Codependents show and exhibit many common symptoms. One of these and one that I see often with clients is hyper-vigilance, not in the sense of physical threat but mostly to do with observing a partner’s behaviour for signs of change. For codependents who constantly live with insecurity, these signs could mean a lot.
Many clients who have noticed this element in themselves take any perceived change as a possible signal that they are about to be abandoned. In reality, there is usually nothing to be worried about or there is an issue that is not much to do with the relationship. What it does to a codependent is foster an attitude of “treading on eggshells”. They feel that the only way to gain the reassurance they need is to constantly question their partner… “What are they thinking”, “Why are you moody”, “What did I do?” These questions are all designed to bring the relationship back to a “safe place” for the codependent and so, under their control. If reassurance is not forthcoming, it often leads to typical scenarios that include rage, silent treatment and victimhood. It leaves the partner under scrutiny and wary of anything that could kick off the cycle. In effect, both are hyper-vigilant.
In therapy, the cause of this is of course, investigated. It is not surprising to find that as a child, the codependent was made to “work” for affection, attention and validation. From an emotionally distant or abusive parent, the observation skills they use in their relationship were honed in childhood as they looked for signs of attention from their parents. I had one client who said that relationships were worth nothing unless one had to “work” for it. Such thinking is typical of codependency. Children often “mirror and echo” their parents, working out what they think their parents need and adapting their behaviour to make it happen. Unchecked, it can lead to the situation described above.
Codependents also have a range of tools in their make-up that they bring out and use if they need to. This is usually when they feel they are losing control of the “object” of their codependency physically or emotionally.
When this happens, a codependent will immediately feel threatened. They will feel potential loss, rejection and the imminent fear of being abandoned. Codependency is also about control… control that they need and desperately cling to in order to feel secure. Remember, they sacrifice and martyr themselves to make themselves indispensable in their “objects” lives. In return, they want and need devotion. This, of course, mirrors the dysfunctional child-parent relationship they experienced earlier in their lives. To keep control, codependents have a range of methods at their disposal. One of the most used and common is the victim mentality.
It is the classic push-pull measure. Codependents push continually, driving the relationship for their own ends until they feel they are not getting what they need and then they pull or distance themselves, hoping this object will follow. They do this with silent treatment, taking of excess responsibility to gain sympathy, berating themselves using phrases like “I always do this” or “I will never lean”. They will often attack verbally letting their partner know exactly how much they do, have done and will do for them. They will also threaten to stop doing these things “then see how you manage!”
Depending on who the object is, these tactics will work or not and are usually part of a cycle that repeats itself over and over. If, as is mostly the case that the codependent is involved with a partner or parent with narcissist tendencies, the partner may well have a push-pull strategy of their own and has maybe learned to manipulate these tools to their own advantage. The issue here is self-esteem or more to the point, the lack of it. Codependents are usually very reluctant to face life alone because they just feel they cannot cut it without someone leading the way. The paradox is that they exert more control than they probably even realise themselves.