Codependency Explained: Part 3

Hitting bottom is when the person realizes that the only way to stop the pain is through meaningful change.

What It Looks Like When Codependents Hit Bottom

We commonly use that term “hitting bottom” a lot when we refer to people deep in addiction. They need to “hit rock bottom” before they will do anything to change. Well, the concept also applies to codependents and more broadly, it is applicable to anyone who needs to make a behavior change.  So what does “hitting bottom” really mean?  It means the pain of doing nothing different  is greater than the pain of changing. It needs to be more uncomfortable for people to stay the same thing they’re currently in than it is for them to change.  Change is hard.  When faced with a choice, people choose the option that is the most rewarding or least painful.  They will not change until it is more painful to stay the samen codependency it can look like this:  Do I stay in this relationship that I can objectively see is unhealthy but yet is meeting certain needs right now? The relationship is predictable and that makes me feel like I’ve got some element of control. But change? It’s a complete unknown.

codependent chain

“Hitting bottom is when the person realizes that the only way to stop the pain is through meaningful change.”


Think about times when you’ve tried to change.  Anything.  You’ve tried to start exercising, eating differently, stop smoking, change a behavior, etc.  It takes energy, effort, and it’s uncomfortable.  Whatever you’re trying to do differently often means taking away something that was in some way rewarding.  Hitting bottom is when the person realizes that the only way to stop the pain is meaningful change.


Something To Keep In Mind


Most people with codependent tendencies have a history of abandonment trauma that has caused them to develop CPTSD. It’s important because the symptoms of codepdency and CPTSD overlap. It is  important to recognize and address the underlying trauma and not just assume that this is a “relationship or addictive behavior.”  It may be those things, but it serves the function of providing a sense of safety and security to somebody terrified of abandonment and rejection.

Codependent behaviors develop during that traumatic time to help the person try to survive.  It’s often, but not always in childhood.  Sometimes it’s the result of being in an adult relationship with someone who starts out healthy, then develops an addiction of some sort and you continue to try to pursue and “fix” them to get back the person you initially had a relationship with.

What Hitting Bottom Looks Like

Sleep impairment – fueled by the underlying hypervigilance, disempowerment and unsafeness
Increased pain and illness – some even develop or exacerbate autoimmune diseases

Low energy Substance use

Addictive behaviors – may not rise to the level of addiction, but they are using substances to escape.
Obsessive anxiety turns to major depression or explosive anger – constantly trying to keep the other from being angry or distressed in any way.
Frequent regret and resentment – They resent the dysfuntioncal other for putting them in that position.  They resent other people for abandoning them when they wouldn’t leave the dysfunctional other.  There’s plenty of resentment and/or anger to go around.
Frequent emotional dysregulation – Emotions swing from one extreme to another. Frequently, a codependent person who’s bottoming out will be very flat and then raging (or some other highly active state). They notice their emotions come in tidal waves.



Hypervigiliance – constantly scanning for any verbal or non-verbal clue that the dysfunctional other may be getting ready to relapse or abandon them. They start to engage in mind reading.  “You looked at me sideways, there’s you must be thinking XX and that means bad things are going to happen.”  They start assuming they know the other person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions.  When you’re constantly scanning for hints that it’s going to go bad, you can’t concentrate.  Your body is not able to say “Hey, I’m in the middle of this flight or flight response, but let’s focus on this spreadsheet.”  The bottoming out person also starts all or nothing thinking; you’re either all for me or all against me.  Or, it’s all my fault, or not my fault at all.  They personalize everything.  You’re angry, it must be my fault.  You relapsed, it must be my fault.  You had a bad day, it must be my fault.

People who are hitting bottom are sick and tired of being sick and tired.  They are over it.  They have run out of energy and motivation.  They’ve realized that something needs to change.


Alone – A codependent person will look around one day and realize they’ve lost pretty much everything.  Their friends and family have faded away, not wanting to enable the behavior.  It can also rise to the level to where they can lose their job because they are so obsessed and consumed with enabling the dysfunctional other. And in the ultimate irony, they may lose the codependency relationship as the other person says, “I can’t deal with having you in my life.”

Self Esteem tanks.  When they are no longer needed, they don’t know what their job is.  That feels terrifying.
Compulsive caretaking turns to helpless resentment.  They start to realize that no matter what they do, no matter how much they turn my life upside down, the other is not changing.  Yet they are terrified to let go.  It becomes something called learned helplessness.  It’s when we keep doing different things, but there’s always a painful consequence, at a certain point, we just give up and take it.

What It Means To Let Go Of Codependent Behaviors

It is terrifying to let go of the control.  In the past, if they let go of control bad things happen. It is a grieving process of sorts. The recovering codependent feels very vulnerable.  They no longer have somebody to give their life structure. There is a sense of acceptance that they cannot change or fix the other person or situation. That means recognizing it wasn’t you. It was something that is not changeable. There is also the active grief of the loss of the fantasy.  You’re not going to get back the person you thought you were in a relationship with.

You have to learn a new skill set. This can be overwhelming.

How Do You Get Someone With Codependent Behaviors To Make A Change?

The short answer is that you can’t. They have to be motivated to make the change themselves. The level of motivation must be proportional to the severity of the behavior that requires change.  For example, it takes very little motivation for someone who is sedentary to walk an extra 500 steps a day.  However, it takes heaps of motivation for a codependent person to give up a relationship(s) they’ve structured their entire lives around.  The best you can do in this situation is to suggest the codependent person try therapy or a support group for codepdendents.

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