Are you attracted to bad boys/girls, lost souls, or people who can rescue you? Do you tend to find yourself in bad relationships over and over again? The term “codependency” has generally been linked with people who tend to get themselves into abusive relationships, or relationships that are affected by substance abuse. However, this sophisticated (and subconsciously learned) way of viewing the world, the self and relationships is much more widespread than you may realize.
Here are just a few symptoms of codependency. Ask yourself if you…
- Caretake or enable others?
- Need to be needed?
- Need someone to save you?
- Blame other people for your behavior?
- Tend to find people to rescue you?
- Have a constant need for approval?
- Feel responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings, choices and well-being?
- Feel strongly compelled to solve other people’s problems?
- Feel pity, guilt or anxiety when other people have problems
- Anticipate other people’s needs?
- Feel safer when you are giving?
- Need a crisis in your life or you feel bored?
- Always attracting needy people?
- Grew up with a family member who was constantly sick, unhealthy or out of control?
- Feel the need to control those around you with guilt, advice-giving, domination or other forms of manipulation?
- Feel controlled by others?
- Feel a lot of guilt, shame and obligation?
- Feel like a victim?
- A caretaker in the bedroom?
- Feel like it’s always your fault?
- Feel like it’s always everyone else’s fault?
- Feel entitled to be rescued or taken care of by others?
- Try to be “needed” to avoid being abandoned?
- Ignore, justify or repress your problems?
- Lie to yourself to stay confused and wonder why you feel like you are going crazy?
- Try to prove that you are good enough?
- Stay in relationships that don’t work?
- Look for love from people who are incapable of loving you the way you need them to?
- Blame, manipulate, beg or offer unwarranted advice?
- Have a hard time saying no?
- Have a hard time asserting yourself or being clear about what you want?
- Become cynical or passive-aggressive when you don’t get what you want?
- Tolerate way too much from others? –or-Tend to be totally rigid?
- Have a hard time trusting yourself or others?
- Have a lot of built up anger that you are carrying around?
- Find it difficult to get close to people?
- Feel like a martyr?
If some of these symptoms sound familiar, it would probably be worth your while to learn more about codependency and do something about it. Codependency can wreak havoc on your relationships, impair your success in the work place, cause depression, violence, neglect, substance abuse problems and other mental illness. Worst of all, unless you deal with your codependent issues, you will likely pass them onto your children.
Despite the relatively widespread symptoms and complicated nature of codependency, the Karpman Drama Triangle describes the three basic roles that people play in codependent systems fairly simply.
Imagine yourself standing in a black box with three holes you can look through. One hole is labeled “victim”, so everyone you see out of that hole is a victim. One hole is labeled “persecutor”, so everyone you see out of that hole is a bad guy or an attacker. The last hole is labeled “rescuer”, so everyone you see out that hole is a savior of some kind. Now imagine that everyone in your family is also standing in a similar black box, and can only see you as a victim, persecutor or rescuer.
a) Setting boundaries is perceived as persecuting.
b) Taking care of the self is categorized as persecuting or selfishness.
c) People with problems are perceived as victims. Rescuers flock to perceived victims, even if they don’t need rescuing.
Imagine that every bit of information you receive from other people must pass through one of these “holes”, or it just doesn’t get in. How would you reach out to the world if the only way you could do it was by being a victim, a rescuer or a persecutor? Would you create situations where you needed to be rescued? Seek out people who needed to be rescued? Find ways to act out? That is often the dilemma otherwise healthy children are faced with when trying to relate with their dysfunctional families.
It is difficult to transition out of codependency for three main reasons. First, a person who is codependent likely comes from a codependent family and has attracted codependent relationships. Often, efforts to move outside of the codependent mindset are sabotaged and undermined by the people you think love you the most. A system established will fight to maintain itself and it’s lonely starting over.
Secondly, some of the beliefs (perhaps believing that you truly are a victim, a bad person, or that you must rescue others in order to be loved) are deeply subconsciously embedded. That doesn’t mean that you cannot identify these beliefs and do something about it, but it means that you must become aware and work actively towards change. I have found that hypnotherapy is an excellent tool for people who want to move past some of their old programming.
The third reason it is difficult to change is that many people are terrified of how they are going to conduct their relationships, get their needs met, or make decisions. A rescuer would have to perhaps face the fear of being abandoned if he/she doesn’t keep rescuing. A victim might have to face the fear of making his/her own mistakes or forego the sympathy of the rescuer. The persecutor may have to find new, strange ways of setting boundaries and getting his/her needs met other than intimidation and manipulation.
This series on codependency will cover where codependency comes from, how it manifests itself and how to overcome it. In the meantime, if you would like to begin working on your own codependency issues here is your homework for the this week…
Make a genogram of your family. When you have your family listed on the genogram, begin to label each family member with the role they tended to take on (including yourself!). Just begin to notice in your everyday thoughts and interactions how you tend to take on certain roles. You might begin to write these down in a journal. The more you can identify the rescuer, victim and persecutor, the easier it will be to let go of the roles.