Codependency: What it is & What it’s Not . . . 

Our Narcissistic/Codependent Society

What is Codependency? In today’s show we discuss the comments we received on the show Codependency & Conscience.

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What is Codependency?

Show Transcript: 

STEVE:  Hi.  Welcome to our Narcissistic-Codependent Society.  My name is Steve Cooper.  Kim Cooper is here in the studio with me today, but as she is off to Melbourne next week, this may be our last show for a little while. 

KIM:  Yes, I am.  I can’t wait!  But it’s going to be strange having a holiday without my family this year.    

STEVE:  Yeah, but you are going with a wonderful friend, so I know you both have a wonderful time. 

KIM:  The most energetic 70 year old I know.    

STEVE:  Yeah, you better take some good walking shoes, Kim, to keep up with her.  (Laughing.)

KIM:  (Laughing.)  Yeah, well her legs are longer than mine!

STEVE:  Yeah, that’s true.

Okay, in today’s show, we are diving right into the comments we skipped over in our last show, and that will nicely open this topic.  Do you want me to read these, Kim, and then maybe you can comment on the comments?

KIM:  Sure, why not?

STEVE:  Okay.  These comments are from our show on “Codependence and Conscience”.  The first one is from Ellen.  Ellen says:  “I really love this segment of your podcast, although it hurt — ouch!  When I look around, I see that the codependents in my world really do sacrifice their good judgment and conscience at times to those they are trying to please.  Everything Kim said was true!  And I see this cropping up at times in myself as well.  Even though I have on this road to healing a while now, it still comes up and I still need to watch myself.  Good work, guys!  So glad you do this work, as there is nobody out there presenting both sides of this dysfunctional dance.  And by the way, there is hope.  My husband and I have been married 38 years and I can tell you that we have both changed and are doing great!”

Wow, isn’t that awesome?

KIM:   (Laughing.)  Yeah, it’s fantastic to get comments like that, isn’t it?

STEVE:  Agh… wonderful!

KIM:   Yeah, and especially after 38 years of marriage. I know most people would say there was no hope of changing the patterns or the dynamic in a marriage after that long.  But we have seen quite a few testimonials from people — some in their 70s.  All the time we see people talking about narcissism and narcissists, and how they are just so terrible, and the poor codependents are always just portrayed as the victims.  So, while I knew that show on “Codependence & Conscience” was going to be challenging, I am really glad, Ellen, that you actually faced up to it, and, you know, and despite the ‘ouch’ that you still did look at it and look at yourself. 

It is hard to look at our own patterns of dysfunction.  And it really does take us a pretty consistent effort to change these patterns, if they have been what we have grown up with and have become ingrained in us.  Because if we have grown up feeling that this behavior is normal, or even good, and it’s what our parents and our teachers have encouraged us to do — which, I guess could also be called grooming (laughing) — it is difficult, because our instincts kind of have been impaired, and it’s tough to actually look at it in the light of day and actually say this isn’t really very good that I have actually given so much of myself away and so much of my decision making and so much of my inner judgment that I have handed to somebody else. 

STEVE:   Yeah, that’s right, Kim.  I think it takes a long time to get to know yourself and be comfortable with who you are.  So that process might take longer than we had hoped, but by the time you get to know who you are, it’s good to understand that is who you are, and your relationship.  You have to work with that — in your relationship.    

KIM:  But if you start working on changing these patterns now, where are you going to be in five years? And where are you going to be in five years if you don’t start working on it? The five years down the track is still going to come, and I know for certain in our life that, you know, working on improving these patterns in ourselves has really taken us down a path that I couldn’t have even really dreamed up, let alone hoped for (laughing)!

