In a previous blog, I explained that codependent marriage junkies try to make their partner totally dependent on them, so they will never be able to leave. This kind of codependency is the result of a childhood that was full of unmet needs. The codependent believes that if they sacrifice enough, their partner will give them everything they didn’t get when they were growing up.
Codependent adults grew up in families where there was not a lot of nurturing. It’s more common in children of alcoholics, drug addicts and abusers, but lack of nurturing can occur in all kinds of families in many different ways. The children learn that what the parents need and want is more important than what the children need and want. When the children demand care, the parents either don’t respond, or respond by telling them they are selfish or undeserving, or with verbal or even physical attacks. As a result, the children feel guilty asking for care.
Typically, these kinds of needy parents express love for their children only when the children are taking care of the parents. The message is that to be loved, to be a good person, you must take care of others and ask nothing in return. The codependent learns that the way to get love it to rescue others as they always tried to rescue their parents.
When children aren’t nurtured or cherished as individuals, they feel abandoned, helpless, isolation, and hopeless. Their true self isn’t seen, or isn’t valued. While a healthy, nurtured child becomes confident and proud of who they are, the neglected child becomes ashamed of who they truly are. Their true self with all its needs and desires and dreams is buried.
A neglected child feels they will never be good enough, and so they project a false self the person they think they must become in order to get what they need. They become further and further removed from their true self and more convinced that if they can just give up enough of themselves, they will finally be loved. Codependency thrives in this shame-filled, inauthentic, desperate space.
At the bottom of codependency is extreme giving to others to get love and acceptance, to feel needed. Codependents expect others will be grateful for all this selflessness, and if others are not, they feel resentful and unappreciated. Rather than leaving the relationship, they just try harder. This cycle of shame and effort and codependence feeds the marriage addiction.
At the core of this negation of self is fear. Codependents are afraid they will be exposed,that people will see how unlovable they really are and abandon them. They’re afraid to make a mistake, afraid to be less than perfect, afraid they’ll never be enough. They’re also afraid to be alone, and need constant affirmation and companionship. They need to be needed, because they believe that someone will stay with them only if that person is dependent on them.
If you think this describes you, there is an organization called Codependents Anonymous (CoDA.org) that may be helpful.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. She is also the author of Love Smacked and Infinite Recovery. Take her quiz to find out if you are a love addict or sign up for a 30-minute strategy session. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, CA as well as facilitating skype and phone appointments. For more information, visit www.sherrygaba.com.