The Codependent Woman

Today, women seem to be more fearful of romantic commitment than men (Women More Commitment Phobic Than Men). I wasn’t surprised by this survey statistic. Across the globe, women have become fiercely protective of their right to self-determine themselves and their lifestyles. I’m certain that many of these women make this choice solely out of a present-day lifestyle preference. But, I’m just as certain that some women avoid relationship commitments more out of their emotional difficulty managing romantic commitment without losing themselves in the process.

Psychology calls these women codependent, to explain their subconscious drive to dependently attach themselves to relationships, food, drug, or alcohol to satisfy unmet childhood needs.

The Childhood of the Codependent Woman

The codependent woman did not have her physical and emotional needs met by her caretakers, which left her with a strong subconscious drive to retreat to dependency in relationship to significant others in her life. Some women completely give in to this drive, while others counteract it by developing a lifestyle of self-sufficiency and independence that often precludes relationships that threaten their emotional safety.

My post today emphasizes codependent women who have responded to their dependency fears through fierce independence, which is the healthiest response to having dependency fears. Their tendencies to satisfy their own needs, without the help of other people, and the dependency needs of their family, friends and lovers keep them psychologically stuck in past emotional issues. The urgency they apply to meeting their and other people’s needs consumes them completely, to the point that they exclude many life experiences that would expand their sense of self, grow their self-esteem, and the ways they relate to themselves and other people. The relationship they have to themselves, other people, food, drugs or alcohol generally become the arenas in which their psychological issues around dependency and independence get played out.

The Codependent Parent

Codependent women are generally the product of narcissistic parenting that ignored their children’s physical and/or emotional needs. But, even more so, they imposed their own dependency needs upon their children. Marital distress, physical or mental illness, or stressful environmental pressures prevented one or both parents from being present to the child’s unique needs and desires. Their needs became the needs of their children.  They suggested (directly or indirectly) to the child that she owes them for the sacrifices of having to have had raised her, despite their troubles (victim mentality). Further, the parent refuses to approach any discussion with an openness to the possibility of being wrong, which squelches the child’s self-expression and engenders insecurity in her. The parent never listens to her, has mood swings, uses emotionality to suppress the child’s needs and desires, and acts so wounded and hurt by the child’s self-expression that the child begins to question her sense of things. The codependent parent is also very controlling and manipulates his or her children’s behavior through destructive maneuvers, like passive-aggression (silent treatment, pouting), temper tantrums, or a defensive inability to remember or understand anything of which the parent disagrees (Eight Signs You May Have a Codependent Parent).

The codependent child learns that her needs are not only unimportant, but also intolerable. She has to take care of her own physical and/or emotional needs because of her parents’ narcissistic preoccupations. She essentially parents herself, which is why psychology calls the child of a codependent parent the parentified child.

The Codependent Woman Was The Parentified Child

The parentified child was expected to take care of and fulfill the emotional needs of one or both parents (emotional parentification) and/or actually take care of the physical needs that includes housework, babysitting siblings, and the management of her parent’s affairs (instrumental parentification). The effects and consequences of parentification on a child emotionally run deep.

As the codependent woman, she tends to underestimate her intellect, talent and abilities, overestimate the intellect and self-worth of other people, nurture and take responsibility for the growth and welfare of friends and family (at her physical and emotional expense), and struggle with feelings of depression, anxiety, shame and guilt resulting from a suppression of needs. She has to get ill to let others take care of her and her physical illnesses often result from too much physical tension around bottled-up needs.

The emotionally healthiest of parentified children spend much of their adult lives building their identities and a secure home base with little to no help from other people (Parentification of Children). On the surface, you would never know that they harbor dependency needs. In fact, they often take care of everyone around them, as a psychological way to meet their needs. Becoming the confidante of people gives them a way to subconsciously experience need, and it also reinforces their persona of self-sufficiency and independence. Although they have not regressed into destructive dependencies on people, food, alcohol or drugs (as many codependent women do), they are still replaying dysfunctional roles of their childhood. It is no surprise that they attract narcissistic and borderline friends and lovers whose needs and desires often eclipse their own.

As you can see, it is not easy for codependent women to participate in social and romantic relationships without a fear of losing themselves in the process. Some choose to forgo relationships altogether, as a way to preserve their identities and self-esteems. These persons are most likely some of the women who forgo relationship commitment, today, for their careers.

The Codependent Woman’s Age of Maturity  

Sculptor Camille Claudel to Her Lover and Teacher the Sculptor Auguste Rodin: You’re wrong, Rodin, to think the sculpture is about you. You’re a sculptor, not a sculpture. You ought to know that I am that old woman with nothing on her bones. And the aging young girl… that’s also me. And the man is me too. Not you. I gave him my toughness. He gave me his emptiness in return. There you are… three times me. “The Holy Trinity, a trinity of emptiness” Camille Claudel on her self-portrait The Age of Maturity. (This sculpture is the featured image in today’s post).

