In this series of articles, we have examined codependency and various types of trauma. We’ve learned that living in a home where there is familial violence and neglect can spark in a child the need to be needed and thus set them up for becoming codependent in later life.
This article will focus on how to overcome codependency to live a healthier, happier life.
A Reminder of What Codependency Is
To talk about the cure for codependence, we must first remind ourselves of what comprises codependency. If the following quotes look familiar, it is because I copied them from piece one of this series.
Melody Beattie is the author of Codependent No More, a book that explores codependency and how it affects the lives of those who exhibit it. The book advises, explains, and makes plain compassion for people who live with the overwhelming condition of codependency.
Beattie states the best definition could be as follows. “Codependency is a stress-induced pattern of behavior that dictates how a person treats another and how she allows that other person to influence her. The codependent obsesses over the other person and seeks to control them.”
Darlene Lancer goes further in her definition of codependency:
“Codependency is more than a relationship problem. Wounds of codependency affect our psyche and individual development. Make no mistake. It’s to no fault of our own. Codependency is adaptive and helped us survive growing up in a dysfunctional family system. But that change cost us our individuality, authenticity, and our future quality of life.”
Codependence is a serious maladaptation to life brought on by dysfunctional parenting when the victim is young. Codependency can develop in many types of relationships, including:
Codependency occurs anywhere where there is an imbalance of power and one or both people in the relationship need to be needed. Make no mistake, codependent individuals don’t form relationships, they take hostages.
Trauma and Codependency
I love the following definition of trauma that I found in a very good article on Brightcrest.com:
“Trauma is not an event or an experience, but rather an emotional response to one.”
It goes on to explain that trauma happens to everyone eventually in their lives and some handle it better than others. Trauma includes events of abuse, assault violence, a natural disaster, a fire, or any other type of frightening or life-threatening experience.
Serious mental health consequences emerge if we don’t cope well with a traumatic experience. We can form a mental health condition because of our being able to come to terms with a traumatic experience. Many trauma-based mental health conditions may arise, such as anxiety disorder, substance abuse disorders, depression, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and codependency.
I believe trauma sets children up for codependency by destroying their self-esteem and their sense of self (sense of agency). Damage done to their sense of agency is deep because they were neglected when they needed comfort and belonging. The need to belong is such a powerful force in our minds that if we do not receive it in childhood, we will grow into adults who search for either a relationship that matches what we knew and saw growing up. The need to be needed and to take care of someone else is overwhelming, thus we fall into codependent relationships to fill that void.
How to Tell if You or Someone You Love is a Codependent
Although one might think that identifying someone who is codependent would be easy, that is not always the case. This is true because codependents rarely recognize they have fallen into a codependent relationship and others may not recognize it because codependents are good at hiding what is going on at home.
Living as a codependent is unhealthy and one-sided with one partner or person relying on the other to get their needs met. The other person in a codependent relationship encourages codependent behavior by using the codependent to enable their behaviors, such as substance abuse, or other lifestyle changes that are harmful.
A codependent relationship is a closed system, almost like a flower that has folded in on itself. The relationship is fiercely defended and kept a secret so that it can continue unabated.
Some symptoms you may notice on a codependent may be:
Have low self-esteem. The person may feel unworthy of the respect of others and a loser. They may feel unlovable, ashamed, or guilty, but put on a front that says you are confident.
Have a deep-seated need to please and care for others. It is difficult for codependents to say no and they feel fearful if they disappoint their partner or coworker.
Have a lack of adequate boundaries. There are poor boundaries within a codependent relationship with affection and objects.
Very poor communication skills. Codependent individuals struggle to express themselves to tell others how they feel or what they want.
Overreacting. In a codependent relationship, the person is likely to overreact emotionally to situations even when they do not deserve them.
A few more signs of codependency include having a preoccupation with a partner’s well-being, adapting to the mood of their partner and how they act, plus worrying more than the partner about behavior they do.
If you find yourself or someone else expressing the symptoms above, they are codependent and need help. Although it might be tempting to step in and point out to a codependent what has happened to them, they will resist fiercely and try to convince you that you do not understand their relationship at all. The codependent must want to be helped, as no one can force them in to help.
Trauma Bonding in a Codependent Relationship
Sometimes, the codependent relationship may become harmful, with one in the relationship being emotionally or physically abusive. Codependents, in this case, may feel ashamed or too weak to leave their codependent relationship and feel loyalty to their abuser. This is called having a trauma bond.
A trauma bond often occurs when the abuser spins through cycles of abuse and affection. The abuser will treat their partner badly but always go back to showing affection, making the relationship extremely difficult to end.
Trauma bonding, however, can also occur without overt abuse. One can develop an attachment and loyalty to someone who is not treating the codependent well and abuses their propensity for needing to be needed.
Breaking free of a trauma bond is difficult, but is possible.
Overcoming the Effects of Codependency
Understand it. Understanding that you grew up in a dysfunctional home and have fallen into a codependent relationship sounds simple, but it is not. No one wants to admit they were abused as a child and certainly, no one wants to see themselves as someone else’s doormat. However, the first step in overcoming any situation is to recognize and understand that it is there.
Identify patterns. Identify patterns in your life, the way you gravitate toward people who need and want a lot of help, and how you have difficulty asking for help. Notice how you depend on others for validation instead of self-validation. While these tendencies may make you feel wanted and needed, they are not healthy.
