November 20, 2020 at 4:00 pm #64521
In my recovery work from my sociopathic ex-husband I came across the term codependency a lot. He had addiction issues so I went to some Al Anon meetings that discussed codependency. In my opinion he has both narcissistic personality disorder (extreme narcissism and lack of empathy) and antisocial personality disorder (criminal history, no regard for the law or morals, callous disregard for the rights of other people), and in reading about these disorders I frequently saw discussions on codependency. I also read the excellent book “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.
What I eventually realized is that while I acted codependent with him, I’m actually not codependent at all in my life outside him and after him. I’m actually very independent, I like to do lots of things alone, I don’t need constant support or constant companionship, and I am focused firstly on myself while still being attentive to the needs of people who love me.
I realized that his disorders and addictions brought out codependent behavior in me because that is really the only way to stay close to a disordered person or addict. If a healthy person sets healthy boundaries, the only logical outcome would be to sever ties with the disordered person. And I was not willing to do that, so the only way to stay close to him was to act codependent: putting his needs first, walking on eggshells, always catering to his ego, ignoring or denying emotional abuse etc.
I realized that there are only two ways to be in a close relationship with a disordered toxic person: 1) if you’re equally disordered and toxic yourself, or 2) if you’re codependent.
So after the breakup when I was researching this I expected to have to work on my own codependency. But it turns out that codependency was simply a reaction to my ex’s disorders and addictions. It’s not part of my own personality. Now that our relationship is over and I only interact with normal healthy loving people, my codependency simply just disappeared. Because it was never part of me at all. It was only a situational temporary behavior needed to maintain a close relationship with him. And it magically disappeared after he disappeared.
So to anyone who is working through codependency issues ask yourself this – are you really codependent and needy in general with all the people around you? Or is your codependency and neediness only elicited by a disordered toxic person? In my case I found the latter. I was healthier than I thought! Turns out I’m perfectly capable of balanced relationships and healthy boundaries. As long as the other people are normal!
November 20, 2020 at 4:14 pm #64522truthmattersParticipant
Not saying this applies to you but putting it out there for others who read and contemplate it. Some persons had psychopathic/sociopathic/narcissistic/drug or alcohol dependent person in their lives growing up. The behavior of those persons, whether or not that behavior was indulged/ignored/or frowned upon by the child or others in child’s world, the brain is nonetheless familiar with abusive behavior because it developed in the presence of abusive behavior. That familiarity is now programmed into the brains connections regardless if we are aware of it or how we feel about it.
This is an important thing to consider when reflecting on how an abusive relationship was entered into. What may be unfamiliar to others who were never exposed to such unsavory personality disorders and/or addictions, when they are exposed to it for the first times with a mature brain can sense it as intolerable and resist and flee it. Their brains did not develop under this toxic exposure and they have no adaptation to tolerate it. However, it is familiar to those exposed in their developmental years (even before the years of recollection or autobiographical memory). Further, not only was the disordered behavior familiar, it was also managed (obviously if we lived through it, it was managed, no matter how devastating a toll it took).
This is important to consider because an exposure in our developmental years, and our subsequent familiarity with the behavior (regardless if we are even aware of it) may likely make your tolerance to, or even early recognition of, questionable/abusive behavior higher simply because it is familiar and we developed under the influence of it. Where another person facing it for the first time with a rational adult mind would turn and run, the flip side is someone whose brain developed under that unfortunate exposure and has already formed the neural connections to handle it in some manner or another, whether codependency, ignorance, cowering, aiding and abetting, repression/sublimation/neurotic manifestation, etc., etc.
For some people to avoid getting into the same situations again and again, it may help to know if your brain developed (due to early exposure) in an environment of a person(s) with these personality disorders and that it is now blunting our acuity to recognize the subtle early flags and innate unease senses as a reflection of an improper, unfamiliar, and frightening dangerous personality that we too should run from.
Addendum: This was editing for clarity, glaring typos, and syntax errors.
November 20, 2020 at 5:11 pm #64526
Truth, excellent post and I agree with everything you said. Growing up around a disordered or addicted person will naturally predispose someone to later seek the same type of partner, out of familiarity and in a subconscious attempt to repeat the past.
I think it’s impossible for someone growing up with a disordered or addicted parent to naturally and effortlessly become a healthy adult with good boundaries. I think they either become disordered or addicted themselves, as a mirror image of their parent, or they are more on the codependent side and seek disordered or addicted people to cater to as partners. Only after they mature and do extensive work on themselves can they heal and develop into a healthy person with good boundaries, but it will take a lot of effort.
As to my personal situation, I’m very lucky that my parents and sibling were normal and loving, my friends were normal, and my relationships prior to marriage were with normal men. Not saying my family is perfect of course but they are genuinely good people who genuinely love me.
