Writers often distinguish narcissists (someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder) and codependents as opposites, but surprisingly, though their outward behavior may differ, they share many psychological traits. In fact, narcissists exhibit core codependent symptoms of shame, denial, control, dependency (unconscious), and dysfunctional communication and boundaries, all leading to intimacy problems. One study showed a significant correlation between narcissism and codependency.[i] Although most narcissists can be classified as codependent, but the reverse isn’t true – most codependents aren’t narcissists. They don’t exhibit common traits of exploitation, entitlement, and lack of empathy. more
Living with an addict (including alcoholics) can feel like life in a war zone. The addict’s personality changes caused by addiction create chaos. Family dynamics are organized around the substance abuser, who acts like a tyrant, denying that drinking or using is a problem, while issuing orders and blaming everyone else. To cope and avoid confrontations, typically, family members tacitly agree to act as if everything is normal, not make waves, and not mention addiction. Family members deny what they know, feel, and see. This all takes a heavy psychological toll, often causing trauma, especially on those most vulnerable, the children. Yet more than half are in denial that they have an addicted parent.
Getting your “buttons” pushed or getting “triggered” is an opportunity to heal and grow. The more hurts we’ve endured and the weaker our boundaries, the more reactive we are to people and events. Our triggers – our buttons – are our wounds. Codependents are off the charts when it comes to reacting to others’ feelings, needs, problems, opinions, wants, and more. When we react, we permit our insides to be taken over by someone or something outside of us. There’s no filter or boundary. We’re pulled off center and might start thinking about that person or about what might happen in the future. Negative reactions easily escalate hurt feelings and conflict. Often, however, we’re really reacting to someone from our past.
A wise, apropos Al-Anon slogan is “Q-Tip,” – “Quit Taking It Personally.” Interpreting someone else’s words or actions to be a comment about us is taking another person’s feelings personally. We might react with guilt or defensiveness, because we assume we’re the cause of someone else’s negative emotion or problem. We have just taken on the other person’s problem or shame when they shame or blame us. Our peace of mind and self-esteem now resides with someone else. more
Trust is a fragile. Secrets and lies jeopardize trust and can damage us and our relationships – sometimes irreparably.
We all tell “white lies.” We say “I’m fine,” when we’re not, compliment unwanted gifts, or even fib, “The check is in the mail.” But in an intimate relationship, emotional honesty includes allowing our partner to know who we are. Honesty is more than simply not lying. Deception includes making ambiguous or vague statements, telling half-truths, manipulating information through emphasis, exaggeration, or minimization, and withholding information or feelings that are important to someone who has a “right to know” because it affects the relationship and that person’s free choice. Although we may consider ourselves honest, few of us reveal all our negative thoughts and feelings about people we are close to. It requires the courage to be vulnerable and authentic. more
Codependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” Our focus on others helps alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but by ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, sacrificing ourselves, finances, or values to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction. more
If you’re in an abusive relationship, you may wonder if your partner is a narcissist or sociopath and whether or not the relationship will improve. If so, or if you recently ended such a relationship, it can undermine your self-esteem and ability to trust yourself and others.
The labels sociopath and psychopath have often been used interchangeably; however, sociopathy is correctly referred to “Anti-Social Personality Disorder.” (APD) Unlike mood disorders, which fluctuate, personality disorders, including APD and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), are enduring, pervasive – affecting a wide range of situations, and are difficult to treat. Signs may be evident by adolescence, but a diagnosis isn’t made until adulthood.