If you are the emotionally healthiest of codependent women, you most likely have already made great strides in self-determining your own existence, especially with regard to security needs and career. But, you may have had more difficulty forming healthy, mature relationships to other people in which you are able to get as much of your needs met that you are willing to give. You have had to be mother and father to yourself and to many people in your life. But, as the famous sculptor Camille Claudel understood well, the toughness you have had to seize within yourself just to survive gives emptiness, if you do not challenge yourself to move beyond it.

It is time to stop treating your independence like an addiction, a fierce dependency on yourself that has consumed you to the point of having to exclude experiences and relationships that could expand your sense of self and take you to a more whole and healthier mature level of functioning. It is time to bring new people and situations into your life, to move beyond the parentified child/codependent parent emotional dynamic that has motivated much of your personal growth. It is time to bring your dependency needs into awareness and integrate them into the persona that you’ve developed thus far.

The following tips will help you to appreciate everything that has brought you to this point in time, show you how to get beyond your fears, and help you to get the return on the passion and effort you put into life that you deserve.

  1. Think through the early relationship to your parents. Which of your parents is the codependent parent highlighted in this article? Go back to this time in your heart and mind. How did their self-centeredness affect you? Allow these feelings into your awareness. Sit with them, no matter how uncomfortable you get. Are you hurt, wounded or angry? Acknowledge and feel whatever arises in you.
  2. How have you had to parent yourself in childhood and in your adult years?  I’m sure this question is the easiest for you to answer, as you know the hurt, pain and suffering of having to literally build your life with little to no help from other people. You are the wounded bird, so to speak. The only thing wrong with this is that you were deprived of the help in life that you so much deserved to get.
  3. Who have you parented in your adult life? Many codependent women have had to help and parent their siblings, friends, and lovers. Review the relationships in your life thus far. Do you tend to choose friends and lovers who ask more from you, physically or emotionally, than they can give? You have to start choosing friends and lovers who do not need you physically and emotionally to feel good about themselves. When you start to healthily express needs, and ask for as much as you are willing to give in relationship, you will be amazed at how fast narcissistic and borderline people will run away from you, like you were the plague, personified.
  4. Get comfortable with having need and expressing it. Many codependent women get physically ill, because they bottle up unmet needs. Embarrassment, shame and guilt make them suppress needs that end up coming out in destructive ways. It can harm your body, through too much tension. Or, you get so fed up of suppressing your needs that you reactively step into the victim/martyr role of your codependent parent. Learn how to assertively rather than aggressively express needs. Step out of the boxing ring. Don’t become your out of control parent. And, remember, no person or activity will ever make up for what you did not get in your childhood. Thus, do not ask people to meet needs of yours that they do not have the emotional capacity to give to you.
  5. Bring emotionally healthy people into your life who want to know what you think, feel, and need. Your caregiving nature tends to attract more narcissistic and borderline personality types to you who resemble the characteristics of your codependent parent(s). They ask of you so much more than they are willing to give back to you. Learn how to spot these people before you turn them into friends and lovers, or else, you’ll replay the codependent parent/parentified child relationship dynamic from your past.
  6. Expand experiences that allow you to express new parts of yourself. There are parts of yourself that you have relegated to the shadow of  your personality, as they poorly served your drive to become self-sufficient and independent. Start to choose friends and lovers and life experiences that show you new things about yourself. Shake yourself up; feel your fear and move through it. This is the only way to move yourself to higher, better levels of functioning.

If you liked my post today, please let me know by selecting the Like icon that immediately follows. You can also Tweet or Google+1 today’s article to let your friends know about it. Warmly Deborah

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22 Responses to “The Codependent Woman”

  1. avatar sachal bhatti says:

    vory nice and informative.seems scientifc approach.

  2. avatar Swajid says:

    It made me go back and think of most of my life events and how i have been going through this codependent personality ,shifting from its one form to another without knowing.i have realized it in the past few months and was trying to make my peace with it.. this article has helped me understand better. The solutions you provided are easy said than done…. Could you also elaborate the solutions more because i believe its a sort of “conditioning” and when you are conditioned to this behavior for years it keeps returning…

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Swajid, there’s nothing that pleases more than to hear that something in this article has given you deeper understanding into this problem. You are right; people get conditioned to certain behaviors. Codependent behaviors like over working or taking care of other people to the extent that it hurts us does get deeply conditioned, as such behaviors are often socially rewarded. But, still, it is very possible to free yourself of this conditioning. It does take awareness of the behavior that you want to change and replacing the behavior with one that helps you to express yourself better and create boundaries around care taking other people.

      So far example Swajid, let’s say that you have a tendency to help people to the extent that you actually solve their problems for them. You most likely got emotionally rewarded from being so helpful, even if it hurt you physically and emotionally. So, first, let’s shift your mind. Start thinking that you are going to behave in ways that reward you for taking care of yourself emotionally and physically. This may involve that you are not always available to help someone no matter the hour of the day. Let’s say a family or friend calls you when you want to be doing something else. Say no, instead of yes. You will feel rewarded because you set limits and took care of yourself. The more experiences you have like this, the weaker the conditioning becomes around codependent behaviors. I hope this gets you started. What a great question you asked her Swajid. Warmly Deborah!

