Codependents love to give. It is what they do, continually. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this giving comes with an element of return… giving for codependents means having control and they try to keep that status quo. However, despite these attempts, it sometimes goes wrong and a decision needs to be made… a decision that some find easier to make than others.
For a codependent, letting go of the object of their desires is more than a just decision about the relationship. It is also about being alone and potentially starting again. These factors are usually the very things that keep them from finding the strength to end something that is not working for them. Ultimately, the decision is often taken out of their hands and they are left, leaving them feeling rejected and worthless, blaming themselves and feeling guilty. The reaction is to try even harder to hold onto what is lost rather than move on. Moving on seems impossible. They have in their eyes, suffered the greatest loss of all. In effect, they have lost a place to constantly focus on giving, sacrificing and martyring, and they feel lost without it. This often drives them to depression or the quick search for the next relationship.
This is a very confusing time for a codependent. After giving so much, how could anyone leave me? What could I have done differently? Will I ever love again? Just some of the thoughts I have heard in therapy with codependents. They often fail to realize that the breakup was inevitable due to the partner they chose. A partner who may have taken all he or she needed to that point. However, codependents like to think they can change people and continue to try long after it is clear that this will not happen. They throw all they have at this and more and are destined for disappointment. Often, the remedy is to face the very things they fear the most… being alone. This does not mean forever but for long enough to work on themselves looking at the root cause of their codependency and reframing it. Learning to improve self-esteem and tools such as boundary settings.
Codependents are easier to work with in therapy because they have an attitude of self-blame. They blame themselves and take responsibility for others… too much. Once they can be taught that they have a separate identity to their “object” which needs love and protection, they can recover. It is sometimes just the case that giving needs to be turned inward when the right conditions exist.
When you recognise and become aware that you are indeed a codependent, the hard work really starts. Even codependents who have a good handle on their triggers and situations that could cause a relapse have to fight hard to keep them in check. As one of my recovering patients said quite rightly “You are only one thought away from relapse”. I know from my own experience and that of others that even the smallest relapse back into codependency can be a devastating feeling associated with doubt, guilt and shame. The very emotions that helped to create the codependent in the first instance. To some, the hard productive work done in recovery is overshadowed by this perceived “failure”.
Often, the relapse is down to contact with a former “object” or someone or something that triggers similar feelings. Once that happens (and depending on the state of recovery), it might take some time to get back on track. I have seen some clients completely thrown off course. Much of this is down to expectations set at the start of recovery and of course boundaries previously set around “toxic” people. The setting of boundaries is an essential process of the road to recovery even if there might be some people who might attempt to storm through any boundaries set.
Why do codependents allow this to happen? We can again look at a client’s history for the answer. Somewhere in childhood, they felt abandoned, insecure or generally unloved. As children, we find it hard to separate ourselves from our family and even the smallest indication that we are to be left alone will, over time develop feelings that we are unlovable and not good enough. When these concepts are not dealt with, they become part of our adult “psyche”. Unresolved issues that really never go away. It generally leads to a fear of emotional and physical intimacy. Only we truly reframe those early experiences and learn that we can make a choice to change our conditioning, will we have the insight to deal with the issue.