Co-Dependency: A Little Bit of Give and Take

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Co-dependency. A term that I was unfamiliar with until I actually fell into a co-dependent relationship. I didn’t even know that that was what it was until I emerged on the other side of it. I mean, how can you be co-dependent on another person and lose all parts of yourself? I was familiar with the concept of partnership, where there is a little bit of give and take in a (healthy) relationship, but co-dependency? The term was as alien to me as living my life on another planet.

I was so strong, confident, and knowledgeable when I met him. At least I thought that I was. Unfortunately, he was a narcissist (another term that I was unfamiliar with at the time), an addict, and an abuser. Those three conditions don’t always coincide in one person but in my case they did, and it was the perfect cocktail for a situation I didn’t see happening – until it was over.

Why I Fell into a Co-dependent Relationship

Co-dependency is where one person gives up all aspects of self to serve the needs of another, regardless of their own wants and needs.

I had always been a “people pleaser,” making sure that everyone else’s needs were met before my own. I worried how other people saw me. If I made the right decisions. Always accepting social invitations, even when it wasn’t my “thing,” because I thought that it was the right thing to do. I never took time for “just me,” and if I did, I spent the whole time feeling guilty about it and that I should be doing something more productive. In other words, I was primed and ready to go for being pulled into a co-dependent relationship when the “right” person came along. I was also grieving the loss of my first husband, another complex issue that affected my decision-making at that time in my life.

A narcissist and a co-dependent are the perfect partners in crime. This chart helps explains some of the key points that I found in my own co-dependent relationship.

Narcissist Co-dependent
Loves having someone to take care of them Feels the need to take care of others
Puts self first at all costs Puts self last at all costs
Dominant in a relationship Sub servient in a relationship (people pleaser)
Always makes the decisions in the relationship Never makes the decisions in the relationship (or if does, is persuaded otherwise)
Demands that everyone conforms to their every desire Conforms to everyone’s desire (except their own)
Expects everyone to say “Yes” to their requests Can’t say “No” to requests
Thinks only of self Thinks of everyone else but self
Taker Giver
No boundaries (in taking) No boundaries (in giving)
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There are many other factors in a narcissist/co-dependent relationship, but you can see why this is an unhealthy combination. This was my life. After we got over the “love bomb” phase of our relationship. It wasn’t healthy. In fact, it eventually led to chronic autoimmune conditions for me, something I have to live with for the rest of my life, based on my poor decision making and naivety of the situation. So, how did I eventually get out?

Crisis Point: Getting Out

I now know who the real me is. And I am not going to lose her.Eventually I reached a crisis point. I simply collapsed on the floor one day, wondering where my life had disappeared to, wondering where I had disappeared to. A narcissist only thinks of himself (and add in the abuse and the drinking) and is therefore always “shocked” when they get push back from those around them, especially their own partner. So, on the day that I had built up enough courage to leave and simply say “No more!” it still seemed to come as a shock for him, despite his behavior and actions. I mean, what could he have possibly done wrong?

At that point, I could only think about me. Not him. Anymore. And his “hurt” feelings. I had to recover and heal. And this was not the first time that I had tried to address the issue. It was in fact one of several attempts. But this time it was for real. I left him in my rear-view window and turned my focus on me.

Recovery and Healing

Recovery was slow. I am talking years, not months. Learning to find myself again or acknowledging the death of the “old me” and letting the “new me” emerge was a slow and painful process. I first saw a therapist but felt that I had exhausted the benefits of that after a year or so. So, I went within. Within me. To find me. In this 24/7 world that we live in, how many people can honestly say that they have done that? Taken time – real time – only with themselves and not others?

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I also gardened. In fact, I created a garden. A big garden! I got back in touch with nature and my roots. Literally. I painted. My whole house. Lots of color, a thing that had been missing in my life for a long time. I didn’t let my health issues prevent me from unleashing the creative self within me. I found a part of me that I didn’t even know existed. Until now. I just took my time with it all. It felt like my crushed soul had finally been allowed out to play. To live.

Slowly, I acknowledged that the girl I was before I met him had grown into the woman who emerged after I left him. Parts of the “old me” were still there, but they had grown, matured, and learned from the experience.

I have now lived alone for seven years, except for the companionship of my dog. And it has been one of the most frightening, yet most exhilarating, and most discovering parts of my life. I now know who the real me is. And I am not going to lose her. For me. Or for anyone else.

Louise Elowen was in a codependent, abusive relationship with an alcoholic for over 10 years. She is a published writer and editor who writes about her experiences to help others in similar situations and to advocate for recognition of “the other side of the story.”

Last Updated on September 6, 2022

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