Many women who experience betrayal and relational abuse are labeled by therapists, 12-step sponsors, and others as “codependent.” 

Because victims are so eager to get to safety and have been conditioned to be subservient to their abusers and other authority figures, it is easy to accept the “codependent” label. 

Victims of Emotional Abuse and Betrayal Trauma Are Seeking Safety

When a woman is betrayed and abused by her partner, she may become hypervigilent as a result of the betrayal trauma that she is experiencing. 

Hypervigilence in a victim of emotional abuse and betrayal may look like codependence, but it is not codependence. 

Further, for women in betrayal trauma, it’s normal and natural to pour all available resources into the source of the present crisis. This may also appear to be codependent behavior, but it is just another way that victims seek safety in a survival situation. 

Safety-Seeking Behaviors Are Confused With Codependence

Some of the behaviors that appear codependent may be:

  • Obsessively checking your partner’s phone and other devices 
  • Setting controls on devices 
  • Hiring a private investigator to see what your partner is doing
  • Initiating therapy or support groups for your abusive partner

This list is not exhaustive: there are many ways for a woman in betrayal trauma to seek safety through trying to control their partner’s behavior. 

At BTR, we call these behaviors “safety-seeking” rather than “codependent”. 

The Concept of Codependence Hinders Victims’ Quests For Safety

When a woman who is being abused and betrayed, or has been abused and betrayed, she is in trauma. She needs safety and she needs support. 

She does not need to deal with the ramifications of being labeled as codependent. 

Maybe you are codependent, maybe you’re not. But right now is not the time to work on your own personal “moral deficiencies”. It’s time to get safe

When Safety-Seeking Harms The Victim

Women may seek help from a professional when she begins to feel that her safety-seeking behaviors are harming her own sanity. 

Victims displaying highly hypervigilant behaviors are usually in intense trauma. To understand your level of trauma, consider these three questions:

  •  On a scale from 1-5, how well does my hypervigilance match the severity of what has happened, is happening, and/or what I believe could happen again?
  • On a scale from 1-5, how deeply are my responses harming me, interfering with my life, or causing me to speak and act in ways that aren’t aligned with my values?
  • On a scale from 1-5, how well am I tolerating these obsessive episodes? Is there something I can do to increase my tolerance or decrease my vulnerability? Are there alternative responses with which I might experiment? 

How Can I Stop These Safety-Seeking Behaviors From Taking Over My Life?

The number one way that women can turn down the dial of trauma and halt or diminish safety-seeking behaviors, is to set and maintain effective boundaries. A boundary is not a statement, request, or ultimatum. It is a courageous action that victims take to separate themselves from abuse. 

When women have set appropriate boundaries, they may still find obsessive thoughts and habits are harming their peace and sanity. When this happens, victims may want to try some of the following:

Am I Codependent? Yes? No? Maybe? How Important Is It? 

In reality, labeling yourself codependent may not help you heal the trauma you’re experiencing. After reading this:

  • Are you processing your experience differently? 
  • Are you asking a new question, perhaps one that hasn’t occurred to you previously—and maybe that new question feels like a fresh start? 
  • Are you answering an old question with a different response—and maybe that response feels like a victory?
  • Are you feeling more peace about who you are and how you feel? 
  • Are you feeling more questions about what is going on inside you?

Common “Codependence” Questions From the BTR Community

  • When I tell my husband he’s abusive, he tells me I’m playing the victim. Something about that doesn’t feel right. I do feel like a victim, but that makes me sound like I’m being a martyr. Does that mean I’m codependent?
  • My husband believes that I’ll never leave him, even if he goes back to using porn regularly. Deep in my heart, I’m afraid that he’s right. Does that mean I’m codependent?
  • I have sex with my husband so he won’t look at porn. Does that mean I’m codependent?
  • After my husband’s betrayals, I’m far too traumatized to let him touch me. I’d rather have him look at porn than pressure me for sex. Does that mean I’m codependent?
  • I do what my husband wants, to keep the peace in our family. Most of the time, what I want isn’t a big deal to me, or it’s not worth the fight it would trigger between us. Does that mean I’m codependent?
  • I’m very passive in my relationships. I often let others make all the big decisions, primarily because I don’t trust my own ideas or opinions. I know this makes me vulnerable to abuse within my marriage, but I continue to do it. Does that mean I’m codependent?
  • I am a stay-at-home mom. I make zero money. I can’t survive without financial support from my husband, and he makes all of our financial decisions. Does that mean I’m codependent?

To all of these questions, we respond with an unequivocal answer: You are in trauma. Betrayal trauma elicits behaviors from the victim that is often out of character, against her values, and appear to be codependent. 

Could you be codependent? It’s definitely a possibility that you exhibited codependent behaviors before this relationship, but the heart of the matter is that you cannot cause, cure, or control your partner’s behavior. You can ONLY set boundaries to get to safety. 

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse

At BTR, we believe that every women deserves total safety in every aspect of her life. We also know how incredibly difficult the journey to safety can be. That is why the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone. Join today and receive the validation, empowerment, and support that you need to begin your journey to safety and healing.  

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