Codependency Stories Day 10: Day 1 Revisited

Today, we revisit the exploits of A and B who were the focus of Diary Week 1. After a few weeks of harmony, yet another fight happened which led to A giving B the silent treatment for three days. Even though this was hard for B, she waited out the time after a period of “nagging” and was hoping to discuss the issue with A, her partner. However, he has shown no sign of wanting this to happen and is currently carrying on as if nothing happened. This leaves B frustrated and not feeling heard. A reminder of the original fight that started this cycle:

I had a bad fight with A this week. A is my partner and the one I chose a long time ago to spend the rest of my life with. Yet, I am insecure about the future. I watch him constantly and put him under scrutiny to see if his mood changes. When I think it does, I sense trouble and panic. Then I lose control. Yes, as a codependent, I have anger issues when frustration builds. My therapist who understands codependency said this is normal for codependents. I know it is normal for me. Anyway, I blew my top when I sensed that he wasn’t giving me the reassurance I felt I needed and that was it..the red zone. Accusation after accusation, blaming and insult flew in his direction…bad, hurtful stuff that cut deep.

Now she is feeling something very different. B is using a method often used by codependents when things do not go their way.

After the constant fighting, I am exhausted. It is extremely tiring getting nowhere with my partner. Whenever I try to discuss, he shuts down and discussion is no longer possible. This drives me crazy and I feel totally detached from him and the relationship with no way back in. In times of less stress, he has tried to explain that he feels overwhelmed and doesn’t want to escalate. I know he hates conflict but his stonewalling leaves me feeling unworthy and unheard. I feel he uses the silent treatment to control me and his emotions change quickly and he can carry on without any reference to the argument and he expects me to do the same. It leaves me with a feeling of resentment that I carry forward. When this happened in the past, I was so happy it was over, I threw myself at A, apologising and begging for us to get back to normal. I would also sweep the fight under the carpet. This time is different. I feel I cannot reconnect with him and I am holding back affection, support and acting in a distant manner. I am afraid and so I am reluctant to engage with him. I am telling myself that if he cannot be bothered to communicate, then why should I? My therapist said I was also trying to control him and both of us need to learn to communicate effectively.

Here we can discuss the concept of counterdependency. While it is often compared to the traits of the narcissist, it is my experience that codependents can also show many of these traits in relationships. A definition :

Counterdependents can often come across as vibrant, ‘life of the party’ sorts, or be the kind who have many friends and relationships. The difference is that those relationships will not be deep and trusting, and might not last. So one of the main signs of counterdependency are associated with  an inability to have connected and authentic relationships. 

Because a counterdependent seeks to avoid anyone getting close enough they are tempted to depend on them, communication becomes tempered by lack of trust, which manifests as:

walk away from or avoid conflict, or need to be right

don’t trust others’ motives but instead often second guess people

a constant sense that others always let them down

rarely ask others for help

Then there is the inner world of a counterdependent. With a childhood that often left them to fend for themselves emotional (see causes, below) a counterdependent can have a tumultuous mind, including:

being oversensitive to criticism of others even as they often criticise

often hard on themselves, hate making mistakes

suffer an inner soundtrack of intense self-criticism

don’t relax easily

can experience shame if they feel needy

see vulnerability as weakness

secretly suffer feelings of loneliness and emptiness

might have difficulty remembering childhood

Source: Harley Therapy, London

I firmly believe that codependents use the above as a temporary measure to regain control in their relationships and get the security they need. B has described many of the above symptoms in her current state though she can be classified as a a near full-blown codependent. B is very distant at the moment in her dealings with A but she is very attentive of his reaction to her distance. She is looking for signs that her apparent apathy is having some effect. To her delight, A who has clear self-centered tendencies is responding and is attempting to reach her emotionally. Just what B wanted. However, consider this:

Because codependency and counterdependency both revolve around needing others, whether that is wanting or avoiding, it’s not uncommon for partners in a “dependency based” relationship to switch roles. 

A common example is when after years of constantly seeking out and desperately needing another’s attentions, a codependent finally gains the courage to step away and stand on their own two feet. Not used to such a move, a codependent often overdoes it and goes cold on the other person or shuts them out, acting like a counterdependent. This often see the other person who usually is emotionally aloof (counterdependent) suddenly panicking to lose all the attention they are used to and becoming needy (codependent). This ‘push pull’ dance can go back and forth indefinitely.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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