The Roots Of Codependency: What Do I Need? A Question Seldom Asked

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The type of childhood that codependents have is one that is often defined by their need to make their environment safe and secure. Children up to a certain age will have the ability to stay in the moment. Put a group of two or three years olds together and they will play, share, fight but it will be a reaction to what is happening at that moment in their world.

Go forward a few years, when children start to feel insecure and threatened, they will quickly learn to dissociate and employ protection measures to help them cope. The measures start off as gentle mental reminders of previous experiences, warning against dysfunction and harm but develop into destructive thinking parts that form an adult world based on childhood trauma. The sad part of this is that the trusting in the moment child is replaced by an “other me” personality designed with coping in mind.

One of the many, but significant, coping skills for a potential codependent is an early form of fixing. Faced with emotionally distant or perfectionist parenting, children will do their utmost to please and impress their parents. They will become caretakers, parent their parents, parent their siblings and take full responsibility for all around them, hoping their parents will eventually notice their sacrifice. Unresolved, this attitude moves from one relationship to another in adulthood trying to find resolution. They mirror their childhood by having relationships with emotionally distant or self-centered, controlling types who take advantage of their sacrificial nature and often abuse them.

For the codependent, it is an instinct to do this and without intervention, it will continue. In these situations, a question will often dominate their thinking. In a strong sense of hyper-vigilance, they will ask “what does he/she need?”. Under normal circumstances, this might be a relevant question. For a codependent, it would be the start of the so-called “drama triangle”, a cycle often present around codependents.

One question rarely asked in a genuine sense is “What do I need?”. Codependents have never been taught to meet their emotional needs and many do not even know what their needs are. An external frame of reference that all codependents have will ensure that this continues. Codependents need to become aware of who they really are and how they got to be where they are. 

The first stage is always to analyse the root of the issue and become aware. Awareness is everything and many codependents are usually unaware. Awareness means going back to where it all started and looking at childhood interaction with caregivers. This is always where it starts and develops. This is always where codependents emotionally return to when triggered. 

The second stage is to take the action needed to move forward. This means dealing with the self-esteem robbed in childhood and learning how to feel, connect and love in a healthy way. This is a tough journey for many people but a journey worth taking.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. When people ask me this question?!
    “…………………………..” is the answer…I know I have traits of both codependency and counter dependency.
    I am such a paradox!

    I need you, but I don’t want to need anyone.
    I want someone to be close, but not too close.
    I hate you, please don’t leave me

    That kinda thing….

    1. Most codependents do. They often see counter dependency as a solution to the enmeshment they feel. It is however, just another shift along the same continuum.

      1. Dr. Nicholas Jenner

        I think you have assessed yourself very well in your first comment…I wouldn’t disagree.

  2. Well some say its empathic traits versus narcissistic traits, and here it is codependency versus counter dependency…I get so confused by everyone’s interpretation.
    There are so many variables to a certain situation.
    BPD can seem like Narcissism to some, and to others it may very well just seem like PTSD, and yet to others… perhaps codependency.
    It really depends on your education and perspective I suppose.
    But there is definitely a problem in diagnosis of all these types of problems, as they all have many familiar aspects to them.

    1. Sensible comment but this is why the DSM exists and outside of codependency (which is yet to be included), there really should be no issues with a clear diagnosis if symptoms are clear.