But my past did lead to my bad choice of husband in another way: my father died when I was a child and I had a deep longing for a strong masculine confident father figure to take care of me. My relationships before marriage were with normal men, but they never really satisfied that child like longing. Until one day I met the strongest most masculine most confident man you can imagine. And he was handsome and charming and ambitious as well! And he treated me like a princess!
Needless to say I fell deeply in love and thought he was a gift sent from above to heal me from losing my father. And he did play that role pretty great for most of our marriage. Until I found out about his double life and found out he had been cheating extensively with hookers and strippers, was hiding a severe drug addiction, squandering our money, and other shady matters.
And even worse, he didn’t seem to have any moral issues with any of this. He thought it was perfectly fine to lie, cheat, manipulate, steal, and use people. No issue at all as long as he was making money and getting what he wanted. He could not care less about the collateral damage to other people. His presentation of a charming charismatic goodlooking successful man was a front to hide the ugly immoral monster underneath.
And I fell for it because I had no experience with either personality disorders or addictions. I was very open and trusting and naive because I had never been around people like that before. I did not understand the signs and I ignored or denied them because I was convinced that he was a good person who genuinely loved me. The opposite was simply inconceivable to me. So the hard lesson I had to learn was that bad immoral people do exist and they are all around us. And they can target you and use and abuse you while pretending to love you.
November 21, 2020 at 6:34 pm #64531artymeParticipant
I agree wholeheartedly sept4. I have considered whether I am codependent very carefully indeed and have come to the conclusion that my codependent behaviours were only in response to his disorder. My other relationships have been healthy and I consider myself to be an independent person. I still feel shocked that I tolerated his behaviour – I haven’t experienced anything like this before and had never heard of personality disorders.
November 22, 2020 at 5:22 am #64536karencParticipant
That’s a good point Sept4. I only became codependent with my ex as I knew how he would likely react if I didn’t act as he expected. It was easier to keep the peace. Hopefully I will be able to spot narc/sociopath behaviour in the future and get the hell away early on.
November 22, 2020 at 9:31 am #64539freeatlastParticipant
Hi sept4 – yes, I am glad you wrote this post because I had been puzzling the same thing. I had a normal, healthy childhood with no disordered people in it. Until I met my ex, I had only ever had normal, healthy relationships. I knew psychopaths existed but I had no personal experience of one. I had absolutely NO IDEA of the nuanced and manipulative way they show up in real life, appearing as you say, like the answer to a prayer.
Since he has left my life I am happily independent. I am not looking for a replacement. I intend to focus on the things that matter to me (which include my children and my studies, plus I’m writing a book to do with my profession). I am loving the freedom in fact! I’ve had that same puzzle in my mind – feeling sure that I’m not co-dependent. But what you say makes perfect sense. I WAS co-dependent with him – but only him. His disorder brought out the worst in me, and that included co-dependency.
Thanks for sharing – that was really helpful!
November 22, 2020 at 12:22 pm #64540
Yes interesting that we all feel this way! Independent balanced people who got temporarily dragged into codependency by a disordered person.
Codependency is simply the only way to hold on to them. You cannot stay healthy with healthy boundaries AND hold on to a sociopath. Your choices are EITHER hold on to your independence and health and boundaries and leave him (because he will continually fight your independence and cross your boundaries) OR forfeit your independence and boundaries in order to hold on to him.
For some reason we all felt like the latter was the better choice. We thought oh it’s not so bad to forfeit our independence, to give up our individuality, to forfeit our peace, to keep moving our boundaries further and further back, to walk on eggshells around his moods, to try to manage his mood swings and anger outbursts, to try to manage his addictions, to spend all our energy in trying to cater to his ego, to spend our time and money trying to fix his problems, to change ourselves to please him, to ignore and deny his lies, to accept the continual emotional manipulations.
For some reason we thought those sacrifices were worth it to maintain a relationship with him. We compromised our independence and healthy boundaries for the sake of keeping the peace. Because we knew deep down that saying NO to any of this and standing firm in our NO would end the relationship. And that was simply unbearable to us.
So our choice was maintain our independence and health without him OR slip into codependency to keep him. You can’t have both. A healthy relationship with independence and good boundaries is incompatible with a sociopath. It’s codependency or bust. The codependency is not really who we are. It was just a tool to be able to hold on to him.
And when I look back I see that my ex started testing my boundaries right from the start, in subtle ways. Their way of testing you as a victim. They are observing you. When they see you have a healthy independent habit or a healthy boundary, they will commit small transgressions against you, and WATCH you to see how you react. Do you stand your ground and hold firm? Or do you give in because deep down you correctly sense that you have to give in in order to keep him?
