As I have mentioned here a few times before, I suffered badly with codependent issues. Even though I have largely overcome these, there are still some clear traces that I constantly work on (or have to work on).  One of these and one that I see often with clients is hyper-vigilance, not in the sense of physical threat but mostly to do with observing a partner’s behaviour for signs of change. For codependents who constantly live with insecurity, these signs could mean a lot.

Many clients who have noticed this element in themselves take any perceived change as a possible signal that they are about to be abandoned. In reality, there is usually nothing to be worried about or there is an issue that is not much to do with the relationship. What it does to a codependent is foster an attitude of “treading on eggshells”.  They feel that the only way (at least I did) to gain the reassurance they need is to constantly question their partner… “What are they thinking”, “Why are you moody”, “What did I do?” These questions are all designed to bring the relationship back to a “safe place” for the codependent and so, under their control. If reassurance is not forthcoming, it often leads to typical scenarios that include rage, silent treatment and victimhood. It leaves the partner under scrutiny and wary of anything that could kick off the cycle. In effect, both are hyper-vigilant.

In therapy, the cause if this is of course investigated. It is not surprising to find (and in my case) that as a child, the codependent was made to “work” for affection, attention and validation. From an emotionally distant or abusive parent, the observation skills they use in their relationship were honed in childhood as they looked for signs of attention from their parents. I had one client who said that relationships were worth nothing unless one had to “work” for it.  Such thinking is typical of codependency.

In therapy, I use an integrative approach to counter this thinking. I introduce classic CBT approaches to try to change irrational thinking in the “here and now”. This means being challenged and looking at the underlying beliefs that cause thinking patterns. On a deeper level, I use inner child therapy to reframe early experiences that created the insecurity initially. I have found this extremely effective. However, as I know myself, it is a constant battle to keep on the right track.

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  1. V.J.

    Thank you for this post – it helps explain much. I use my dreams as a basis for my poetry, which also proves to be quite therapeutic – drawing attention to the issues at hand. Hyper vigilance has emerged recently and I was wondering why.