STEVE:   The next comment is from Jennifer, and Jennifer says, “I am going to make a statement about codependence before leaving for work. I have not heard the taped conversation and did not read what you said, but there is a fine line between codependence, interdependence, and independence. Interdependence creates abundance and healthy interdependence creates healthy abundance.  Even if you say you are independent and live like Crocodile Dundee off the land in the Outback, you are severely interdependent on nature.  Even if you are a codependent living with a drug addict under the bridge of Route 69, you are interdependent with the welfare system, and whatever else is keeping you alive.  Telling a person they are codependent because they are trying to live a healthy, normal life is never fair!  Discovering what you are interdependent on—being honest and aware of that and making changes—is the way to a healthy interdependence.  For years, my mum was called ‘codependent’ because she was married to a person with a mental syndrome called Asperger’s.  She was just trying to make family life nice for herself and her children.  She was interacting with a hidden and undiagnosed behavior pattern.  To say that she had the problem was not fair to her, so I really hate the term ‘codependence’.  I really like ‘healthy interdependence’—so take it from there…”

Kim, there is lots of great things she has brought up there.

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  Oh, and she has written a P.S. too.

“P.S. I will listen to the recording tonight, when I have the time to.” 

KIM:  Okay.  So this one is interesting, and before I comment on it, I think we should also read Susan’s comment, which—in a way—is kind of correcting what Jennifer said. 

STEVE:  Oh, it’s in response to Jennifer? 

KIM:   Yeah.

STEVE:  Okay.  So, Susan has said in response, “Codependence is not the same as interdependence.  They describe two different developmental stages.  Codependence is focused on symbiosis with other.  It feels it will die without getting a reflected sense of self from other.  The flip side is extreme independent stance, which is a reaction formation based on shaky sense of self and fear that what little self is there will get swallowed up by other—fear of intimacy, etc.  Both have trouble maintaining a core sense of self without other to either cling to or run away from, or they swing back and forth together in a dysfunctional dance.  Interdependence, or adult differentiation (Bowen) is the mature personality that can hang onto core sense of self, and maintain intimacy with other.  They do not blur the I/thou relationship.  What this talk is about, I think, is codependence and narcissism, and how they both have an immature sense of self, and how it can be dysfunctional in adult relationships.  Thank you.”

KIM:  Yes, well, I would agree with what Susan has said there. And I understand Jennifer’s sentiments of feeling that it was maybe unfair to suggest that there was something wrong with her mother.  And, you know, I think this brings up a bit of a misunderstanding about what codependence is.  Because codependence is not really you being interdependent or too dependent on someone. I see that is a really big mistake that a lot of women make, maybe after their first marriage has failed and they think they are addressing their codependence by becoming extremely independent, and they can even be somewhat judgmental of women who are not independent.  And they may act like being completely independent is more noble or more sane.  And I really actually dispute that, because—as Susan has mentioned—these are really developmental stages.  And while it’s healthy and good for a teenager to be learning some independence from their family, by the time we are mature adults we really should be able to work together as a team, and we really should be able to count on each other.  So, this is where the term codependence can be very confusing—and I think it also frightens people away from studying it, because I know that was true with me. I took a very long time to come around to studying it, because in my heart I wanted to be able to count on a man, and I wanted a relationship that was team oriented, and I really didn’t want to be like (laughing) some of the women I knew who had become a little bit hard and bitter, and felt like the right thing was to do everything themselves.  So, let’s just make it really clear that codependence is emotional dependence.

STEVE:  Hmm.

KIM:  And that means when you are actually depending on somebody else to keep you happy.  You are depending on somebody else to regulate your emotions.  And also—sort of as Susan has mentioned—that you are looking for a reflection of yourself in that person, that you feel they are the source of not just your conscience, but your whole life. 

STEVE:  Hmm.

KIM:  And that kind of neediness (or emotional neediness) in a relationship actually is counterproductive, and makes it harder for the couple to actually work together.  And really, one of the biggest defining terms of codependence is just that this is somebody who cares for another person, but really at their own expense to the point where it is actually damaging to themselves in some way. 

So, this obviously isn’t healthy, but it’s not also necessarily something we want to point any kind of a finger of blame at.  It’s just a matter of actually looking and saying well, is this really going to make us the good person that a lot of people will pretend that it does; or do we actually need to learn to take care of ourselves and preserve our sense of self, and preserve that connection with ourself, because really that is a much healthier way of operating.  And it isn’t really that difficult to learn.  And once you learn it, you know, you still can care for other people that may be in a less fortunate situation than yourself, without, necessarily, that being destructive to you or it meaning that you sort of lose your sense of self, or you lose your inner sense of guidance. 