As you keep giving in and keep moving your boundaries and keep compromising your independence and health, he will subtly and gradually keep taking you further and further into it. Until at the end you don’t even recognize yourself anymore! You threw away your individuality and independence and healthy boundaries, you threw away yourself, just to be able to keep him.
So after he takes everything of course then the only thing left for him to do is to throw you away as well. And it feels like the end of the world. But it actually turns out to be a blessing. First you threw your healthy self away to keep him, then he throws your unhealthy self away, you go through deep misery, BUT THEN YOU FIND YOUR HEALTHY SELF BACK! And I had missed myself!
November 22, 2020 at 2:46 pm #64544Donna AndersenKeymaster
First of all, codependency is not even a recognized disorder. It’s an idea that originated within the Alcoholics Anonymous community to help family members of alcoholics understand their roles in the relationshps.
Last year Dr. Liane Leedom and I had a scientific paper published in which we disputed the idea that victims of abusive relationships are codependent. Actually, what is happening is that victims are traumatized by the experience, and natural reactions to trauma are similar to the signs of codependency.
Here’s some info about what we published:
So you are all on the right track. There is nothing wrong with you. You are reacting to your experience.
November 23, 2020 at 3:38 am #64545freeatlastParticipant
I will look forward to reading that, Donna. Very interesting!
In the meantime, sept4, I totally recognise your crystal clear description of what happens to us as we surrender our healthy selves to the narc/sociopath. It was exactly what happened to me. And yes, he trashed the unhealthy me and tossed it away. And now, thank God, I can get my old healthy self back. That was a great piece of writing.
November 23, 2020 at 12:17 pm #64548
Great article Donna, thank you!
Thank you Freeatlast. I actually had a spiritual or physical experience of my old healthy true self re-emerging during the discard. I was lying in bed curled up crying and just feeling such overwhelming utter and complete devastating grief. It was unbearable. But I noticed something deep inside. I felt a tiny flicker of something good, of light or hope. I did not understand what it was because my world was ending and I could not see anything good at all. But it was there, no matter how tiny and almost imperceptible.
Years later I remembered that moment and realized what it was. It was a very cautious very tiny reemergence of my old healthy true self. A tiny flicker of light in the darkness. A tiny little seedling sprouting in a field utterly devastated by fire. It had been suppressed for so many years by my ex’s huge ego and control and manipulation. I had not felt it for so long and just lost it along the way. Until the discard when he left and I was alone, suffering the utter destruction and grief, and there was a tiny crack where a tiny flicker of light was finally able to get through.
Reminds me of this quote by the poet Rumi:
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
November 25, 2020 at 12:19 pm #64552irene63Participant
This post is so helpful. Many of the points made ring so true for me. I have always thought of myself as being an independent person and have been told by others that Im to independent. While I was in this relationship I felt out of control. I look back now and understand why I felt that way. That was really not the person that I am. I was not being true to who I am to “please” him. A person who cant be pleased. He literally sucked the life out of me. I just didnt see it at the time even though there were glimpse of my true self during the relationship that would rise up but I knew that would not make him happy so I allowed those boundaries to be crossed.
I have read a lot about how these types of relationships work and I know that to fully recover I have to figure out what caused my own damage. I feel stuck. I dont know how to do that. I have asked myself, what made me vulnerable to this person? I remember my mom being a “people pleaser.” But what do I do with that knowledge? I am a very easy going person and dont hold grudges. I have a good friend who has told me you need to be angry at him for what has happened. Im just not. I dont want to give him that much time in my head. When I first broke it off there were times that I felt so sad. I would take cotton balls and throw them at the wall envisioning that he was standing there and I would tell him exactly how I felt. I generally dont express how I really feel, especially to people that I love, because I dont want to hurt them. He always said, your so nice……
If anyone has any advice on how to heal childhood wounds I would appreciate it. Im not even sure how I was wounded. I was raised in a good Christian home. I know now there were issues but how do I heal that trauma?
I want to be better. Im willing to do the work. I just dont know where to start.
I am so thankful for the blessings in my life. I dont want to focus on the negative.
Thank you to the ones who have posted on here. Your advice has helped me to feel so much stronger and know that recovery is possible.
November 25, 2020 at 2:44 pm #64554
Hi Irene, I’m so sorry for your experience.
If you are generally an independent person and know how to balance putting yourself first and being attentive to the needs of others, then you might not need to change yourself at all. The only thing you would need to change is to have better selection of people who you let into your circle. Only allow genuine people with good character who genuinely love you. No sociopaths who will take advantage of your kindness and empathy!
I can really relate to your lack of anger. I felt the same for many years after the breakup. I was simply too devastated and too deep into grief to feel any anger. I knew that I was supposed to feel anger as one of the stages of grief to recover but it just wasn’t there. My counselor also asked me from time to time if I felt any anger yet, but I really never did.
