Codependents have a strong desire to help others. It is something they do on a regular basis. As I’ve noted in earlier writings, this giving is accompanied by an element of expectation of return… Giving for codependents equates to having control, and they strive to maintain that status quo. In spite of these efforts, things can go wrong and a decision must be taken… a decision that some people find simpler to make than others.
It takes more than a rational decision regarding the future of the relationship for a codependent to let go of the object of their affection. It’s also about being alone and the possibility of starting over. These factors are frequently the precise things that prevent them from finding the strength to terminate a relationship that is no longer serving them. In the end, the decision is frequently taken away from them and they are left feeling rejected and useless, as well as blaming themselves and feeling guilty. Rather than moving on, the natural impulse is to struggle even harder to cling on to what has been lost. Moving on appears to be impossible. They have, in their opinion, experienced the greatest loss of all. In fact, they have lost a place where they can devote their time and energy to constantly giving, sacrificing, and martyring, and they feel adrift without it. This frequently leads to depression or a frantic hunt for the next relationship.
For a codependent, this is a particularly perplexing period. How could someone abandon me after everything I’ve done for them? What could I have done differently? Will I ever be in love again? These are just a few of the thoughts I have heard from codependents while in treatment. They frequently fail to see that the split was unavoidable as a result of the partner they chose. A partner who may have taken everything he or she needed to get to that point and given very little. Codependents, on the other hand, want to believe that they can change individuals and will continue to attempt even when it is evident that this will not be successful. They put everything they have into it and then some, and they are doomed to failure. Often, the only way out is to confront the exact thing they fear the most… being alone. This does not mean for an indefinite period of time, but for long enough to allow them to work on themselves, identifying the fundamental causes of their codependency and reframing it. Improving self-esteem by learning techniques such as boundary setting and assertiveness training would be an aim.
Because codependents have a self-blaming mentality, they are simpler to work with in treatment. They are self-blaming and take too much responsibility for others… far too much. Once they are educated that they have a distinct identity from their “object,” which also need love and protection, they will be able to recover. When the correct conditions are in place, it is sometimes just necessary to shift attention inward instead than outward.
Break-ups can be nasty experiences and we all go through them. The best case scenario is that a couple can mutually agree to separate and logically work through that process. However, the presence of emotion and sometimes extreme emotion, makes that seemingly simple process extremely difficult. If you add into that mix, a level of codependency, then it complicates the matter greatly.
Anyone who identifies as a codependent, will naturally have two major issues that make separation from anybody or anything difficult. Firstly, connection is an issue in that as a child, the codependent did not connect fully with caregivers, might not have bonded with their mother and felt the need to exceed expectations in the form of achievement in order to gain approval. Secondly, it is very possible that due to the type of parenting style the codependent was subjected to, that boundaries and limits were not taught. The healthy setting of boundaries by parents and the setting of limits aids self-esteem and promotes healthy trust in relationships. Something codependents know little about.
Before we talk about break-ups, it is relevant to talk about codependent relationships in general. Given that connection was „worked“ for as a child, the adult mind will be seeking a connection with a „moving target“. In real terms, that means an emotionally unavailable or emotionally immature individual who has trouble processing emotional input and is more likely avoidant of feelings and sometimes empathy.
This is a mirror of events from the codependent‘s childhood and the same drive to connect is there. This is done with control measures designed to keep the object of their codependency in a certain space. Attempts at fixing, enabling, martyrdom, sacrifice, anger, victimhood are all tools at their disposal. These tools keep them highly focused on their partner and they are hypervigilant to changes in moods and behavior that might need a readjustment of their approach. It is an extremely intense process for all involved but can maintain itself over a sustained period, until it doesn‘t and that‘s where the issues really start.
Immediately after a break-up, a codependent will often be in shock that this has happened to them and the connection they so carefully nurtured has been ripped from their grasp. Their first instinct will be to try to re-establish a connection with either their ex-partner or someone else. The latter point is why we see many people jump from one relationship straight into another with often disastrous results. Taking the dysfunction from one to another never generally works.
Codependents are also often fixed on „winning“ back their ex partner and lots of focus is often placed on contact with the ex. A codependent‘s natural tendency is to attempt reconnection through various means. Firstly, an obsession can be created in an attempt to become quickly the person the ex wanted in the first place. This means a rapid change to new behavior and thinking based on the expectation that this will lead to reconciliation. Secondly, another tendency is to pepper the ex with emotional insights, realizations, updates about changes and any other reason they can find for contact.
This is a difficult period for a codependent who is often lost and spends generally, a lot of time trawling social media (including the ex) for answers and clues to what happened to them. Reconciliation, is of course always possible but it will only happen if the two people involved become healthy in their thinking. That does mean both people because it is likely the codependent was involved with someone who was also not healthy when it comes to connection. Often this is a pipe dream and the ex has maybe even moved on emotionally long before the separation. Letting go of the ambition to reconnect with an elusive ex is on of the biggest challenges facing a codependent after a break-up. Reconciliation is never guaranteed but is possible under certain conditions.
To aid recovery after a break-up, a therapist will be asking a codependent to attempt something that they have found near impossible before. That is to become a healthy individual who meets their own needs. They will see their needs in terms of what their ex might need or want but this has to be curtailed. The first part of the process is to be in touch with and allow any feelings that they have concerning the break-up. These need to be processed in therapy or by journaling and not in constant attempts to tell their ex how bad they feel. Secondly, any contact with the ex should be on practical matters only and no contact should be considered if abuse was present. Hard as this is and can be seen as cold turkey, it is actually an essential element of recovery.
Once this is established, the road to becoming a healthy individual means becoming a healthy, functioning adult who takes responsibility for their actions and can learn trust and fruitful connection. This can be a long road for some but it is a process and a process has an end at some point. How that end looks depends on many factors but the following tips will always help.
How to get over a bad break-up Part 1
How to get over a bad break-up Part 2
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner’s approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients’ internal “parts,” or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.