carries over into your adult relationships. You end up walking on egg-shells and living in fear that can traumatize your nervous system, with symptoms continuing after you leave. It’s essential to get outside support and seek counseling.
Healthy relationships are interdependent. There is give and take, respect for each other’s needs and feelings, and are able to settle conflict through authentic communication. Decisions and problem-solving are collaborative. Assertiveness is key. Negotiations are not a zero-sum game. Boundaries are expressed directly, without hinting, manipulation, or assuming our partner will read our mind. Neither security nor autonomy is threatened by closeness. Vulnerability actually makes us stronger, not weaker. In fact, we can be more intimate and vulnerable when our autonomy and boundaries are intact and respected.
Both partners feel secure. They want to maintain their relationship and allow for each other’s separateness and independence, and aren’t threatened by their partner’s autonomy. Thus the relationship supports our independence and gives us more courage to explore our talents and growth.
In recovery, we recover our lost self. Unaware of their codependency, people want to change their partner, not realizing that change begins within. Often our partner changes in response to our new behavior, but either way, we will feel better and stronger for it. Reading about codependency is a good beginning, but greater change occurs through therapy and attending Twelve-Step meetings, such as Al-Anon, CoDA, Nar-Anon, Gam-Anon, or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous.
In recovery, you will gain hope as the focus shifts from the other person to yourself, where change is possible. Raise Your Self-esteem, learn How to Be Assertive to express feelings, wants, and needs and to set boundaries. You’ll develop positive habits of self-care. Psychotherapy often includes healing PTSD, childhood trauma, and internalized or toxic shame. (See Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.) Eventually, your happiness and self-esteem doesn’t depend on others. You gain the capacity for both autonomy and intimacy. You experience your own power and self-love. You feel expansive and creative, with the ability to generate and pursue your own goals.
Codependency doesn’t automatically disappear if you leave a codependent relationship. Recovery requires ongoing maintenance. After a while, changes in thinking and behavior become natural, and the tools and skills learned become new healthy habits. Perfectionism is a symptom of codependency. There is no such thing as perfect recovery. Recurring symptoms merely present ongoing learning opportunities!
©Darlene Lancer 2018
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Written by Darlene Lancer JD, MFT
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