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Codependent Vignettes

Though we have listed many symptoms and also linked to a checklist that you can go over to determine if you are or how much you are codependent, I've interviewed many people on line asking them for examples of how they have been codependent in the past. These are the little bits and pieces that follow. Perhaps some of you will see yourself here. However, keep in mind that one of the strongest features of a codependent is their sense of "denial" and no matter how we present symptoms of codependency, for some, they will have to, like the alcoholic or drug user, continue on until they crash before they start recovery. Codependency is very much like any addiction and one must "let go" to start a road to recovery.

Again, the following are real stories from real people who have begun recovery from codependency. The names have been changed.


Mary had been sexually abused by her father for years. For years afterwards, she had held in a lot of hatred of her father. She sought out therapy and joined a group of incest survivors. She finally confronted her father one day and got rid of a whole lot of baggage she'd been carrying about for way too long. However, Mary hung on to her codependent behaviors. She was still in denial. One of her friends one day, unable to hold herself back anymore, looked Mary in the eye and told her straight out: "Your mother knew. Mothers always know." Mary refused to believe it and refused to see this friend ever again. When Mary's marriage became abusive she ended up in a therapist's office. One day she asked her therapist if she thought her mother had known. Her therapist said the same thing her friend had told her three years earlier: Mothers always know. Mary broke down crying. It was a good sign. She was now willing to heal her abuse. Once Mary accepted this fact and ended her denial she was allowed to enter a truly healing period of her life.


Sue was abused as a child. Her first marriage was abusive. Her husband constantly degraded her and told her she was nothing. He also ran around on her. She finally divorced him and went into hiding for many years. She began to come out of hiding when she went online. She decided to join a computer dating service online and wrote up an ad. It was a long add telling everything and she insisted that her ideal mate would have to honest and not a game player. Every man she met seemed nice at first, but turned out to be a game player and totally dishonest. She finally got into therapy and learned that codependents can be spotted a mile away; that they send up red flags that say, "Abuse me." She also learned that she had poor boundaries. One day she brought her online ad to her therapist and shared it with her. Her therapist helped her to spot the red flags. "First," her therapist advised, "let's cut this down a bit. Don't tell all. It's a big red flag." Next her therapist asked her to tell her the most important quality her partner should have, and Sue responded: "Honesty." Her therapist then asked her, "Isn't honesty in a relationship a given?" Sue did not understand at first, but within a few minutes of batting this idea around, she finally understood. If a relationship isn't honest, it isn't a relationship. She realized that in asking for Honesty, something that should be a part of any relationship, she was sending up another big red flag that said: "I've been had in the past, I can be had right now." She dropped the honesty from the ad and the next person she met through her newly revised ad turned out to be a truly nice fellow.


Dave never trusted women. He had many names for them, mostly unprintable here. He wanted love, but just did not trust them. When he met a new woman and began dating, he always told her, "Lie to me just once and I'll leave you high and dry." Dave suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He attended his rap groups and did one on one therapy with his psychologist. One day during a half-hour session with his therapist he admitted to cheating on his new gal. It wasn't anything big; he just visited an old girlfriend and had a few drinks. But he lied to his new girlfriend saying he fell asleep early that night. His therapist asked if this was a big lie or a little white lie. Dave said it was a little white lie. His therapist then asked Dave what he would do if he caught his girlfriend in a little white lie, and Dave nearly blurted out, "I'd leave her," but instead broke into tears. His father had lied to him. His mother had lied to him. His government had lied to him. He was surrounded by lies. He had become a lie. He realized that his lies were so compiled there was no where he could turn without finding a lie. His therapist suggested something quite surreal. He suggested that he forget all the lies he's been told and focus only on the lies he himself told and in focusing on these lies only, that he forgive himself. He should forgive himself for every little thing he had ever done, for every lie, for every deed, for everything. His therapist patted Dave on the back and said to him, "Dave, every time we get together you tell me you want a good woman to love. Perhaps it's time you love yourself." Dave understood. It made sense. How could he give something to someone that he did not have? How could he give love to a woman if he did not have love. It was going to be a hard road to travel, but there was suddenly light at the end of the tunnel.


Marsha was in and out of relationships like a high school diving team is in and out of the water. All of her relationships were bad. All of her partners abusive. One day, she met a man who seemed different. She could not believe that this man was truly different and so she tested him. When they met she had questions prepared for him. When they were apart she emailed him questions. Every response elicited from her, "Is this man for real?" Yet, her new friend answered all her questions more perfectly than she could imagine. After many tests and so many wonderful answers, Marsha decided this was the man for her. And then one day she leaned up against his new car and when she pulled away, she noticed that a zipper on her back pocket had scraped a two-foot long line into his door. Her boyfriend got angry and cussed. The car was just two weeks old. He was in a funk for about an hour and then finally apologized. He said, "Aw hell, it's just a car. I'll get over it." By the next week, he even made jokes about it. "Well, my dog marks his territory, I suppose you were just marking yours." But Marsha saw and heard an abusive man. This guy's response was the same as one of her ex's. She saw and heard and felt her ex in her presence for just a second and it scared her. Then the jokes: were they jokes or were they jabs? Was he just trying to rub it in? Suddenly everything was suspicious. It didn't matter that he'd passed all her tests or that she felt safe and comfortable in his arms or that she had wanted to love him dearly and tenderly. What mattered was she suddenly convinced herself that this guy was capable of being just as abusive as all her others and within a week, she had left him.

For twenty years, Marsha was convinced that all men were abusers. It wasn't till she joined a codependency anonymous support group that she started seeing herself through the stories of others. She heard about people going from relationship to relationship and whether they were abusive or not, it didn't matter. The more abusive the relationship the longer she gave it, and the healthier the relationship, the quicker she was out of there. Why would anyone leave a healthy relationship? Why would she, in her mind, turn a healthy relationship into an unhealthy one and leave? It was then that Marsha had to admit that her issues were not about relationships with others, but that her issues were about her relationship to herself. She did not feel that she was worthy of a healthy relationship. She was terrified of losing control. She felt more in control in an unhealthy relationship because she was on her toes always trying to catch "the bastard" in a lie. She felt deep inside that she did not deserve love, or respect, or happiness. All of those things, when offered her were quickly grabbed up until her old stuff crept in and took over. And then she'd find herself alone and seeking out an abuser to make her feel on the outside exactly what she felt on the inside. Marsha decided she needed to learn more about her "issues" and began reading. But first, she had to end her relationship and stay alone for a while. She needed to learn to care for Marsha. Her meetings, her reading, a little therapy, and abstinence from men for a healing period allowed healthy changes to enter her life.


I thought it was so cute when we were first dating. He didn't like others looking at me when we went out. He'd follow me to the lady's room. He kept a close watch on me wherever we went. I thought it was so cute. That's until he threatened to kill me and my children.


I thought I was being spontaneous jumping quickly into bed with new lovers. I found out later that it wasn't spontaneity that made me do that, but rather a deep, deep need to be loved. Because I was sexually abused as a child, I associated love with sex. It took me years to get sexually healthy.


I spent longer times in unhealthy relationships than in healthy ones. I convinced myself that the healthy relationships were unhealthy and that the unhealthy ones would get better.


I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My father was an alcoholic. My mother's favorite line was, "Shhhhh, your father doesn't feel well." I realized I was codependent when I dated a man who had been to Vietnam. He didn't drink heavily, but he did have his bad days. One day I looked at my kids and said, "Shhhhh, Jim doesn't feel well." It hit me, right then and there that I had become my mother. I got my butt into therapy.


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