STEVE:  That’s such an important distinction, and it’s really good that we talk about it, and give this time to really dive into it.  Because it’s very easy to get the wrong idea, and I think your characterization of it, as being emotional dependence—codependence being emotionally dependent on others—

KIM:   Mmm.

STEVE:  —is a really accurate and helpful way to describe it.  We can’t be in more than one place at one time.  Any single one of us.  You know, we have to be realistic about this life.  It’s busy.  And when you have kids, and you have a career, and you have people around you—there is always too much to do.  And we have to just be realistic with ourselves—we have to depend on other people. 

KIM:  Yeah, we live in a specialized world. 

STEVE:  That’s right.  So, we shouldn’t be frightened of depending on one another from time to time as well, so there is a nice balance there to be found. 

The next comment it from Jan (it actually could be Ján—but you’re never really quite sure, are you, if it’s Jan or Ján?)

KIM:   Mmm.

STEVE:  Anyway (laughing), let’s just go with Jan.  And Jan says, “I really love and learn so, so much from your podcasts, your books, your workbooks.  Yes, you are very, very good and have such wide words.  Thank you.”

Well, thank you, Jan (or Ján). 

KIM:  (Laughing.)  Oh, well, thank you.  The title of the show was really actually referring to how codependents actually talk about themselves, saying, you know, “tell me I’m good”. 

STEVE:  (Laughing.)

KIM:   I wasn’t actually asking for people to tell me that I’m good, but thanks anyway, Jan. 

STEVE:  It doesn’t hurt. 

KIM:  (Laughing.)  I appreciate the compliment. 

STEVE:  Okay, the next comment is from Lynn.  And Lynn has said, “I have just listened to your podcast on ‘Codependency and Narcissists’.  My alcoholic-narcissist-soon-to-be-ex-husband is also very codependent.  We switched roles in the Drama Triangle several times from Victim to Accuser to Rescuer.  So what do you say to the codependent-narcissist who was never satisfied, even when he got what he wanted. He is now pretending he has been sober for a long time, yet no behavior or attitude change is present.  Narcissists rarely ever change—thus, the divorce.”

Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Lynn.

KIM:  Mmmmm.  Yep. 

STEVE:  Can I just jump in here quickly, Kim? 

KIM:   Sure. 

STEVE:   I think there is something in AA that they recognize that a lot of people’s behavior doesn’t change when they are sober. 

KIM:   Mmm. 

STEVE:    The perhaps get a little more depressed.  There is not necessarily a lot of behavior change, it’s just they are not drinking anymore.  (Laughing.)

KIM:  That’s right. 

STEVE:   So, they probably have a healthier liver and their bank account is probably a little bit better, but being addicted to alcohol doesn’t mean that you are automatically depressed or a narcissist or anything like that.  It’s all purely down to behavior and how you react and your habits. 

KIM:  Mmm.  Well, I think it’s also why we have always recommended the Health Recovery Center for alcoholism, because their supplements-based program really does tackle the nutritional deficiency and the chemical imbalance going on in someone’s body that has caused them to become an alcoholic in the first place.  And if that isn’t addressed there is a saying, I think, which is called a “dry drunk” and I think that’s what Lynn is describing here is somebody who has been sober for along time, but they still behave as if they are still an alcoholic.  And the other thing I have really noticed about AA is that the meetings can be a very bad trap.  They can be as much a den of narcissism as a pub or a bar, where, you know, a bunch of ex-alcoholics get together and form a mutual fan club where they just build each other up and protect each other from looking at parts of themselves that maybe need looking at, and where they also justify spending a lot of time away from home.  So, they are all things to look at. 

Certainly, I really do believe that people can show signs of narcissism and codependence, and it’s great that Lynn has actually seen that she has been a part of this of having switched roles—

STEVE:  Mmm. 

KIM:  —from Victim to Accuser to Rescuer.  I don’t know, I think her question is probably rhetorical about ‘what do you say to the codependent-narcissist who is never satisfied, even when he got what he wanted’?  I don’t know without knowing the circumstances (laughing). 

