Codependency Explained: Part 2

Types of Codependent Communication Styles

Review of Codependency Defined.

Codependency is a set of protective behaviors that shield you from being more authentic and true to yourself. Childhood trauma probably prevented you from knowing what healthy authenticity looks like. People – likely our caregivers – did not create a safe space where our authentic self was safe and accepted. Rather than learning to be authentic we learned to navigate (or manipulate) people. We learned to assume that other people are barriers that we have to work around. Now, as adults, we project onto others that they are going to react just like our abusive parents would. 

A side effect of denying our authentic self is that we don’t believe in ourselves and we don’t believe in others. If we’re not showing our authentic self, we assume others are not either. We begin to think that being direct is being mean. There’s also a fear of what happens as a result of being direct with someone. It is from a place of fear and lack of believing in oneself and others that indirect communication (ie, manipulation, navigation) becomes a way of being.

Codependent Behaviors Are Not Inherently Bad

Navigating, manipulating and communicating indirectly in and of itself is not bad.  They are valuable skills that can be helpful in different situations.  What I am talking in this article  is navigating, manipulating and indirectly communicating from a place of fear. Those skills are problematic when we use them because we are fearful of how we are being perceived and that fear is controlling our decisions. 

Each navigating/manipulating/controlling behavior is motivated by a fear that our authentic self will be seen and rejected.

Ways Codependent People Communicate

TYPE 1:  Sickenly Sweet

This type of navigation is about being totally selfless and totally accommodating.  We will do it with anyone who has leverage over us; authority figures, friends and new romantic partners. Especially new romantic partners.

Example of What It Looks Like

  • “I know you said you love spaghetti, but I didn’t know if you wanted to go low-carb pasta or just regular full-carb.  I could do it with some ground beef or mushrooms or both of those.  I can do whatever you want.  I didn’t know if you’re lactose intolerant because a couple of months ago, you were talking about maybe cutting out dairy so we could skip any of the cheese on the pasta or totally skip the pasta.  I could run out and get some sushi. But I understand if you’re concerned with the mercury, which I totally get.  If that’s the case, we could go to a local vegetarian place nearby”

Types of codependent communication
  • “No, it’s totally fine.  I can work late tonight to get that done.  Yeah, I totally get it that there was so much other stuff going on that no one could get this to me earlier. I’ll make it happen, no matter what. I know that it’s really important to the company.  I’ll just call my partner and let them know I won’t make it to our date night.  You know, if I can’t get this wrapped up tonight, I’ll just work through the weekend. Can I get you something?  You look tired.”

What’s Happening on the Inside

The person is really giving it their all to be gracious. But in reality, it’s a controlling behavior. It’s attempting to control what the receiving person thinks of us.  The person on the receiving end is exhausted and alienated. All of the options and extras are exhausting. The codependent person is putting so much energy into trying to contain a potential explosion that doesn’t exist that it alienates the receiver. It does not feel good to be treated like a bomb that’s about to go off and alienating when it’s not representative of what’s happening in the present. It’s highly likely that someone in childhood had to be treated like an explosive device and the behavior was warranted then.  

This behavior could also be motivated by shame or fear of not being good enough or fear of getting something wrong. If the receiver is disappointed, it will trigger shame.  “I’ll run myself into the ground to get you to approve of me or tolerate me.”

Childhood Roots 

The codependent person was likely shamed directly or indirectly by caregivers. They were never “enough.”  They were never good enough, thoughtful enough, careful enough, giving enough, etc., etc.  Kids develop the skill to be sickenly sweet when they had people in their lives who are also sickenly sweet,  people who only relate to others if they are doing for something them or a miserable moody parent whose mood changes instantaneously and unpredictably. Sickening sweetness can also be a cover-up for a highly dysfunctional family system. 

What to do about it

  • Practice good enough behavior 

    • “I’ll work on this until COB today and then pick it up next week.” 

    • “We’re having spaghetti for dinner. If you want something else, you’ll have to sort it yourself.” 

    • Name the ways the people in your life are not your parents.

      •  My friends don’t care if we’re only having spaghetti, but my mom totally would.

      • So-and-so doesn’t care that my kids are acting crazy, but my parents would be having a fit.

TYPE 2:  Fortune Telling

This type of navigation requires the codependent to have an answer for everything and is conditioned to keep their faults very well hidden. Fortune telling is particularly destructive to intimacy.

What It Looks Like

The goal is to make it impossible for the receiver to have an issue with you.  It’s done by creating an airtight argument, predicting what people are going to say or by overexplaining.  

  • “I knew you’d say that.  That’s why I already took care of it.”  

  • “Well, we didn’t come over because we’re really worried about Covid.  I don’t want to get sick because people my age are having a really hard time with the long haul symptoms. I can’t afford to take the the time off work if I get sick.  You know how our toddler is about respecting space and keeping a mask on. And then there’s Grandma…” 

Codependents believe they can see the future.