Diagnosis of Anti-Social Personality Disorder
To qualify for a diagnosis of APD, the patient must have had a conduct disorder by 15 years old, and show at least four of these traits: more
When our self-esteem is low, which is typical of codependency, we’re at greater risk for depression. Codependency is learned, and so are self-esteem and the beliefs and habits that cause both low self-esteem and codependency. Self-esteem is what we think about ourselves. It includes positive and negative self-evaluations. Good self-esteem is a realistic, positive self-concept. It reflects self-respect and implies a feeling of worth that’s not determined by comparison to, or approval from, others. Self-acceptance (which some writers include as part of self-esteem) is even deeper. It’s a feeling of being good enough, neither perfect, nor inadequate. We feel we have worth and are lovable, not merely because of beauty, talent, achievement, intelligence, status, or popularity. It’s a sense of inner contentment. more
We all want to get our needs met, but manipulators use underhanded methods. Manipulation is a way to covertly influence someone with indirect, deceptive, or abusive tactics. Manipulation may seem benign or even friendly or flattering, as if the person has your highest concern in mind, but in reality it’s to achieve an ulterior motive. Other times, it’s veiled hostility, and when it becomes abusive, the objective is merely power. You may not realize that you’re being intimidated.
If you grew up being manipulated, it’s harder to discern what’s going on, because it feels familiar. You might have a gut feeling of discomfort or anger, but on the surface the manipulator may use words that are pleasant, ingratiating, reasonable, or that play on your guilt or sympathy, so you override your instincts and don’t know what to say. Codependents have trouble being direct and assertive and may use manipulation to get their way. They’re also easy prey for being manipulated by narcissists, borderline personalities, sociopaths, and other codependents, including addicts. more
Communication is so important that it can make or break a relationship, is critical to success, and instantly reflects your self-esteem to listeners – for better or for worse. Assertive communication commands respect, projects confidence, and inspires influence. It’s respectful, direct, honest, open, non-threatening and non-defensive. It’s not demanding, aggressive, or manipulative.
Communication is learned. With practice you can learn to communicate assertively, which will raise your self-esteem and self-assurance and improve your relationships and professional performance. Research has established that even fetuses can learn to communicate with their mothers. To learn the keys to assertiveness discussed below, remember the 6 C’s: more
Research has well-established the link between good self-esteem and relationship satisfaction. Self-esteem not only affects how we think about ourselves, but also how much love we’re able to receive and how we treat others, especially in intimate relationships.
A person’s initial level of self-esteem prior to the relationship predicts partners’ common relationship satisfaction. More specifically, although happiness generally declines slightly over time, this isn’t true for people who enter a relationship with higher levels of self-esteem. But the steepest decline is for people whose self-esteem was lower to begin with. Frequently, those relationships don’t last. Even though communication skills, emotionality, and stress all influence a relationship, a person’s past experience and personality traits affect how these issues are managed and therefore have the greatest bearing on its outcome. more
Many people, especially codependents, are haunted by inner loneliness. Twenty percent (60 million) of Americans report that loneliness is the source of their suffering. In fact, our emotional reaction to rejection emanates from the area of our brain (the dorsal anterior cingulated) that also responds to physical pain. (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008)
Loneliness is associated with living alone, which surveys indicate has steadily risen to 27 percent in 2013 and to 50 percent and higher in parts of Florida, West Virginia, and especially California. However, being alone only describes a physical condition. We don’t always feel lonely when we’re alone. Individual needs for connection vary. Some people choose to live solo and are happier doing so. They don’t suffer the same sense of abandonment caused by the unwanted loss of a partner through a break-up, divorce, or death. They may also have greater inherited insensitivity to social disconnection, according to recent research. more
We’re wired for attachment – why babies cry when separated from their mothers. Depending especially upon our mother’s behavior, as well as later experiences and other factors, we develop a style of attaching that affects our behavior in close relationships.
Fortunately, most people have a secure attachment, because it favors survival. It ensures that we’re safe and can help each other in a dangerous environment. The anxiety we feel when we don’t know the whereabouts of our child or of a missing loved one during a disaster, as in the movie “The Impossible,” isn’t codependent. It’s normal. Frantic calls and searching are considered “protest behavior,” like a baby fretting for its mother. more
Anxiety is apprehension of experiencing fear in the future. The danger feared isn’t imminent and may not even be known or realistic. In contrast, fear is an emotional and physical reaction to a present, known threat. Anxiety is typically characterized by obsessive worry and an inability to concentrate that may affect our sleep.
