Am I Codependent? 4 Facts & 4 Questions To Consider
Codependent? According to Whom?
Ten years ago, my husband’s Twelve Step sponsor took it upon himself to label me “codependent.” This man proceeded to explain, in no uncertain terms, that any problems I had with my porn addict husband were exactly that—my problem. If I simply learned to focus on my own issues, he explained, I would soon realize that “[I was] the source of much of the pain for which [I] had blamed others” (S-Anon Twelve Steps, page 39).
In that moment, I felt attacked to my core, silenced into submission by a weapon of emotional mass destruction.
Labeling Someone Codependent Is One Way Abusers Keep Their Victims Silent
Sadly, it took me seven more years before I could “talk back” to that voice from my past, before I learned terms like “gaslighting” and “blame shifting” and “psychological abuse.” I’m grateful to help other women reject such abuse tactics in far less time!) But even though it took me awhile to separate some facts from fallacies, it only took me a millisecond to identify a few deeply irrefutable truths.
Facts About Codependency
- Codependence can be used as an instrument of ignorance and abuse.
- For a woman drowning in the throes of confusion, grief and early betrayal trauma, the concept of codependence tends to hinder her quest toward safety and serenity. It fails to put the responsibility where it belongs: on the abuser.
- Being told I’m codependent doesn’t automatically mean it’s true — even if the person who makes that statement is educated, successful or experienced within the world of addiction recovery.
Even now, ten years later, as I remember that infamous early conversation, my blood pressure skyrockets. A microscopic piece of me is grateful (gulp), because in certain ways, that man wasn’t entirely wrong. But an enormous piece of me — the part of me that now speaks up when something feels really, really wrong — knows that conversation should NEVER have gone down the way it did. That man had no right to label me anything. He had no invitation, and didn’t have my permission. He knew little more than my first name, and he’d never walked a block in my shoes. He didn’t understand PTSD or complex trauma, and he ultimately did more harm than good in my marriage. From that first word forward, that man projected onto me a clear message of presumptive dysfunction and primary deflection, indicting me for responding (very appropriately, I might add) to the pain of my husband’s active porn use and abuse.
I hate him most on days like this one, when I’m writing or speaking or coaching on this topic, as I watch other strong and beautiful and brilliant women struggle with this question, “Am I codependent?”
At the beginning of my journey, I tackled this question by myself and for myself. I grappled my way through it in silence and in isolation. So on days like today, when I get all stirred up? I leverage that anger toward our communal advantage. Instead of leaning into my resentment, I lean into conviction and advocacy and activism, working to strengthen and support our heroic sisterhood. I triumph over my anger by celebrating our willingness to ask even the toughest questions — and by honoring our right to address for ourselves the assumptions that others attempt to dictate for us.
Am I Codependent? Four Frequently Asked Questions
1. QUESTION: “I can’t stop obsessing about my husband’s porn addiction. He tells me he’s stopped looking, and I think I believe him. But I’m still worried about it. In fact, I worry about it constantly. Does that mean I’m codependent?”
No. All it means is that you’re totally normal. Any woman in this situation would and should worry about her own emotional safety. What you are doing is search for safety and the truth. And you’d be weird if you didn’t.
2. QUESTION: “I can’t leave him home alone with internet access, because I’m afraid of what he’ll look at when I’m gone. I’ve also installed internet filters on all of our devices, and I expect him to have an internet accountability partner. Does that mean that I’m codependent?”
No. It means you’re normal. You’re terrified about the safety of your family. You want to do all you can to protect your family from your husband’s abusive behaviors. Congratulations, you’re completely normal. You’re also a victim of abuse.
3. QUESTION: “What if I’m not strong enough to set boundaries? I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’ve given in, and then he’s walked all over me. Does that mean I’m codependent?”
No. It means you’re completely normal. Setting boundaries is a skill just like any other skill. If you study it and are committed to figuring it out, you’ll figure it out:). I’m not worried about you.
When we do set boundaries, we are abused by their labels “stop acting like my mom.” They label us with words like “codependent” as a way of trying to silence and manipulate you. It simply means you’re in an abusive relationship.
Boundary setting is hard, and there WILL be pushback. But boundary setting isn’t impossible, and all women can succeed at setting healthy boundaries. Few of us ever set boundaries perfectly. But we don’t let that stop us from learning and growing and improving over time. Not sure you believe me? Let me put it this way: NONE of this whole journey has been easy, has it? And yet, nothing “hard” has discouraged us to the point of giving up on ourselves. The truth is, WE CAN set boundaries. Let’s repeat it until we believe it: “We can set boundaries—because we are worth it.”
And boundaries, dear women? Boundaries are our superpower.
4. QUESTION: “We spend all of our money on support groups, classes, therapy and addiction treatment for him. In the process, I’ve sacrificed time, energy and money for myself and the kids. Does that mean I’m codependent?”
For women in betrayal trauma, it’s normal and natural for us to pour ALL available resources into the source of our present crisis: “His issues got us here, so let’s do whatever it takes to fix his issues.” As an adrenaline-fueled, intervention-oriented, post-traumatic stress response, that approach makes perfect sense: it’s a short-term, emergency-focused, survival-driven strategy, designed to rescue ourselves by putting an end to his abuse.
At the same time, recovery from betrayal trauma isn’t a fast-and-furious sprint, it’s more of a slow-and-steady marathon. Very few families heal to the point of wholeness when treatment for the addict and/or abuser’s consumes the entirety of our time, money and energy.
Within their practice of addiction and abuse, our guys are used to being the center of their own secret world. I’ve never met a man who reverses that trend overnight.
Am I Codependent? Yes? No? Maybe? How Important Is It?
The answer is no. There really isn’t such a thing. You’re worried about your safety, and you should be. The trick is to address your safety in ways that can actually help you establish it. So the real question is, are my efforts to establish safety and peace working? If they aren’t, what do I need to do to establish true safety and peace in my life.