Codependency and Emotional Abuse

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Relationships between people are healthy when they are interconnected.  In an interconnected relationship, each person has his or her own needs met and strives to meet the needs of the other person.  A problem occurs, however, when relationships are not just interconnected but are codependent. 

In codependent relationships, the needs of one person being filled by the other are unhealthy or inappropriate.  One of the most common scenarios of codependency is an alcoholic who is routinely supplied with liquor by the other person in the relationship, even though the alcoholic can become verbally or physically abusive when intoxicated.  The question then becomes, “Why would that person go along with an even support such behavior?”  The answer is codependency, and quite often the reason is emotional abuse

The emotionally abused find themselves in codependent relationships because of a desire to be needed, even if the need is to provide the next drink.  In addition, even though a relationship is codependent, at least it is dependent in some sense.  Emotional abuse often leaves scarring on the abused’s sense of value.  They feel unworthy to be loved, in and of themselves.  In a codependent relationship, their worth is easily defined.  They are often told how important they are to that person, especially when they are providing what that person wants.  To feel value, even based on inappropriate or harmful behavior, the person who has been emotionally abused will enter into or continue in an unhealthy codependent relationship. 

The emotional abuse succeeds when he or she is able to replace your own control over yourself with his or her control.  You no longer trust yourself but instead allow the abuser to hold undue influence over your thoughts and actions.  The abuser becomes, in essence, a part of you, controlling you and how you view yourself and your world.  The boundary where you start and the abuser ends is blurred.  

In subsequent relationships you may find yourself completely giving in to the other person, totally submerging yourself in the other person’s personality, accepting his or her view of the world and of you.  Unfortunately, you may seek someone who is dominant and controlling with whom to establish a relationship.  The roles in this new relationship will fit into a predictable pattern. 

On the other hand, you may be extremely sensitive to anything you think seems remotely like control.  It may be difficult for you to maintain intimate relationships because the giving necessary to have intimacy may trigger a highly sensitive response on your part.  Additionally, you may be very suspicious of anything who seeks to get to know you in a deep, personal way.  You may put up barriers to keep people out. 

Finally, there is danger of becoming extremely self-absorbed.  If your experience has always been that whatever you did or didn’t do brought an immediate, extreme reaction, you may have concluded that the world really did, in effect, revolve around you.  You may have developed a habit of analyzing everything that happens around you as it relates to you. 

While these tactics helped you survive your abuse, they have left you ill-prepared to operate within healthy, positive relationships.  Attempting to submerge yourself completely into a healthy relationship may make you appear possessive and clingy, suffocating the other person.  On the other hand, a suspicion of intimacy and a general aloofness may dissuade most others from event attempting a relationship with you.  And being extremely self-absorbed leaves little room for thoughts of others. 

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.


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