It can trigger a full-blown fight-flight-or-freeze response of our sympathetic nervous system that prepares us to meet real danger; however, a big difference between fear and anxiety is that because anxiety is an emotional response to something that hasn’t occurred, there is nothing to fight or flee. Therefore, tension builds up inside our body, but there is no action we can take to release it. Instead, our mind goes round and round, replaying possibilities and scenarios. more
We all experience guilt from time to time. But many of us have a hard time letting go of it and find it difficult to forgive ourselves, even though we may readily forgive others. First of all, it’s important to recognize whether our guilt is true or false. Just because we feel guilty, that doesn’t mean we are. Feelings aren’t facts. And even if our guilt is “true”–that we’ve morally transgressed, we’re still worthy and capable of forgiveness.
Passive-aggressive people act passive, but express aggression covertly. They’re basically obstructionist, and try to block whatever it is you want. Their unconscious anger gets transferred onto you, and you become frustrated and furious. Your fury is theirs, while they may calmly ask, “Why are you getting so angry?” and blame you for the anger they’re provoking.
Passive-aggressive partners are generally codependent, and like codependents, suffer from shame and low self-esteem. Their behavior is designed to please to appease and counter to control. You may be experiencing abuse, but not realize it, because their strategy of expressing hostility is covert and manipulative, leading to conflict and intimacy problems.
Sons of narcissistic fathers are driven by lack of confidence. Raised by a self-centered, competitive, arrogant father, they feel like they can never measure up or are enough to garner their father’s approval. Their father may be absent or critical and controlling. He may belittle and shame his son’s mistakes, vulnerability, failures, or limitations, yet brag about him to his friends. He may boast about inflated versions of his achievements, while disparaging those of his son. A narcissistic father may ruthlessly bully or compete with his son in games, even when the boy is a less-capable child. Similarly, he may be jealous of his wife’s attention to the boy, compete with him, and flirt with his girlfriends or later wife.
Lack of empathy is typical of narcissists. Many narcissistic fathers are authoritarian and rigid about how things should be done, the correctness of their opinions, and getting their way, portrayed by Robert Duval in the movie The Great Santini. (Pratt & Carlino, 1979) Franz Kakfa articulately describes a literary example of such an imposing intolerance in Letter to His Father: more
There are several reasons why boundaries don’t work. As I wrote in Codependency for Dummies and How to Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, assertiveness is a prerequisite to setting effective boundaries, and it isn’t easy.
“Setting boundaries is an advanced form of assertiveness. It involves risk and entails taking a position about who you are, what you’re willing to do or not do, and how you want to be treated and respected in your relationships. It first requires awareness of your values, feelings, and needs, plus some practice in making “I” statements about them.” From How to Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits. more
Living with an addict can be a living hell. Unpredictable and dangerous, yet sometimes exciting and romantic. Never knowing when we’ll be blamed or accused. Not being able to dependably plan social events. As the addict becomes more irresponsible, we pick up the slack and do more, often becoming the sole functioning parent or even the sole provider; yet we’re unable to lean on our partner for comfort or support. Meanwhile, we rescue him or her from disasters, medical emergencies, accidents, or jail, make excuses for no-shows at work and family gatherings, and patch up damaged property, relationships, and self-inflicted mishaps. We may also endure financial hardship, criminality, domestic violence, or infidelity due to the addict’s behavior.
