I remember I used to be so frustrated when my mother would do or say something mean and my father would make an excuse for her behavior. He didn’t seem to be helping me at all. I couldn’t understand at the time why he would do that, but now I think I know exactly what his problem was – codependency. Codependents are frequently enablers of abusive behavior, but why?
Codependency and narcissism both form as the result of adverse childhood experiences which include either emotional or physical abuse. The narcissist adopts the belief they are entitled and superior to other people while the codependent becomes a people-please. They do this even if they are abused.
It’s important to understand codependency because it’s an easy trap to fall into, and if you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you might be codependent. There is help, however, for codependency. It’s a common phenomenon in all kinds of abusive relationships. Let’s take a look at why codependents do the things they do and how the condition affects their behavior.
Why Do Codependents Help Abusive Narcissists?
Like narcissism, codependency is a childhood adaptation to adverse treatment. The codependent may have been in a family where their needs were not recognized or considered important.
Like narcissists, the relationship codependent people have with their own sense of self is unhealthy. They have come to believe that their needs are not important because that is the message they got from their family members as a child.
To survive, they put aside their own needs and focused on the needs of other people. They became what experts at the University of London call ‘the caretaker’ in their role in the family. There are several roles in a family, including hero, scapegoat, lost child, caretaker, and mastermind.
The caretaker’s role is just what it sounds like. They take care of their other family members, and they do this often to their own detriment. They put their needs aside because they have received a message that those needs are not important.
As is true of narcissism, this message can be generated by parents who are either overprotective or under-protective. The overprotective parents prevent their children from gaining the confidence they need to be independent, and as a result, they caretake others so that they will continue to protect them.
The under-protective parents may be neglectful or abusive in other ways, and the child becomes codependent as a way to appease them. In either case, the codependent learns the strategy of doing everything they can to please other people to keep them in their life.
This strategy is very attractive to a narcissist because they want someone who will focus solely on their needs. Additionally, they don’t think other people’s needs are important. For the narcissist, it’s the perfect setup, and for the codependent, it’s just the continuation of an old pattern.
What are the Symptoms of Codependency?
Because codependents have an unhealthy relationship with their sense of self, they have many symptoms that are somewhat similar to narcissism. They just are expressed in a different way. Here are some of the main symptoms associated with this condition.
Problems with Boundaries
Because the codependent was either overly protected or neglected, they don’t have a good sense of boundaries. This can mean they don’t have any boundaries, which allows a narcissist or other abusive people to treat them like doormats. They can also, however, have boundaries that are so strong that they effectively shut other people out entirely. In either case, their sense of boundaries makes it difficult for them to form healthy relationships.
They are Hypercritical of Themselves
The unhealthy family environment a codependent was raised in often makes them extremely critical of themselves. They were often disparaged when they expressed a need as a child, and they have internalized that criticism. This perpetuates their belief that they are not a good or worthy person.
They Have a Strong Sense of Guilt
In addition to making them extremely critical of themselves, the neglect or abuse they suffered also leaves them with a strong sense of guilt. Their attempts to make people happy are never validated, and when things go well for them, they feel as though they don’t deserve it. They adopt the idea that they are not deserving of happiness.
They Have Problems with Control
The underlying reasons behind codependency make someone with this disorder try to control everything in their world. They often had to accept responsibilities beyond their maturation level as a child, and that leaves them with a sense that they have to control everything. They feel responsible for ensuring everyone else is happy and comfortable. Of course, that’s impossible to do, but they still feel they have to keep everything under control.
They Have Problems with Trust
Because they were lied to as a child and they feel they let everyone down, the codependent is left with issues of trust. They have learned that people have an agenda when they get close to them, and that fear is often validated when they get together with a narcissist or some other abuser in their adult relationships.
How Do You Know if You’re Codependent?
Most codependents have difficulty making decisions without input from the other people in their life. They have been people-pleasing for so long that they dread the idea of disappointing the people around them.
They typically value the approval of other people even over their own decision. They simply don’t trust their own intuition or abilities because of their low self-esteem.
Codependents also go to the extreme to please everyone in their life. They will neglect even their health-related needs in favor of doing things for other people and making them happy.
They also have a tendency to make excuses for any abuse they suffer and for abuse suffered by other family members. The codependent spouse of a narcissist will often explain away their abuse even when that abuse is affecting their own children.
That’s what my father would do with my mother. He made excuses for what my mother did. He would often tell me that she loved me in her own way or that she didn’t really mean what she said or did. He also made excuses for her abuse of him.
If you find yourself saying something like that to your kids or even yourself, it’s possible you’re codependent.
How Do You Stop Being a Codependent?
As with any other problem, the first step is to recognize that you have a problem. Once you admit that, you can take the next steps to discover the origins of your codependency and begin the healing process.
It usually helps if you work with a psychotherapist as you learn to form healthier relationships, both with other people and with yourself. You can learn to trust yourself and others, but it takes acknowledging your problem.
There are also support groups for codependents, specifically, Codependents Anonymous, and these can help you to understand that you’re not alone. There are many people who have this kind of problem. They can also help you celebrate success as you move forward with your healing journey.
Codependents share numerous similarities with narcissists. The problem forms as a result of adverse childhood conditions, and they have problems being in touch with their own emotions and needs. They often form many emotional triggers as a result of this problem, and that is what allows abusers to continue to take advantage of them. Their need to avoid disappointing other people means they will do almost anything for them, and that means allowing and even assisting with their abuse.
One of the first things you can do if you’re a codependent is to get your own emotions under control. I have developed a 5 Step Roadmap to Heal Emotional Triggers that can help you identify your emotional wounds that cause you to be triggered by a narcissistic abuser. This handy guide will also help you to heal those wounds. It’s free, and if you click on the link above, I’ll send it directly to your inbox.
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