Welcome to the second version of Codependency Diaries. As a reminder, these stories are based on real-life cases but not current clients. Names and situations have been changed but the story remains intact.
Day 1 presents a couple who are enmeshed with each other, a common trait of codependent relationships. Enmeshment is a description of a relationship between two or more people in which personal boundaries are permeable and unclear. This often happens on an emotional level in which two people “feel” each other’s emotions, or when one person becomes emotionally escalated and the other family member does as well. This often leads to vigilance concerning changes in mood and behavior, leading to escalating anger as insecurity takes over.
Our couple today are such a couple. By their own admission, they “live in a bubble” with total focus each other. Both have experienced previous marriages with self-centered, abusive individuals and are struggling with their new situation. Both are projecting their feelings from these experiences onto each other and many of their constant fights contain references to these previous partners.
W is a quiet women who has grown up with a dominant, loud and overbearing family. Being the youngest of five children, she was often overwhelmed and her needs were often placed behind four older boys. When she did express herself, she was often shouted down and told to “pipe down”. Her mother was very codependent on her father and that’s where her constant focus was. W felt alone and her self-esteem suffered. She married at 17 to a man who eventually abused and dominated her. the marriage ended when he cheated on her.
D is a large man but full of insecurities. When these insecurities get triggered, he can rage and then withdraw into silent treatment for days. His attitude is one of blame but mostly projection. D was abused as a child, physically and emotionally and grew up with a narcissistic mother who treated him badly and constantly complained to him about his father. He left home at 18 and married a woman who was clearly codependent. She left him after 20 years of marriage saying she didn’t love him.
D and W met each other three months after D’s breakup while he was still processing being “blindsided” by the separation. D and W work together and have isolated themselves from the world. They rely on each other for everything and the demands to meet each other’s needs are high. There is a high element of control between them as they fight to hold the upper hand in the relationship. Lately, their fights have increased and they are wondering if divorce is the best option.
D and W are enmeshed. They have lost their identities in each other and have isolated themselves from friends and family. Their expectations of each other to provide security are off the scale and conflict happens when these expectations are not met. They are two highly insecure people. Over a period of months, we worked together to build the trust needed to allow identities to heal and emerge, making them see that they had never really processed their childhoods or previous relationships. Over time, effective conflict management helped them to deal with large and small issues and as this happened, the need to be “joined at the hip” evaporated: They took the conscious step to expand social activities and their own individual pursuits that they had neglected. After a year and a half of therapy, we parted company.
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.