Only recently (many years after the breakup and many years of NC) did I finally start to experience anger. And it was because of long term financial consequences that I am dealing with now that were caused by my ex. Now finally I can feel anger at the injustice of it all. And I have a deep desire for fairness or karma to even the score. It just feels so wrong that I am still suffering severe emotional and financial consequences many years later while he just went on his merry way after the discard without any accountability whatsoever.
So in my current phase I keep going back to the past and keep thinking how I could have handled things differently. I keep imagining all the boundaries I could have set and enforced. For example I could have asked for separate bank accounts. I could have refused to drive with him as a passenger when he was drunk or driving recklessly racing other cars. I could have insisted on more visits to my family instead of letting him isolate me. I could have gone to court or to the police when he started threatening me and using extortion and intimidation to pressure me into giving up my property in the breakup. Just some examples of MANY instances where I could have and should have set boundaries.
But I know full well why I did not set or enforce those boundaries. It’s because I loved him so much and I subconsciously knew deep inside that if I did set and enforce those boundaries, he would have left me. I subconsciously knew it was his way or the highway. That was too much to bear, so I just went along with his dysfunction in order to hold onto him. That was the codependent part. And then during the divorce I was too afraid of his retaliation if I spoke out against him or called the police or spoke up in court. It was too dangerous. By then I knew that he was capable of doing anything to win.
So in analyzing all this I realized that my codependent behavior was to hold on to him and out of fear for him. When I am around normal healthy balanced moral people I never act codependent at all. It was simply a reaction to his dysfunction.
- This reply was modified 10 hours, 56 minutes ago by sept4.
November 25, 2020 at 5:33 pm #64558
Was thinking this through more to play out a specific example. My ex used to frequently drink and drive. He also used drugs so I’m sure he also was high and driving but he kept his drug addiction secret so I only knew about the drinking. So let’s say I had set a clear boundary: if you drink then I will not get in the car with you. That is a very reasonable and very clear boundary. But he would have just drank (and used drugs) anyway. He would have either just lied about it or he would have said ok fine then I will go alone and he would have just taken off alone and come back who knows when. He would not have changed anything. There was no reasoning or working out a compromise with him. It was his way or nothing.
So if theoretically I had set that as a boundary and after giving it some time nothing had changed and he would still drink/drugs and drive, just now going everywhere alone and we could never drive together again. If I really wanted to enforce my boundary then I would have had to leave him over that behavior. But I was not prepared to do that. I was so attached to him that almost nothing could have lead me to leave him. So that is where the codependency came him. I was unwilling to leave him over his dysfunctions. So instead I tried to manage them and work with them instead. So nothing would have ever changed because I was actually enabling him.
Same with squandering money as an example. If I had tried to limit him financially in any way, and had actually enforced my limits (setting up a budget without exceptions, separate bank accounts, not co-signing anything etc) then he would just ignore that. Then what? I was not prepared to leave him over his bad financial habits. So my only recourse would have been to leave him, or to wait until he left me. But I was not prepared to go that far. So I just kept letting him cross my financial boundaries over and over. Which means they were not real boundaries at all.
Now with a normal healthy person without disorders or addictions, you can set clear boundaries because you can address it together and have a reasonable discussion where you take into account both sides. Then after both sides learn to understand the other’s side you can work out a fair compromise that works for both parties. You can come out somewhere in the middle. But that does not work with a disordered person or an addict. There are only two options with them. Either you accept their dysfunctions or addictions to be able to cling to them. OR you decide that you will not put up with it and you leave. There is no middle way where you can keep the relationship but work out your differences in a reasonable way. It’s either accept the dysfunctions and slide into codependency to keep him OR let him go altogether.
November 25, 2020 at 9:15 pm #64565irene63Participant
Sept4 I am so sorry that you have went through this. It seems you have come a long way.You have made some very valid points and have helped me look at things more objectively. I feel you have helped many others too. I believe sometimes our life gives us experiences that help us relate to others and help them in their difficult times.
I do agree that I need to focus on keeping mentally healthy people in my circle. I just need to listen to my gut. There were so many times that I pushed it away. I will try to be more aware and trusting of that instinct.
I truly feel the ex will get what he deserves. We never married nor had mutual property so in some ways Im sure that makes my situation a little different. I remember him saying, I know You want to get married… to which I said No I never said I would marry you. The mocking looking on his face. So arrogant… that instinct was screaming at me not to get in deeper with this person. I gave unconditional love and it was never enough. He is a shallow hollow person that can never have successful relationship. He told me once that he was damaged. I didnt accept it at the time, you know I was thinking we all have our issues but wow. Toxic people cant be anything but toxic. It will never stop and I know every relationship he has for the rest of his life will implode. I on the other hand have the ability to be in a healthy relationship with someone who appreciates unconditional love and can reciprocate.
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