Recognize healthy support. Recognizing people who can support you in your life instead of taking from you is vital to overcoming codependency. This doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed, but that recognizing that you can love someone without being codependent with them. The first step in this process is to learn what healthy love and relationships look like. A true partnership is a give and take with each partner supporting the other. In such a relationship, both partners feel secure, and the pair will compromise or even agree to disagree on some topics.
Set healthy boundaries. A boundary is a limit one sets that make people aware when they are doing something that is unacceptable to you. Boundaries are not always easy to set or maintain if you are dealing with deep-seated codependency. You may have become accustomed to making others feel comfortable instead of recognizing when you are having a hard time setting limits.
Mind your own business. It is critical that you remember you can only control your own actions and that your partner is responsible for their actions and behaviors. Attempting to control someone else’s actions is futile. However, when your validation comes from your ability to support your partner, remembering this can be miserable. Instead, remind yourself as often as needed that you can only control yourself and that you are not responsible for the behaviors and reactions of others.
Value yourself. Codependency and low self-esteem are invariably linked. If you pride yourself and find your identity in your ability to care for your partner, then you will need help to find and develop a sense of self-worth. Learn to like and then love yourself by first paying attention to your negative self-talk and changing the negative narratives about yourself into positive ones. I know it may sound silly and something you don’t want to do, but one thing you can do is to print out and hang in your home positive sayings and quotes. Your brain will pick them up and you will feel better about yourself.
The other suggestion to overcoming codependency is to seek professional help or attend a group that can help you feel not so alone.
Ending Our Time Together
Being codependent is something I understand because I was codependent with my mother for many years of my life. I got up each morning asking myself, “How do we feel today?” and put my needs and wants on hold to meet hers. Mother, for her part, was verbally and otherwise abusive but dangled affection before me to bring me back to her when she had finished.
Breaking free of codependency is extremely difficult, but I managed to break free after attending a twelve-step group called Al-Anon. I realize many readers dislike me mentioning twelve-step groups, however, for many people, they are their lifeline. I learned I am a worthwhile and important person who didn’t deserve to be serving someone else’s needs while sacrificing my own.
I hope this series has helped anyone who has found themselves in the grips of codependency.
“If you live your life to please everyone else, you will continue to feel frustrated and powerless. This is because what others want may not be good for you. You are not being mean when you say NO to unreasonable demands or when you express your ideas, feelings, and opinions, even if they differ from those of others.”–Beverly Engel
“Detachment involves “present moment living” — living in the here and now. We allow life to happen instead of forcing and trying to control it. We relinquish regrets over the past and fears about the future. We make the most of each day.”–Melody Beattie
Help To find a Provider
If you are a survivor or someone who loves a survivor and cannot find a therapist who treats complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please contact the CPTSD Foundation. We have a staff of volunteers who have been compiling a list of providers who treat CPTSD. They would be happy to give you more ideas about where to look and find a therapist to help you. Go to the contact us page and send us a note stating you need help, and our staff will respond quickly to your request. Go to https://cptsdfoundation.org/help-me-find-a-therapist/
Are you a therapist who treats CPTSD? Please consider dropping us a line to add you to our growing list of providers. You would get aid in finding clients, and you would help someone find the peace they deserve. Go to the contact us page and send us a note, and our staff will respond quickly.
CPTSD Foundation Awareness Wristbands
Official CPTSD Foundation wristbands to show the world you support awareness, research, and healing from complex trauma.
The official CPTSD Foundation wristbands were designed by our Executive Director, Athena Moberg, with the idea that promoting healing and awareness benefits all survivors. We hope you’ll consider purchasing one for yourself and perhaps one for a family member, friend, or other safe people who could help raise awareness for complex trauma research and healing.
Each purchase of $12 helps fund our scholarship program, which provides access to our programs and resources to survivors in need.
Weekly Creative Group
Do you like to color, paint, sew, arts & crafts? How about drawing, model building, or maybe cross stitch? Whatever creative activity you prefer, come to join us in the Weekly Creative Group. Learn more at https://cptsdfoundation.org/weeklycreativegroup
The Healing Book Club
Today, CPTSD Foundation would like to invite you to our healing book club, reading a new book that began in September. The title of the latest featured book is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk.
Led by Sabra Cain, the healing book club is only $7 per month. The fee goes towards scholarships for those who cannot afford access to materials offered by CPTSD Foundation.
Should you decide to join the Healing Book Club, please purchase your books through our Amazon link to help us help you.
All Our Services
As always, if you or a loved one live in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please come to us for help. CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services, including:
- Daily Calls
- The Healing Book Club
- Support Groups
- Our Blog
- The Trauma-Informed Newsletter
- Daily Encouragement Texts
All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up; we will be glad to help you. If you cannot afford to pay, go to www.cptsdfoundation.org/scholarship to apply for aid. We only wish to serve you.
Visit us and sign up for our weekly newsletter to help keep you informed on treatment options and much more for complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
My name is Shirley Davis and I am a freelance writer with over 40-years- experience writing short stories and poetry. Living as I do among the corn and bean fields of Illinois (USA), working from home using the Internet has become the best way to communicate with the world. My interests are wide and varied. I love any kind of science and read several research papers per week to satisfy my curiosity. I have earned an Associate Degree in Psychology and enjoy writing books on the subjects that most interest me.