There’s no debating it. Codependents are nice.
If you are codependent, people will usually describe you as sweet, loyal and selfless. But if you were to plunge an emotional stethoscope into the core of the codependent, you’d likely find fear, loneliness and neediness that runs contrary to their “I’m so nice and together” image.
The motto of many codependents would read something like this:
“If I am useful to others by taking care of them and their needs,
I'll be valuable and lovable”
My work with codependency straddles the personal and professional. This means that part of what I need to do to keep healthy is to scrutinize my own motivations for my codependent behaviour. This blog reflects the insights I have made both professionally and personally into my own codependency.
The reigning idea of codependents is that they are martyr figures who are too nice and too good for their own good. However, it seems like there is more to it than this.
Is codependency a version of narcissism?
This might sound outrageous. But let’s first take a closer look at some of the hallmark signs of narcissism and codependency.
The DSM describes narcissists as:
- Having an exaggerated sense of self importance
- Tend to conceal their ‘weaknesses’
- Believing that they are superior, special or ‘unique’
- Hide traits that they think are weak by meeting other peoples’ needs as they gain approval and acceptance
- Set themselves apart by acting as if they don’t need anything from others
- Believe they are responsible for what the addict in their life says and does
TOO LITTLE SELF vs TOO MUCH SELF
Typically, codependents act 'selflessly' and are considered as suffering from a ‘loss of self.’ In stark contrast, we see narcissists as self-centered and seem to suffer from having ‘too much self’. So looking at it this way, there would appear to be no intersection between these two extremes, right?
Let's do a double take.
CODEPENDENTS AND ADDICTION
There is a saying, "if you scratch addiction, you'll find a codependent." While addicts can have their own issues with codependency, I'll be referring to the addict and the codependent separately in this blog.
In the context of addiction, codependents are usually the the parents, spouses and/or children who are the most profoundly affected by their loved ones’ addiction.
As addiction gains momentum and becomes more destructive, these family members often end up finding themselves addicted to their loved ones’ addiction.
The addict's addiction ends up being a compulsive thought and fear, burrowing itself in to every crevice of the codependent's psyche. Because their powerlessness over the addiction is too frightening to bear, the codependent will make it his/her mission to manage - or if they are really good - to stop the addiction.
However despite their best intentions to love the addict, codependent family members will often end up enabling addiction by making themselves indispensable to the addict.
We are all familiar with the parents who support addiction by becoming the addicts’ financier as they provide housing, food, and cash. The belief here is that the harder they work and the more they do, they can somehow save the addict.
Codependent family members also find themselves walking on eggshells around the addict. The rule here is that they need to monitor everything they say and do because if they misstep, the addict will use. That's an excessive burden of responsibility to bear.
When codependents think they have ultimate power over the addiction, they might as well put on a cape and assume superhero status.
However the sad reality is they are not superheros. They are human. And they are powerless over the addiction.
It takes a person to believe in their own specialness in order to feel they have that much power and responsibility in the face of someone else's addiction.
Even when working with addicts, I need to be mindful of my inherent limitations because I don't have the power to control whether or not an addicted client uses.
As a codependent, this is one of the hardest parts of my job.
CODEPENDENCY IN RELATIONSHIPS
Whether the relationship is romantic or platonic, codependents will skillfully orbit around the other, making them the center of their galaxy.
Whether it involves rearranging your schedule, being the ‘go to person’ to solve everyone’s problems or not asking for help when you need it, the primary focus for the codependent is to accommodate others not just to make other people happy but so they meet their own needs of being secure, worthwhile and powerful.
Being able to meet - and exceed - other's needs is the the codependent's most prized currency.
It's crucial to keep mindful of what motivates codependent behaviour. Codependents are usually meeting their own needs above all.
By prioritizing and meeting the needs of others,
codependents gain and secure value and worth.
This behaviour is compulsive and it can become insidious. As it progresses, the codependent will lose sense of their needs and preferences. The codependent becomes fused with the other; Instead of seeing themselves as a separate entity, they only see themselves in relation to the people in their lives.
Part of what strengthens the cycle of codependency is their belief that they are the only one who is strong and capable enough to glue back whatever falls apart in their life or in the lives of others.
Because they believe everything is their responsibility.
The narcissism of codependency is about specialness.
The best codependents can throw out the life preserver out for other people but neglect to use one for themselves -because they don't believe they need one. A disconnect in their psyche grows as the smile on their face contradicts feelings of fear and desperation on the inside. But unless one is connected to their inner world, one will disown parts of themselves that don't fit into the narrative.
So let's return to our hero. If this person was motivated by maintaining a sense of their own power and control over life by making things better for everyone all the time ; If this person never showed signs of weakness, would we see them as codependent or narcissistic?
If you are trying to be a superhero in your own life and want to examine your own codependency, email me for a free 15 minute consultation.