We worry, feel angry, afraid, and alone. We hide our private lives from friends, co-workers, and even family to cover up the problems created by addiction or alcoholism. Our shame isn’t warranted; nonetheless, we feel responsible for the actions of the addict. Our self-esteem deteriorates from the addict’s lies, verbal abuse, and blame. Our sense of safety and trust erodes as our isolation and despair grow. My focus is on alcoholism, but many of the feelings partner’s experience are the same, regardless of the type of addiction. more
Donald Trump has grown an empire of wealth and power, but is it enough? He admits that it isn’t the money that motivates him. (The Art of the Deal, 1987) What drives narcissists are their fears of feeling weak, vulnerable, or inferior. Consequently, for male narcissists in particular, achieving power is their highest value – at any cost. Trump is “certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred.” (Trump on Trump)
There is great disparity between what narcissists show the world and what goes on inside. Despite their big egos, they’re frightened and fragile – just the opposite of their grandiose, powerful façade. They must work hard to keep up their image, not only for others, but for themselves. In fact, their immodesty and exaggerated self-importance are commensurate with their hidden shame. “Me thinks you protest too much,” defines them. Shame is paradoxical in that it hides behind false pride. Its defenses of arrogance and contempt, envy and aggression, and denial and projection all serve to inflate and compensate for a weak, immature self. Like all bullies, the greater their defensive aggression, the greater is their insecurity. more
Perfectionism is an addiction, meaning we’re repeatedly unable to stop our perfectionist behaviors. Like other addictions, perfectionism varies in severity, from positive or “adaptive” perfectionism that builds self-confidence to negative, “maladaptive” perfectionism, which and can have serious, negative consequences. It harms our self-esteem, make us unable to accept other people’s differences and their mistakes and flaws, and it can rob us of time with them. We require that things look or are done in a specific, “correct” way in accordance with our perfectionist standards. Some perfectionists attempt to perfect their bodies with repeated surgeries or pursue athleticism to the point of injury. Severe perfectionism has also been linked to anorexia, depression, and even suicide.
Perfectionism is an illusion existing only in the mind. Telling perfectionists they look fine or that their home or project is excellent is useless. Their image of how things should be bears little correlation to reality. They will continue to find flaws and have difficulty find pleasure in compliments or satisfaction from their efforts. more
People don’t understand the 12-Step recovery process, unless they have participated in a 12-Step program. Although they may encourage others to attend, they may feel perplexed or act patronizing. Often, therapists don’t realize that the 12-Steps are not merely an for addiction, but are guidelines for nothing less than a total personality transformation. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics was influenced by Carl Jung, whom he wrote seeking a treatment for alcoholism. Jung replied that the cure would have to be a spiritual one – a power equal to the power of spiritus vini, or alcohol. He thought that addicts were “misguided ‘seekers for the spirit,’ …in the world of Dionysus, the god of renewal through the light from below, from the earth rather than from the heavens…” (Whitmont, 227)
The 12 Steps provide a spiritual remedy. They outline a process of surrender of the ego to the unconscious, God, or a higher power, and very much resemble the process of transformation in Jungian therapy. Jung believed that unity and wholeness of the personality, which generates a sense of acceptance and detachment, occurs when both the conscious and unconscious demands are taken into account – when not the ego, but the Self, is at the center of consciousness. (Storr, 19) He felt his life was “a story of the self-realization of the unconscious,” and rediscovered, as suggested by the 12 Steps, that God was “a guiding principle of unity.” (Storr, 24-25) more
Each time you affirm your true, authentic self, every cell in your body cheers “Yes!” When you negate yourself, it has negative biological consequences. To build self-esteem and affirm your true self, try this:
Take action to meet your needs.
Express who you really are.
Think good thoughts about yourself.
Take action to do what you really want. more
Codependency is learned – learned inaccurate information that you’re in some way not enough, that you don’t matter, that your feelings are wrong, or that you don’t deserve respect. These are the false beliefs that most codependents grow up with. They may not have been told these things directly, but have inferred it from behavior and attitudes of family and friends and events. Often these beliefs get handed down for generations. Changing them isn’t easy and is difficult to do on your own, because it’s hard to see others, let alone yourself, through a lens that’s different than the one you grew up with. more
Power exists in all relationships. Having power means to have a sense of control, to have choices and the ability to influence our environment and others. It’s a natural and healthy instinct to exert our power to get our wants and needs met. When we feel empowered, we can manage our emotions, we believe that we matter and that we can affect outcomes. We have a sense of efficacy in our lives, rather than being at the effect of others and circumstances. Instead of reacting, we can act because we have an internal locus-of-control.