What’s Happening on the Inside

This person is trying to maintain an image of perfection. If they are perfect, they are worthy of acceptance. They have themselves so on top of things, how could the receiver possibly have an issue with them? When a situation comes up where they may jeopordize the harmony of the relationship with the receiver, they flood them with so much information and forethought, they believe the receiver will have no choice but to allow the person to take up space and stay in the receiver’s good graces. The fortune telling behavior is manipulative because it intends to make the receiver believe they would be the bad guy if they were to reject the person. The receiving person is repelled because to them it feels like the person is hiding something from them or lying

How It’s From Childhood

It’s likely that the codependent had to, to different degrees, step into the parenting role in the family system because the actual parent was not fulfilling their role. They forecasted what it’s going to be like, so they prepared.  In essence, they acted like a little adult and in doing so, they were seen.  They wanted to impress the adults around them by being adult-like. Children who have to navigate the world without any parental guidance are very good fortune tellers.  They had to be in order to survive and to make people believe they had an actual adult caring for them.   Children with perfectionistic parents who grilled them about everything are also good fortune tellers.

 

How It’s From Childhood

It’s likely that the codependent had to, to different degrees, step into the parenting role in the family system because the actual parent was not fulfilling their role. They forecasted what it’s going to be like, so they prepared.  In essence, they acted like a little adult and in doing so, they were seen.  They wanted to impress the adults around them by being adult-like. Children who have to navigate the world without any parental guidance are very good fortune tellers.  They had to be in order to survive and to make people believe they had an actual adult caring for them.   Children with perfectionistic parents who grilled them about everything are also good fortune tellers.

How to Work on It

  • Try to not have a response for everything. Notice the thoughts and feelings that come up.

  •  Answer questions without an apology or backstory. 

  • Resist the urge forecast people’s needs.  Allow people to experience you, not what you can do for them.

TYPE 3:  Check, Double Check and then Check Again.

This type of navigation is motivated by not wanting to be let down by others. The codependent person does not trust what people say or what they heard.  So, they confirm and reconfirm.  And then reconfirm some more.  

What It Looks Like

  • “What time do you want to leave for the airport? Are you sure?” *five minutes later* “Are we still going to leave at this time?” *15 minutes later* “I know you said we’re leaving at 10:30, I just wanted to make sure that’s still what you wanted to do.”

  • “Are you sure you’re not mad at me? You’d tell me if I made you mad, right? Are we good? Do you still love me?”

Codependent behaviors include over checking

What’s Happening on the Inside

When this type of navigation is used, it means “You can’t forget about me.”  It’s manipulative in that it attempts to guarantee their needs will be met. The primary need in this case is to know they are loved, seen and their position in the receiver’s life is secure. The person is doing everything they can to fend off imagined pending abandonment. The behavior is meant to gain emotional security,  but it is problematic because it alienates people close to them. It communicates “I don’t trust you” and the receiving party does not feel that the lack of trust is warranted. 

How Is It from Childhood

This type of coping mechanism is born from neglect and chronic disappointment. This can take the form of parents with addiction problems who didn’t show up or other unprocessed abandonment caused by an absentee caregiver. A good example of this type of abandonment is when the parent doesn’t show up for the promised weekend visit. The child is continually hoping the parent has their shit together and will show up for them. It can also be the result of major catastrophes caused by someone else’s irresponsibility. 

How to Work on It

  • Write to your own inner child as an adult about why they don’t have to check and double check anymore. What has changed in their life since that behavior was essential? Who is it ok to reconfirm with (like the cable company or some other service provider) and who they can trust will keep their word?

  • Confirm with people only once.  Notice what comes up.

TYPE 4:  Undercover Inquiry

This type of navigation is all about being indirect. In some ways, it is like #3 Check, Double Check and then Check Again, but it’s a touch more manipulative because of its indirectness. It’s when a question is asked, but in a sneaky way. The intent is to protect oneself from the other person’s reaction and/or disappointment in you. Think of it as a gentle interrogation. There’s a distinct sense of “I don’t want to cause any waves.”

What It Looks Like

Phrases used by codependent people

The person who is performing an undercover inquiry is doing so because they do not want to be shamed or rejected for needing or wanting something from the receiver.  If they shroud their actual request in ambiguity, it gives them plausible deniability and therefore can deny, backpedal, or gaslight the receiver if they believe the homeostasis of the relationship is threatened. Once again, the receiver is alienated because they see through the person’s tactics and can feel used, weird, and not trusted.  The behavior creates the very problem it is trying to avoid:  emotional insecurity.

How It Is from Childhood

Every kid learns how to read a room. It’s an essential skill when you’re learning how to ask for things and negotiate. But for someone who uses a lof of indirect communication, it’s likely that for this person, it was never safe to ask questions.  When they asked a question, the parent or other authority figure exploited their power over the child by not answering or shaming them. The child ends up feeling powerless, shamed and unworthy.  Questions like, “Where are we going?”  was met with, “Just get in the car!”  Or, “I don’t understand what’s going on.” led to being made fun of and laughed at.

How To Work On It
  • Journal – List examples of how it wasn’t safe being direct as a child.
  • Look for opportunities to be more direct even if it feels scary or messy.  Start with opportunities that are low threat that you logically know won’t rupture the relationship.

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