STEVE:  (Laughing.) Yeah.

KIM:  I think that one is pretty tough to answer. 

STEVE:   Yeah.  It’s a rhetorical question.  Sure. 

But yeah, there is also a lot of pain in that rhetorical question for Lynn. 

KIM:  Hmm.

STEVE:  Because it’s very difficult—managing a relationship is very difficult.  Each of us wants to please our partner. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  And when that is not working or it’s not clicking, and things get worse or go through cycles, you know, that can be very difficult.  And it can cause a lot of longstanding bitterness and disappointment. 

KIM:  Mmm.  All I can really recommend is that sober or not sober, married or divorced, I still really highly recommend that you follow the steps that we outline, particularly in Back from the Looking Glass and 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence yourself—and that is going to put you in a position of strength, regardless of what he is doing. 

STEVE:  The next comment is from Sheila, and Sheila says, “I am having difficulty wrapping my mind around it all, but the seeds are planted” (and we got a nice little winking emojicon there).  “As my brain things on it passively, I see examples of it.  Maybe it will be clearer to me.  Thank you.”

KIM:   Well, thanks, Sheila. And, yeah, that really is the trick is looking for examples of this in our life around us, and that is kind of the whole idea of the show, really, “Our Narcissistic-Codependent Society”, because really the examples are all around us.  We are immersed in it constantly.  So it really does take some vigilance and some clarity of mind to remember what the healthier or more balanced way of reacting might be. 

STEVE:  We got a long comment here from Liz.  Thanks, Liz, for writing.  She says, “Hi, Kim and Steve.  I am so happy to finally get the help and information you are providing.  I agree with most of what you said in the audio. I am codependent, but neither of my parents are alcoholics or addicts. I believe my codependency came from my mom. I am the oldest of three.  I am 48 years old.  While growing up, mom stayed home with the kids and dad worked. Mom is very kind, compassionate, and loving—always cooking, baking, cleaning, and taking care of everyone.  There were always family gatherings and our friends always came over while dad was working at night. My mom always gave us beautiful birthday parties.  She was always outgoing and happy during those times, but other times she was so sad and stressed because dad didn’t give her affection or attention, and wasn’t emotionally available for her—or us.  My dad was abused as a child and left home at the age of 13.  He was very mentally, and sometimes physically, abusive to my mom. I remember talking to my mom about it all the time.  I felt to sad for her and powerless to hand.  Sometimes I did stand up for my mom and tell my dad to stop and I shouted at him. He would either grab me by my face or push me out of the way.  Eventually, my mom did stand up for herself and made plans to leave my dad and get divorced.  I was so happy and relieved to finally get away from all of that.  And then when my dad was told about this, he would cry and plead and beg for days for my mom not to leave him.  This happened many times.  My mom always gave in, feeling sorry for dad, saying how much he needed us and didn’t have anyone else.  My mom couldn’t handle seeing my dad upset.  Sometimes she would cry after seeing my dad sad.  She put up with the same behavior time and time again.  I was so hurt inside.  After seeing this for years, unfortunately, I ended up being exactly the same as mom—with some differences. I am ready to get the help I need and move past this.”

KIM:  Well, Liz, that is just such a sad story.  But congratulations and you have our full support that you are ready to change that pattern.  Your story is really a great one to show that codependence really does go beyond families where there is alcoholism or drug addiction. It really is an emotional pattern of behavior, and really happens to some wonderful people—like your mom sounds like a wonderful person.  But, unfortunately, she was lacking skills and emotional regulation in how to deal with the neglect she was facing from your father without enmeshing you in it, and putting expectations on you that really wasn’t fair, because of course you were going to want to help in that situation, but you were just a child.  And if she had no idea to help herself, how could you have possibly known better, when she was your main role model?  So, really, you were set up in a situation that you had no ability to win.  You were expected to help, but there was really no way you were going to know how to do that, or should have been expected to know how to do that.  And—this is a really important point—the chain has to break somewhere.  And making that decision that you are not going to be that person for a parent any longer can be a tough decision and can take some time. It doesn’t mean that you will stop having a relationship with them. It actually means that in time your relationship will probably improve.  But even more importantly, you really, really must learn that it’s not fair expecting your children to do that for you.  And sometimes that doesn’t feel fair, you know, if you have grown up where you have been an emotional support person for other people, you start to feel like, hey, well, it’s my turn now and I should be able to expect that.  But it really is damaging for your children.  And I think you have really expressed in a very clear and very emotional way with your story just how damaging it is and the ways that it is damaging.  Because you want so much to help; you care so much, but what can you do?  There is nothing that you can do. 

Now, while your story may seem hopeless and you may feel there was nothing that your mom could have done, I assure you that that isn’t the case.  And I really do hope that you are working through the steps in Back from the Looking Glass and the steps in 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence to learn better and more effective ways of standing up for yourself than just leaving, and then ending up going back when your partner begs your forgiveness and you feel sorry for them.  And there are a lot of people that will say that, you know, you were a sucker for going back—or may have said that your mom was a sucker for going back to your dad—but I really don’t feel that. Your mom was obviously a compassionate person and there obviously was some love between them.  And really, if anything, I would say her gap was she didn’t effectively know how to limit the abusive behavior, and she didn’t know how to effectively stand up for herself.  And, you know, we all have gaps in our skill set in some places (laughing), and that’s not judgmental or pointing a finger, it’s just how it is. I think very few of us actually end up getting parents who really have all of the character traits we needed, and that’s where it does become important as we get older to look for role models that we can learn from in some of those gap areas. 

STEVE:  And I think from my perspective too—and I grew up in a very abusive family myself—that it’s very difficult as a kid to be able to reconcile it—it’s almost impossible. I’ve been there too and it’s really, really hard.  You know, you rely so much on your parents when you are a kid—

KIM:  Mmm…

STEVE:  —and when you see them—you know, you see a lot of happiness in your family, I think like Liz was explaining. You know, there were great times as well, where there was a lot of functionality. 

KIM:   Mmm.

STEVE:  But it’s when the dysfunction pops its head up it seems so pronounced because it just seems so unnecessary, and it’s very difficult to come to terms with, and I feel for you, Liz.  And thank you for your story.  We really appreciate it, that you were able to share your story with us.   

KIM:  Mmm.  So, this is the end of our 10th show in this first series.  I am not sure when we will be back to do more, if ever.  We probably will, it depends on how popular they become and how much response that we get for the shows we have already done.  Coming up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s a busy time of the year, but it also is a time of the year where, unfortunately, the stress at home can cause the escalation in fights and in incidence of domestic abuse.  So, we really do encourage you to please share the shows we have made in this short series with people who you feel may need them and may appreciate them.  We do very, very little advertising these days and we very much rely on word of mouth and we rely on people helping us spread the word.  We have been eight years helping people online, and the way our system is set up it means that help and support is accessible 24 hours a day from really anywhere in the world that you are, as long as you’ve got an internet connection.  I also would highly recommend that you check out 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence. If you buy it as a download, it is very inexpensive.  It’s a reference book you can keep turning back to to remind yourself, because, really, this isn’t a behavior pattern that you are going to change from just reading a book once and leaving it on the shelf.  That’s why we have set up our system as we have. 

After your purchase the book, if you sign up for an Introductory Special on the front page of TheNCMarriage.com, after you purchase the book, in about a day, you will be sent an invitation to join our membership site.  Memberships start from as low as $19 a month, and for that you really get a lot.  You get group support that you have access to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You get access to a lot more material.  And it’s not just having Steve and I available to help support you and answer questions, it’s a whole community of people online, many of whom have been working through our material for many years.  Some of them have had success in their marriages and they are just there helping other people.  Some people, their marriage is still a work in progress. Most of them do feel like the steps that we offer and the lifestyle changes that we offer is a source of strength and support to them, or they wouldn’t be coming back and they wouldn’t still be there.  So, I really do encourage you, if you haven’t already, to do an Introductory Special on the front page of TheNCMarriage.com, where you can sign up and join our mailing list, and also that you check out Back from the Looking Glass and 10 Steps to Overcome Codependence, which, after you finish the Introductory Special, you will be offered at a discount—and then a day later, you will be sent the invitation to join the membership site. 