In contrast, many of us may feel powerless and victims of outside forces. We can feel like our destiny is out of our hands. Some of us voluntarily give up our power to others. We may feel uncomfortable with exercising our own power, and believe that we will alienate others. Instead, we might react to others, defer to their wants and need, and have trouble making decisions and initiating independent action. We might feel like we’re being mean or raising our voice when we merely state what we want or don’t like. This impaired sense of power is common among codependents and stems from: more
Accepting reality enables us to live in reality. What does this mean? When life pleases us and flows in accordance with our needs and desires, we don’t think about acceptance. But when our will is frustrated, or we’re hurt in some way, our displeasure causes us to react, ranging from anger to withdrawal. We might deny or distort what’s happening to lessen our pain. We might blame others or ourselves, or we try to change things to our liking and needs. more
It must be cellular that men and women automatically feel humiliated when their partner cheats, even though they themselves have done nothing to be ashamed of. Too often, people feel embarrassed for their partners’ behavior, whether it’s domestic violence, emotional abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, gambling, or sex addiction, and too often, those addicts and abusers shift the blame onto their wives and husbands. It’s called “blaming the victim.” But the truth is that we are only responsible for our own behavior and others are responsible for theirs.
Betrayal is a devastating assault upon our ability to trust – trust in ourselves, other people, our sense of justice, even God. It can affect our self-esteem, if we let it. For some people, the worst part of adultery is the dishonesty – sharing our life with someone whom we discover has been living a lie day in and day out. We start to doubt our own senses, let alone our own attractiveness. Who was he or she, really? more
Have you been told, “Just let go of it,” or tell yourself, “I have to let go,” but wonder, how? I’ve asked myself that question. Sometimes you want to let go of a worry or an obsession about someone else. You may try to detach, but can’t. Other times, you can’t move forward after a major loss or you need to unwind from a busy work schedule. Each case has different challenges, but fundamentally, they all require a shift in attention from the mind into the body and from the past or future into the present. Letting go can be a rejuvenating practice that brings the mind and body into balance for clarity, peace, and heightened functioning.
Depending upon what you’re letting go of, it can take moments or years. When you’re letting go of someone you love, it’s not easy, nor pain free. However, it’s human nature to avoid pain, even if the price is long-term misery. When the source of frustration, loss or stress is ongoing, letting go becomes a process of developing a new, beneficial orientation toward life. more
I was surprised to learn that this grove of Aspen trees is actually one organism, sharing one root system. Each of us also is an interconnected community of 70 trillion cells. Biologist Bruce Lipton believes that together we’re “one collaborative superorganism.” I love that Facebook allows us to connect one-to-one all over the planet. For the movie: click here.
Society is highly specialized and interdependent, so that few of us would know how to survive without running water, electricity, and a supermarket. We’re also dependent upon our personal relationships. Human brains aren’t fully developed for 18 years, and psychological and financial independence from our parents takes even longer. Moreover, as adults we depend upon others to fill sexual, social, and emotional needs, such as friendship, communication, nurturing, appreciation, learning, love, and touch. The closer a relationship, the more we’re interconnected. more
How can you avoid codependent parenting? Research shows that codependency is learned in families and passed on generationally. It prevents the development of healthy, independently functioning individuals. When parents are codependent, codependency gets transmitted, unless they’re self-aware and consciously make an effort to respond to their children in healthy ways that counteract their codependent patterning. But because codependency is learned, it can be prevented and unlearned.
The problem is, like addiction, codependency is characterized by denial. This means you may not even be aware that you’re codependent and are unwittingly teaching it to your children, despite your best intentions. The most preventative steps you can take are to improve your self-esteem and communication. Some of the main symptoms of codependency are:
- Being overly focused on someone or something
- Low self-esteem
- Nonassertive communication
- Denying or devaluing needs, feelings, and wants
- Poor boundaries
- A need for control more
Shame is so painful to the psyche that most people will do anything to avoid it – even though it’s a natural emotion that everyone has. It’s a physiologic response of the autonomic nervous system. You might blush, have a rapid heartbeat, break into a sweat, freeze, hang your head, slump your shoulders, avoid eye contact, withdraw, even get dizzy or nauseous.
