The ideal woman for many men comes straight out of a codependent checklist. Many women are taught from an early age that they have to be a certain “way” around men. I have often dealt with women who are involved with abusive, emotionally distant men and cannot see that this is not functional for them. When the relationship is finally over, they are likely to move on the next one that is a mirror image. They often proclaim in therapy that they do not understand how it happened to them. How a sensible, logical person could fall for that! However, they do and it astounding how often women fall into this situation. It is also significant that most narcissist types are men, probably for similar reasons that we will discuss here.
In therapy, we often look at childhood to see where codependent tendencies started. I firmly believe that a type of socialization takes place at this time that not only is the root of codependency but also consolidates the idea of codependency. If we look at the typical behaviors associated with codependency, we can see that it is highly dysfunctional :
- Codependents gain positive feelings from being liked and accepted by other people.
- Codependents have a focus on helping and fixing other people
- Codependents believe that everything happening around them is something to do with them
- Partners are often seen as an extension of the codependent
- Codependents sense and feel failure if they cannot control all around them
- Codependents fear rejection and abandonment and will do anything to avoid this
- Codependents will sacrifice, martyr but show rage when there is no return
Where women are concerned, much of this behavior comes from conditioning. They see their parents behaving in the same way and see this as a blueprint for relationships. This socialization starts almost from birth. Many women will learn that they have to subdue themselves around male members of the family in an overt or covert manner. They learn that they must let men take the lead, to be pleasant, avoid certain behavior while learning others. In effect, they learn that they must let the man shine and they must stand back and work hard for affection and validation. This is often passed down from one generation to another, backed up by societal and religious concepts. Even if on the surface, everyone is equal, many women see their mothers, aunts, grandmothers in codependent relationships and believe that is the way it works. These women “struggle” on in relationships that mean their needs are not being met. Their partners are often hopelessly emotionally distant and unhelpful. Family and societal roles are fixed in stone and passed on to the next generation. Any women who tries to break this might be seen as “difficult”. Some very educated and academic women have described such a situation to me and find it hard to shake it loose.
Many men consolidate this in their search for a partner. Often, a man will be looking for a woman who looks after his needs while he provides. For many the definition of a “good woman or wife” can be compared directly to codependency. In many relationships, women will assume the role of the carer. Some will even give up good jobs in order to do so, mirroring what they experienced in childhood. Years spent in this type of situation can bring resentment, anger and confusion as to “how this happened”. This is where I usually find clients, just after a break up and trying to make sense of it all.
The power of conditioning is sometimes overwhelming and can dictate on an unconscious level how we live our lives. The conditioning we are subjected to is not our responsibility but it is 100% our responsibility to change it if we feel it is needed.
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.