Therapists, 12-step sponsors, clergy, and others may have told you that you are “codependent”.
It is easy for victims to accept the “codependent” label because they are usually eager to get to safety. It may feel like accepting that they are codependent will “fix” the problem.
Victims of Emotional Abuse and Betrayal Trauma Are Seeking Safety
Betrayed women may become hypervigilant as a result of betrayal trauma.
Hypervigilance 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 betrayal victim 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 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:
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Talking to a safe person about their trauma
- Joining the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group
- Meeting with a trauma-informed professional, like a BTR coach
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.
Interesting discussion – I was labeled "codependent’ when I sought guidance – not one, but two psychiatrists and one MSW used the term (or one that means the same thing) and it took me about ten minutes to argue back that because I cared for, cooked meals for, did laundry for my husband – who had carried on a secret life of deviant sexual behavior for 40 years I was co-dependent??? Of course – we are all co-dependent if we are in relationships. There is a dirty connotation that accompanies co-dependent that infers that the deviant acts of the husband are somehow caused, aided and abetted, and or allowed by the wife. I can tell you that although I should have been suspicious due to his negative behavior, there is no evidence that I made a contribution to his illness. And, this behavior is an illness. It is deep seated confusion about sexual identity and the behavior is acted out in absolute secrecy – until they get caught – and then the "gas lighting" begins. these individuals – sex addicts – are seasoned professionals at playing roles as successful businessmen, adoring husbands, and even devoted friends. The sicker they are the better actor they become! The real question is why this has not been dealt with in a more professional manner by trained mental health professionals and why there is so much quandary about how to classify this illness for insurance support. This is possibly the most destructive and deviant disorder that runs rampant in our society and there needs to be relevant professional response to it rather than a convenient labeling of innocent victims. Jan
Jan, I couldn’t agree with you more! Professionals need to understand that victims are just that, innocent victims.