Codependency is complex and is as individual as the people who exhibit its symptoms. It is often misunderstood and often not recognized by mental health professionals who doubt its existence. I believe it is as big a problem as depression or anxiety and takes firm root in families on a generational basis. The codependency of today was fostered with parenting styles one or two generations back.
I once read an article that the Second World War may have been partly or mostly responsible. The theory goes that the type of parenting style that fosters codependency was forced on families after the war as men returned home from the front. Women, who had been working in factories, were sent back to domestic duties. Men took over the work and were not expected to help in the home. Men became the distant breadwinner with no responsibility for the home and childcare and the women became overwhelmed homemakers responsible for everything, including making sure the men had very little stress. Whether this is true or not is questionable but it certainly wouldn’t be shocking to find out that this was where it all started.
Codependency is built on a broken connection with caregivers, meaning that the time is not taken to connect and understand children and the developmental phases they go through. This causes the child to feel toxic shame and self-blame, often hatred as the child takes full responsibility for this lack of connection. Development and relational trauma result. The child does all it can to connect and get noticed. This accompanies the child into adulthood where the same frameworks are used, the same blueprint adhered to, with the same results. Codependents will often be attracted to similar personality types to one of both of their parents and embark on a constant quest for love and approval. Hence the common behaviour and lack of understanding that goes with it. Codependents are often mystified as why they behave the way they do but why would they know any different? The behaviour is formed during their formative years when they soak up everything like a sponge. Until they become aware of this and try to change it, it will affect them.
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I have worked with codependents for many years and have come to recognize not only the symptoms but what leads to a life as a codependent. I also realise that much of the behaviour is automatic and constitute a blind spot for most. However, this behaviour can be categorized quite easily into types and I have seen this over the years. These mostly work around the Drama Triangle, a key codependent control tool. Let’s look at those here and how they can potentially be healed. Please remember that all of the traits mentioned can be present in one person.
- The “Fixing” Codependent. Will always be available to do whatever is needed to help (control) others. Will be the one who jumps in and people pleases and keeps everyone happy, regardless of whether the need is truly there. Very controlling and needy, will expect return of thanks and constant gratitude, affection and validation. Few boundaries and an inability to say no means they are often taken advantage of. Here is a good example: Codependency Stories Day 3. Fixing is a key element of codependency but it is based on an assumed need that the codependent needs meeting. However, most “fixers” are trying to become indispensable in their partner’s lives and are always looking for the opportunity to fix. It breeds resentment in the codependent as things don’t go the way they think they should or they don’t get the expected returns. This is codependent control. There is an old saying that you should never try to help anyone (unless there is an emergency), unless they ask or you have the permission to do so. Keeping this in mind constantly will help reframe fixing as “coaching” and true help without the need for constant return. Fixing codependents see their partners as victims that need rescuing and they are the rescuer.
- The “Angry” Codependent. Codependents are usually seen as nice people, “the good egg” who is there for everyone and highly dependable. As we have seen above, there is a reason for that. However, codependents can be very angry, controlling and abusive people when things don’t go their way. Some are constantly angry and controlling and are often mistaken for narcissists, even in their own mind. This anger comes from the need to dominate the environment they live in and they often partner with meek, mild-mannered people (often also codependents) and angrily interact with them. This can also happen when fixing is not successful. An example: Codependency Stories Day 6. Codependency is built on toxic shame acquired as children and anger is often a secondary emotion that is associated with it. Codependents like to hide shame and anger is a more acceptable emotion to show. It could also be that emotions were not allowed to be expressed as a child. Here is an observation on anger I wrote some years ago. What To Do When The Protectors Provoke The Anger In You. Angry codependents see their partners as weak and needing to be told what to do.
- The “Victim” Codependent. Codependents play the victim as a controlling method. Often, when the two above fail, as they invariably do, the only route is to indulge in self-pity to get what is needed and to gain back control. However, some are constant victims who feel they need rescuing and constantly partner with either 1 or 2 above or with a partner with self-centered tendencies. They like being told what to do and “guided” but they are actually trying to gain control by limiting expectations of what they can do. Some are so entrenched in this that they consciously put themselves in relationships where they will be in the “one down” position. It is classic learned helplessness where everything is too much and the world is against everything that needs doing. I wrote about the masochistic codependent some years ago. A good example here: Why We Are so Hard On Ourselves.
Learn more about the Drama Triangle and its effects on relationships: