If you are co-dependent and not in any form of recovery (private therapy or the 12 Step program of Co-dependency Anonymous), you probably have unclear boundaries. You are constantly looking to others for approval. You worship at the altar of others’ views and opinions of you. Criticism can be very toxic and disapproval will cut right to the marrow. The fear of disapproval and the need to people please can keep a co-dependent trapped in abusive, no win situations. A distorted sense of personal worth and abilities and a childlike fear of abandonment can create the belief that you cannot exist without that special someone. You have the constant compulsion to mentally torment and beat yourself up unmercifully. These are prime examples of destructive compulsive survival behaviors that can keep you stuck.
Most co-dependents are clueless when it comes to recognizing and meeting their own needs. They have lived a life consumed with the preoccupation of trying to avoid conflict. “Peace at any price,” is the motto of most co-dependents, even if the price is their self-worth and their mental, emotional and physical health. By saying “yes” when they really want to say “no,” they are surrendering their own personal power and minimizing themselves again and again.
People seek the familiar, whether consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, co-dependents are prone to form toxic relationships with people who are unreliable, dishonest, manipulative, abusive and emotionally unavailable.
In adults, co-dependence will recreate the environment they grew up in, complete with all the rigid rules. Don’t talk, don’t trust, and don’t feel. There is an unspoken alliance that we are loyal to the family, even if family is underserving of any loyalty. No matter how much you are neglected or abused, it is you that is bad. If you try to distance yourself from the abuser, you are the villain. In these dysfunctional families, it is not uncommon to hear, “By God, I might abuse you, but no one else will,” or (from the adult child), “He was verbally abusive and would rage, but, by God, he was always fair.” Or perhaps, “My parents never showed me any affection or told me they loved me, but I knew they did.” In co-dependency, this is known as people pleasing. It is not uncommon for all the bit players in the dysfunctional household to pretend that everything is fine.
Another prime example of co-dependency rooted from childhood experiences is this: “Where ever you go, whatever you do, don’t forget it’s about me too.” Once grown and out of the house, it is not uncommon for the extended family to feel you owe them. If you are fortunate enough to acquire anything, they will show up and ask, “Where is ours?” The false sense of entitlement in dysfunctional families is appalling.
If your role in your dysfunctional family was to be a caretaker, the myth that you are responsible for other grown adults will never stop until you develop a strong support group and begin to set boundaries.