Nobody, under any circumstances, has the right to treat another person badly, with disdain or aggression. Given some of the stories I hear in therapy, you are correct in questioning whether such advice exists at all. There are people who walk this earth with an inflated feeling of entitlement, believing that their demands and desires take precedence over everything else, even another’s personal integrity and boundaries. You know the sort, never wrong, unbelievably arrogant, and capable of shutting down any discussion that contradicts what they think to be true. In general, a challenging person to deal with because of their tendency to be excessively rigid and controlling. While this can be seen a protective measure, it is nonetheless tough to live with.
Individuals that are adept at setting boundaries and possess a sense of Self will not tolerate such behaviour for an extended period of time. When they recognise that it makes little sense to constantly assert and maintain their boundaries, they will rationally conclude that the relationship is unworkable, which is generally correct. These are the healthy, conscious individuals who believe they deserve better than to be repeatedly chastised and have their boundaries violated. It’s mentally taxing, and relationships shouldn’t be that difficult!
Many of the codependents with whom I work are fascinated by the subject of narcissism, which they believe plays a significant role in their lives. Due to their reputation as people who attract the disagreeable, they have often had to deal with the greatest excesses of this type of conduct. Many people remain in relationships with someone who has this personality type for many years before “realising” and becoming aware of their situation. When this happens, there is usually an all-out panic pushed by friends, therapists, and social media to get away as quickly as possible and enforce “no contact,” which is the unwritten norm for dealing with such people.
A fast search on the internet will turn up thousands of pages written by people who have been in similar situations and are now counselling others on how to avoid making the same mistakes. Good. While I completely agree with this approach in the case of abuse, it is not always as straightforward as it appears, and much of this advise is based on the writer’s personal life, making it unique to them alone. Codependency is primarily about losing one’s identity in another person and exerting control over one’s environment in order to feel safe. It is simple to state “he or she is a narcissist” and believe that this would solve all of your problems.
When we engage in “no contact,” there is a risk that we will utilise this opportunity to essentially point fingers and assign blame. Our internal monologue includes statements such as “I am a victim” and “He or she did this to me.” By doing so and putting the emphasis on this or that relationship, we are losing the fundamental purpose of the discussion. That codependents must accept full responsibility for their own set of behavioural problems is essential. Now, hopefully, this will occur during the period of no contact, but I’m curious as to how many people are simply taking advantage of this opportunity to exchange one mismatched partner for another. Being a codependent myself, and having worked through my issues, I am able to deal with the occasional relapse…. I put forth the effort (despite how difficult it was) and learned by trial and error. I recognised that the most significant component in my codependency was not the self-centered people with whom I became engaged, but rather my own difficulties that drew them to me and left me unable to make the correct decisions. I had to rescue, fix, and control a lot of things, and it wasn’t until I focused on what I could do to stop it that things truly started moving forward for me. I recognised that these individuals were merely symptoms, not the underlying reason.
Codependency is not about other people; rather, it is about YOU, yes YOU, accepting responsibility for aspects of your conduct that leave you vulnerable to being taken advantage of or exploited by others. Realize it, become conscious of it, work on it, and make it a thing of the past. Simple. The reason for this is self-evident. Your codependency began in childhood when you were unable to reason with or manage the overwhelming critical and protective voices that later became ingrained in your personality as an adult. That is a valid explanation, but it is not an excuse for failing to act as a cognizant, self-aware adult. According to my observations, the following variables must be addressed in order to achieve effective treatment.
Self-care is important. For codependents, this is a foreign concept. Why do you need to look after yourself when you are taking care of the rest of the world and it makes you feel good about yourself? Except that it won’t when everything comes crashing down and you’re left all by yourself.
Care-taking. Martyrdom and sacrifice may make you appear as if you are an angel in the eyes of your friends and family, but what about the sentiments of rage, victimhood, and resentment that you may have when you do not receive the reward you desire or expect?
There is a lack of boundary setting. Yes, you were never taught, but you have the ability to learn. Yes, it is more convenient to remain silent and say “yes” rather than “no.” It’s easy to tell yourself that you can’t do it, yet boundaries are necessary in any loving relationship. Period.
Enabling/controlling. How many times have you expressed dissatisfaction with someone’s behaviour and done nothing to change it other than to enable that behaviour at the earliest opportunity? How often do you and your pals get together and complain about how horrible your lives are, just to return to the same old routine? You tell your therapist that you want to change, but the truth is that you are very content on the path of fixing, rescuing, and providing opportunities for others. Until, of course, you’re left alone, which will undoubtedly happen at some point.
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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.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com