And even if you feel that you really don’t need this, or it isn’t the right time for you, I really do ask that you think of somebody that you can share this show or share our information with, because, the way our world is today, I bet that you do know somebody who needs—let’s just say a helping hand and a sense of strength—in dealing with what they are dealing with at home. 

STEVE:  So, Kim, I hope you have a wonderful time walking around Melbourne next week. 

KIM:   You are so jealous, aren’t you? 

STEVE:  I am.  It’s our favorite place, isn’t it?

KIM:  Mmm.  It’s going to be sad being there without you, but I am still going to have a wonderful time!

STEVE:  I am sure you are.  And thanks, it’s been really a lot of fun doing “The Narcissistic-Codependent Society”, because our society is very narcissistic and codependent.  But understanding is all we’ve got.  It’s a wonderful skill. If we can move to understand it, we can then move through it, with knowing what is in front of us. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  And we encourage everybody to keep learning.  Keep learning more and more about this.  Read everything you can, with a critical eye on it.  Kim and I come from a place where we really have just a place where we can share some very positive experiences about our experience with you.  And we don’t have an agenda.

KIM:  No.  (Laughing.) I can’t believe though, how just fraught with pain and confusion my life was before I actually found out about these patterns of behavior, and until I actually found out more about them to the point where I could recognize them and I could find some meaning and some understanding in what was going on around me, and also find a path out of the confusion and out of the emotional pain. 

STEVE:  Kim, I’ve had lots of fun doing these recordings with you.

KIM:  Thanks, Steve.  Okay, so goodbye everyone, and hopefully we will be talking to you again soon in the forums. 

STEVE:  And don’t forget to keep commenting. 

KIM:  Bye!

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This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Dear Kim and Steve, I really hope you do not stop your podcast. So much suffering and cycles of the dance I have had all my life. I plan to get your books and pray that by changing myself it will change the dynamics in my marriage. All other sources say leave. I am working on getting emotionally mature. Thanks so much for all your hard work.

  2. Thank you for your podcasts – I apologize for not commenting or responding – I am learning a lot and working on my own changes, plus helping some of my children also. (they are all grown and gone now, but I can see the effects of our narcissistic/codependent relationship) It’s good to know that we can change and make things better in our lives!! Thank you!

  3. Hi Kim and Steve, I am enjoying your content and books, would really like some of your experience on a unique situation I am in, is there a way i can contact you, i really need some help? Appreciated Paul

      1. hi kim, gauging by my many attempts to speak in person and lack of ease to contact you am i right in assuming thats just not something you do to much of and prefer the system, or is there that option to speak?

        My conundrum : My wife and i have separated four months ago, and i have been caring for our 5 year son for that period, she now wants to come back into our home for the supposed purpose of sharing care of our son, i said not without some form of mediation and a safety net (as emotionally and financially i just can’t take anymore of the stuff from before and don’t won’t my son to see people ok ing that or doing it ,not good for anyone).
        My wife is a covert narcissist so the best way currently i can think of dealing with that is results based stuff linked to third party accountability because (the word means little to her, and meanings are changed to suite and excuses are generated quickly, reality is what ever suites her immediate needs, gas lighting etc), honestly i am scared and actually only recently realising how much this toxic relationship hurt me and the abuses that were going on. I am contacting you because i can see you understand the dynamics really at play with this stuff, my concern with someone from relationships australia mediating or another organisation is they won’t be up to the task of discerning the manipulation. My wife can put on an amazing front and maintain for long periods, once you start to get into things though this is when its obvious that its all a front, she has used it in the past strategically attempt to turn my family against me and any one else that takes the poor little me bait. I realise i have played my part in enabling this to continue and escalate, (i really was unreal and didn’t want to see who i really married), the level of tolerance and love was beyond me. So finally my question can you help with some advice/strategies how to handle and or can you mediate or do you know someone appropriately skilled in this field to mediate?

  4. I continue to value your community, their insights, your insights and the peer supportive network therein. I am happy to offer my endorsement for others who are considering joining and participating more fully. Hope you are able to keep producing these videos.

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