Understanding That Codependency Is About Control

In the two recent podcasts I did with victims of self-centered, abusive individuals, the idea of codependent control was raised. To listen, follow the links below:

Jane’s Story

Sarah’s Story

The idea of control by codependents is one that is often overlooked when discussing relationships. We try to understand why people are targeted by self centered individuals and the affects of that (rightly so) but the idea that the codependent is controlling as well is not as easy to see. Both ladies in the podcasts had troubling realizing how they were controlling while being abused and manipulated.

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Dr Nicholas Jenner

Firstly, we need to look at how codependents control. Mostly, enabling bad behaviour will do the trick. Allow someone to believe that they can do what they like, ask what they like and expect what they like and they will generally do it. Most codependents are enablers but that is just part of the problem. Enabling is avoidance of reality but codependents have other methods to actively control their partners; this revolves around what is known as the Codependent Drama Triangle and this is where most symptoms of control are exercised.

The first point on the triangle is “fixing” or rescuing where sacrifice and martyrdom often co-exist. The codependent is trying to make themselves indispensable in the lives of their partner by offering and expecting to be all and everything to them with no regard for their own needs. You can imagine how someone who wants to continually take, would allow this to happen. While this may sound like “love” to a codependent, it clearly isn’t. All of this sacrificing and needs meeting comes at a price. The codependent wants the return of validation, love and attention, often from someone who can’t or won’t give it.

When this doesn’t work, a codependent will often use another control method common to them. The codependent becomes the Persecutor. This involves anger, rage, bullying, judgmental behaviour and passive and direct aggression. The fixing becomes a demand as the codependent tries to seek and maintain control. We have to realise this is often being done with someone who has a controlling agenda of their own and abusive tactics to back it up.

This stage is quickly followed by the third point on the triangle, victimhood. In this stage, a codependent will not value Self and will defer to other in a submissive position. A “poor me” attitude is adopted and the codependent becomes pouty, needy, complaining and downtrodden, blaming others for their plight. This is done to gain maximum attention and advantage but also leaves them open to abuse and manipulation. Once this attention is gained, the whole cycle starts again and can maintain itself for a sustainable period.

Just why this happens is clear and we need to look at the theory of Repetition Compulsion for some of the answer. It makes sense that we mirror the aspects of our early relationships with others in adulthood. If you were conditioned to believe you had to push for connection and had a compulsion to fix your environment to make this happen, this will continue into adulthood as a matter of survival and a dysfunctional way of connecting. Let unresolved, it will continue.

Additional to this, a further consideration could be seen in what we call Relational Frames Theory, first coined by Dr Steven C Hayes. This relates to how a child is taught to relate to its world and the people in it by interaction with parents. Human babies, in contrast to animals, can relate to not only an object and a name but also in the other direction. Hayes called this “a blessing and a curse” because this ability later becomes complex in terms of storytelling. Children develop “relational frames” around aspects of their world and use developing imagination to deepen their thoughts around it. This is done in combination with the acquisition of language which is also mirrored from parents. Basically, if a child is brought up with a codependent parent, they will build stories to relate to how it makes them feel, stories to cope and protect themselves.

Hayes stated that this symbolic, relational thinking in a developing mind is a way for us to connect and co-operate, as is our instinct as children. Sometimes, children are so intent on this connection and cooperation that they build a distorted view of their world and themselves, especially if they are neglected or rejected. This is thought to be why children often lie as they deny this broken connection is happening. When they tell themselves and others stories about their world, they may well exaggerate, leave out some parts, enhance others, deny reality and ignore what doesn’t fit. This is protection and comes from an attempt to fit in. They will do what they have to to connect and be accepted. Many children are extremely hyper-vigilant around their parents, looking for changes in mood and behaviour. This is done to be able to adapt the relational frame to fit. Underneath this, shame of not feeling loved or accepted is driving the process. Over a period of time, these stories are the basis of self-talk, good and bad. It really does show how essential parenting skills are.

Relational Frames Theory tells us that children are adapting their view of the world constantly in order to fit in. These thoughts move into adulthood as the Inner Dictator and lead to such issues as codependency.

Learn more about how to deal with The Inner Dictator here.

For exclusive content dedicated to codependent recovery, please go to www.freefromcodependency.com

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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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  1. I don’t know if I am right here…

    ….but it seems that both sides of the spectrum (Codependent – Narcissist)… are actually about some form of “control”…and yet both are trying to protect themselves on either side through different means because both have insecurities, and feel they are not good enough, no matter what they do which has usually been born from shame-based parenting, abuse, trauma and growing up in toxic environments.

    Both the giver and taker feel they need control of their environment and the people in their lives to some degree, because usually it is substitute for a lack of love and self-worth they did not recieve when they were younger.

    Repetition compulsive behaviour takes over…and yet neither one is aware because it involves bringing that shame from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind and dealing with the associated trauma and pain… looking into one’s self and finding out who they really are.

    The codependent person is more likely to do this. A Narcissist very unlikely.

    There is truth in the saying though:

    “what you see in me is a reflection of you”