How to Handle Codependent Relationships
Some People Take But Never Give
We've all met them. Everyone I've talked to knows someone who seemed great to begin with but turned out to be a drain.
You find that you spend time supporting them but they don't give any support back. You want to end a conversation so you can get on with life but can't seem to pull it off gracefully. Whenever you try to stand up for a boundary you wind up the bad guy.
How does one cope with these relationships once they've started?
First, realize is that your actions contributed as much to the problem as the other person's. This isn't to say you should blame yourself. On the contrary, it's a good thing that you have some responsibility. Responsibility implies the ability to control the situation."Responsibility" = "The ability to respond."
You can't control random tornadoes, but you can control the people you let in your life.
We like others because of their unique qualities. We love them for how they make us feel about ourselves. When my children were born, I loved them dearly from the get-go. Why?
Not because of any quality of theirs. They were newborns, I had no idea who they were. They had no emotional self control, they had done no great things. Trust me, we did not have a single hobby or interest in common. Why then did I love them?
Because they made me feel proud, needed, looked up to and valuable. We love those who love us, it's often just that simple.
How Does It Work?
Codependent people are generally experts at making us feel honored, respected, looked up to and needed. The need to be needed is a powerful human social instinct. It's an incredibly strong force that can cause us to behave in the most outrageous ways. People who take more than they give are quite practiced at giving us the illusion that we're vital to their well being.
Any sane human wants to feel like the good guy, the hero. Codependent people play off of that, too. It's embarrassing when you're made to feel as though you've done something wrong. You can't quite put your finger on it, but you feel as though you've been a real jerk.
In order to fix this feeling inside yourself, you'll go to even greater lengths than you would have if you'd acquiesed to begin with. Any time you try to set a boundary, to stand up for your needs, you're shamed into doing what the codependent wants.
These two forces, the need to be needed and the need to be "a good person" are two steps in the codependent waltz. The third is emotional weariness. There comes a point at which it's just easier to give them what they want than to argue.You're so sick of the fight you can't seem to win that you'd just rather give in than keep going.
Your opponent uses every passive-aggressive trick in the book to keep you off balance, you feel that something is deeply wrong but you can't put your finger on what, and you just want to get away already.
When you give in to these three forces, you've become a codependent enabler. In order to get rid of codependent people, you must stop enabling them. How do you do this without losing your sense of self-worth, your sense of being a good person and your emotional judgement? By using logic.
What To Do About It?
Contrary to popular belief, logic and emotion do go together. You get rightfully angry at your spouse. Do you act on your anger and say everything that flies out of your mouth? Only if you want a long and pointless fight.
If you logically work out what's making you angry so that you can enlist your spouse in solving the problem, you'll wind up having a productive discussion instead of a screaming match. If you have to scream into a pillow a few times first, that's ok. It's still a much more logical course of action than engaging in a painful and unproductive fight.
Logic and codependency, on the other hand, are anathema to each other. The codependent is counting on illogic and illusion to fuddle you into behaving against your own best interests.
Logically, you are friends with people because you are greater together than you would be alone. You enjoy their company, they enjoy yours, you both get something out of it.
Friendship, intimacy and love are all refutations of the "dog-eat-dog" paradigm. When we engage in these good relationships, everybody benefits much more than they would without.
While everyone's going to get irritated with their nearest and dearest from time to time, if someone consistently annoys you, if you feel tired even thinking about them, it's a deep sign that something is wrong. Engage in a period of self reflection to find out exactly what's going on inside your own head.
Why do you feel this way? Is it your friend, or something from your past? Are they consistently taking from you without giving back, or are you letting maladaptive personal patterns interfere with your friendship? Be honest in answering these questions.
If you find that this "friend" is taking much more from you than they give, you must act. Analyze the problem thoroughly, identify the exact behaviors that are the problem, and calmly bring them up. Once.
Do not use "you" statements, use "I" statements. "I find it really annoying to be called at ten in the evening. I have to get up early and it's hitting right when I'm going to bed," instead of "You need to quit calling me at ten at night!"
Keeping your statements focused on yourself doesn't put the other person on the defensive. Instead, it invites a solution. In this scenario, if your friend really is your friend and didn't know she was costing you that much, she'll be able to understand rather than just react. Then, you can work on reaching a solution together.
If, on the other hand, they start making it your fault, "Well, you know I like calling you then and there's really nothing I can do about it. Don't you like me enough to deal with it?", you know you have a bona-fide codependent on your hands. If your friends don't care enough about you to work with you on a solution, they're not your friends.
At that point, you just need to walk away instead of continuing the discussion, just tell them, "Then I'm sorry, we really can't be friends. I can't afford it." Again, keep it to "I" statements.
Codependents will then try to make you feel like the worst person in the world. Do not fall for it. They are playing the newborn baby, wailing to get you to take care of their needs and wants. If you didn't give birth to them, you're not responsible for them.
You have to have the strength to walk away. Completely. Politely cut off contact, utterly fail to get drawn into an emotional discussion, do not answer their multiple phone calls, tearful apologies, heartfelt confessions, rages or anything else. If you accept a tearful apology, listen to a heartfelt confession or take a rage seriously, you just started the dance all over again.
Don't get offended, don't give in to the need to defend yourself from accusations, just politely stop talking.
Make no mistake, walking away is one of the hardest things anyone can ever do. It's not easy to fail to defend yourself against an accusation. However, if you do, you've opened the conversation back up to your eventual misery.
A codependent will use everything at his or her disposal to get you to open up and let it all back in. Accusing you of terrible things is an easy way to do just that.
In addition, you may want to get help from one of the numerous support groups for codependent enablers. These are usually free and help with defusing the mind games and insults heaped on your head.
Codependent support group members and administrators have been down the merry illogic dance before, and will work with you to take apart and eliminate the illusory mental structures used on you.
I decided to write this Hub because I come from a huge family of mentally ill people. I grew up with relatives who are co-dependent, bi-polar, schizophrenic, clinically depressed and narcissistic (in the psychiatric sense). Fortunately I and my immediate family don't suffer from it, but I've had to gain quite a bit of training and understanding in order to successfully talk with my grandparents and other relatives.
It took me ten years to learn how to successfully deal with codependency. I didn't believe that I had to be that cold, I wanted to believe that love would conquer all.
Love does conquer all, but sometimes only on a rocky road. The kind of caring that works is the kind where you care about other people's actual well being. The codependent is just as, if not more, miserable than the people around him or her.
Allowing codependents to go on feeding on you just makes them worse, whereas confronting with reality may "turn on a light" and get them to accept the therapy and healing they so desperately need.