  3. avatar sairam says:

    Psycho problems in women more than men when i was working village She got severe Headche Doctors cant found even ct scan but problem is his husband drunkard.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Sairam, it is true that women in many countries are not treated equally and thus may experience psychological problems because of this. Yes, you are right. Having an alcoholic husband can cause a person a lot of stress that can result in headaches and many other symptoms. Warmly Deborah.

  4. avatar nadeem ahmad says:

    My english is not good but i feeling u r in problem i ask u can i help u ?
    Remeber that i am very poor boy but i am honest and hard worker for true peoples
    tell me plz can i help u ?

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Nadeem, go to my website and on the main page on the right hand corner, you will see an orange tab that says Contact Us. Put in your email and ask me a question. I’m happy to respond to you; no charge to you. But, remember, I do not treat people psychologically through the interenet. But, I can give you information and guide you to the right help, if you request it. Best to you Warmly Deborah.

  5. avatar Salvatore Maddi says:

    Wow! You make the problem of the codependent woman so clear, and help us understand what she can do about it. This is a wonderful article.

  6. avatar Sean says:

    This article describes my soon-to-be ex-wife perfectly. Is there anything I can do to break her denial when she doesn’t want to speak with me at all?

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Sean, thanks for taking the time to comment today. Sean, I don’t know her emotional capabilities or what exactly led your divorcing. If she really fits the codependent woman, you may send her this article and try to have a discussion around it. Now, it may make her mad. Only you can gauge this.

      She will have to be ready to be open to her emotional issues. By what you say here, it sounds like she is closed down to such communications–at least for now. Sean, I think all you can do is give her space. She may fear that you take too much from her emotionally. If this is the case, you definitely want to give her space. I know that you must feel there’s little time for space as you are both divorcing. But, still, codependent people fear being told what they should do and being drawn into someone else’s agenda for them. I know this isn’t what you mean, but she may feel this. You take good care of yourself. Know that whatever happens Sean, you can find a way to cope with it. Warmly Deborah.

  7. avatar Ammara says:

    hello dear….
    i m in trouble. i read ur articles about commitment, fear of intimacy and codependency. i have same problem. i was not aware with it at all before happening an event. there is a boy i guess i love him (i m confused about his love), he took me to drive and suddenly he kiss me. instead of feeling pleasure i annoyed.he said he loves me. but m doubted. our relation is dying at initial stage of relationship.tell me what should i do. i dnt want any close relation with him, but he want.

  8. avatar Lisa says:

    Thank you! Now – how and where to aCtually healthier (ie: neither borderline nor narcissistic) people – that’s the challenge!

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello Lisa, you are very welcome. I’m so glad you liked this post. I like the subject matter too. I think all of us women are trying to become less codependent in some way, even if we don’t have a serious problem with it. Warm regards to you Deborah.

  9. avatar Trina says:

    Thankyou for your article. I’ve been wondering why I respond in relationships the way I do for a long time. I’m a 48 year old single female. Although I would like a relationship, I usually stay clear because it doesn’t seem worth the risk. There have only been two men in my life that I cared enough about to even give a shot. Unfortunately, neither worked out. I’ve also been VERY confused as a straight female, why a few times in my life I’ve become too attached to another female friend. It’s something emotional, but I’m not sure what it is about the personality match that causes me to want to attach. I hate it the few times that it has happened. I want to feel independent and healthy.

  10. avatar K says:

    Dr. Khoshaba,

    I’ve been going through couples counseling with my partner for a while, and always knew something was off about my reactions in my relationship, but I never related to co-dependency because my understanding was that it was such a “weak” set of behaviors, and I am as stubborn and independent as they come. It is such a revelation to read your article, as it addresses co-dependency from a different point of view clicks with me. I absolutely can see myself in your words, and that makes me feel so much more sane and hopeful.

    I would love to understand more about this. Could you recommend any books that address co-dependency from a similar point of view? Thank you so much.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Hello K: I understand. You are very right. There is not a lot written about the other side of codependent behavior: what happens to the person after they get stronger and vow never again to be in this role again.

      Yes stay hopeful. I have treated so many people who rise above codependency, especially if they are not truly submissive types. Co dependent types tend to love the other person more than they love themselves. So, as you know, they establish from the get go who gives and who gets. Working on self-love is going to be very important for you. I actually have an article on Steps to Self Love you might take a look at. But, because there are not a lot of books that show the other side of recovery, I will recommend the best books that I think get to these ideas. I hope these help. I know because you ask this question that you are ready to begin the journey to your self. Happy Holidays and Warm regards K, Deborah.

      The Road Back to Recovery at Amazon

      Choosing Me Before We

      How to stop self sacrificing and start claiming your space, power and happiness

  11. avatar Andyh says:

    Am I right in assuming I can replace women with men and the problems are almost the same, I relate to a great deal of the content at the least.

    • avatar Dr. Deborah Khoshaba says:

      Yes, you sure can. I should write one for the codependent person, as codependency operates in both genders. Thank you for your good question. Best Deborah

  12. avatar Anna says:

    Thank you so much. This is a very kind and balanced expose. You’ve got it right spot on. In my life i recognise all you have listed. I’m glad to say, I have arrived at item 5 and 6 ready to experience real life and find out more about myself.


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