Why Shame is so Painful and unlike Guilt
Whereas guilt is a right or wrong judgment about your behavior, shame is a feeling about yourself. Guilt motivates you to want to correct or repair the error. In contrast, shame is an intense global feeling of inadequacy, inferiority, or self-loathing. You want to hide or disappear. In front of others, you feel exposed and humiliated, as if they can see your flaws. The worst part of it is a profound sense of separation – from yourself and from others. It’s disintegrating, meaning that you lose touch with all the other parts of yourself, and you also feel disconnected from everyone else. more
We may not realize that we’re feeling emotionally abandoned or that we did as a child. We may be unhappy, but can’t put our finger on what it is. People tend to think of abandonment as something physical, like neglect. They also may not realize that loss of physical closeness due to death, divorce, and illness is often felt as an emotional abandonment. However, emotional abandonment has nothing to do with proximity. It can happen when the other person is lying right beside us – when we can’t connect, and our emotional needs aren’t being met in the relationship. more
Guilt is good. Yes! Guilt actually encourages people to have more empathy for others, to take corrective action, and to improve themselves. Self-forgiveness following guilt is essential to esteem, which is key to enjoyment of life and relationships. Yet, for many, self-acceptance remains elusive because of unhealthy guilt – sometimes for decades or a lifetime.
Guilt may be an unrelenting source of pain. You might hold a belief that you should feel guilty and condemn yourself – not once, but over and over – or guilt may simmer in your unconscious. Either way, this kind of guilt is insidious and self-destructive and can sabotage your goals. Guilt causes anger and resentment, not only at yourself, but toward others in order to justify your actions. Anger, resentment, and guilt sap your energy, cause depression and illness, and stop you from having success, pleasure, and fulfilling relationships. It keeps you stuck in the past and prevents you from moving forward. more
Do you make resolutions and then feel disappointed or guilty for breaking them? Enthusiastically resolve to change, but within days or weeks lose interest and can’t motivate yourself? Wonder why you get sidetracked by distractions or become easily discouraged when quick results aren’t forthcoming? The problem is threefold:
- Terminology. Goal setting is a process and that requires effort to reach your target. In contrast, “I resolve” is a resolution that sets decision or intention. It has to be more than a wish, but it’s only the first step in reaching a goal. There’s no implication that planning or effort is involved. It’s as if saying it makes it so. Naturally, it doesn’t. Change isn’t easy. Instead of making several New Year’s “resolutions,” concentrate on ONE that you can keep, and it will give you confidence that you can do more. more
Dreams are far more than fantasies and wishes. They reveal inner truths, and expose incorrect conscious attitudes and resolve conflicts, providing a healing and self-regulating function. If you are inflated, they will bring you down to reality, and if you’re depressed, they can give you hope.
By understanding and learning to trust the messages in your dreams, you are communicating with your true self, your soul, and God. Carl Jung wrote that he who looks inside awakens. “The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul.” Deciphering your dreams’ hidden symbols, guidance, and messages unlocks that doorway.
Freud wrote that dreams are the “Royal Road to the Unconscious.” Your unconscious beliefs, fears, motives, and desires can thwart your goals, your health, and relationships. What you don’t know controls you. Hence, interpreting your dreams can provide valuable guidance.
Additionally, dreams reveal shadow sides of your personality, both positive and negative, which need to be integrated into conscious awareness. Some dreams incorporate mythic and universal symbols from the collective unconscious. more
It takes guts to pick up the phone and make a therapy appointment. Rarely does anyone decide to change until the pain they’re in is worse than the fear of the unknown. That’s what it means to change – leaving the known of who I am and how I behave. The familiar is safe even when it hurts. For the therapy relationship to work, it’s important that counselors realize this.
Another hurdle to commencing therapy is asking for help. Most people don’t want to admit they need it. To some, it’s a weakness or a failure. Our culture prides itself on self-sufficiency, independence and invulnerability. They don’t realize the strength in vulnerability and the power of surrender.
Seeking therapy also represents the beginning of trust in something other than one’s own resources. more