Monday, March 26, 2012

Codependency and Borderline Personality Disorder: Part 1

“I can’t live without him.” “Everything will be ok as long as she loves me.” “I must do everything I can do make sure that he’s happy {and therefore associate me with being happy}”

Sound familiar?

I’ve been talking about relationships a lot lately so I thought I’d touch on a couple things that are not uncommon with Borderline Personality Disorder: Codependency and Counter-Dependency.

I am not {generally} codependent so I’m relying on my research here. I am counter-dependent. They’re definitely both worth looking at.

When everything you do, when everything you think about saying {or not}, when everything you feel, is dependent on someone else, it’s a problem. It’s codependent.

Codependent behaviors, thoughts and feelings go beyond normal kinds of self-sacrificing or caretaking. People who are codependent often take on the role as a martyr; they constantly put other's needs before their own and in doing so forget to take care of themselves. This creates a sense that they are "needed"; they cannot stand the thought of being alone and no one needing them. Codependent people are constantly in search of acceptance. When it comes to arguments, codependent people also tend to set themselves up as the "victim". When they do stand up for themselves, they feel guilty.

Codependency is an addiction. An addiction to people. Often very specific people. Codependency is a behavioural and psychological condition in which a person sacrifices his/her own wants and needs in favour of someone else’s wants and needs in order to maintain an unhealthy relationship. Codependency is probably related to the intense fear and frantic efforts to avoid abandonment common in BPD.

Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship with the self. It involves habitual behaviors that are ultimately self-destructive.  Having some symptoms or periods of codependency are actually pretty common for most people. But in order to be considered a true codependent, like any disorder, it is something that must persist for an extended period of time and disrupt your life in an unhealthy way.  

So what’s the difference between depending on someone and being codependent on someone? In a healthy relationship a person can recognize when they need help or assistance in life. Having someone you trust and can turn to for occasional assistance or help when you need it, but otherwise being able to manage your life and support your own self esteem on your own, is a healthy level of dependence. To be codependent is to forget that your life and self-esteem will go on without the love and support of the person you are counting on. Everything in your world, your happiness, yourself worth, depends on the thoughts, opinions, and emotional integrity of the person that you are focused on.

A codependent Borderline lacks a true self-perception. Their identity is dependent on the people around them. Who they are is determined by the perception of someone else.

There is a hidden motive in the actions of those that are codependent. One so sneaky that the person themselves are usually unaware of it. Like many aspects of BPD, it’s a motivation of selfishness. When someone is lost in a world of codependence, sacrificing every waking moment to ensure the happiness of those around them, the real underlying, subconscious motivation isn’t because they altruistically want the world to be happy. No, it’s because they want to be loved and appreciated. Everything they do stems from the motivation of wanting to receive: receive love, receive validation, receive self-worth, receive, receive, receive.

To be fair, most people do this to some extent. We do things because ultimately it is to our benefit to do them. It’s that nature of the beast of humanity. For a codependent relationship though it’s so prevalent in the person’s life that it utterly disrupts their ability to live in a healthy way.

On the surface they appear to be the pinnacle of giving, caring, and nurturing, and indeed all those actions are, they often give of themselves to a fault… but it’s at the expense of what they really need, which is acceptance by themselves. Everything they do is to gain validation from an outside source.

Someone who is codependent will often bear the burdens of the person they are dependent on. Their mind will be consumed with thoughts of how to provide happiness for someone else. Their happiness, their feelings will in fact, be determined on whether or not something they do is able to create happiness in another. Relief comes from seeing relief in another. Self-worth comes from the recognition in another that what they did made their life better in some small way. This is where I have found myself being codependent before.

The ironic thing is that because someone who is codependent is so absorbed in being accepted by another, they are actually incapable of being accepted by another because they aren’t providing anything real for another person to accept. They’re giving and giving and giving, but they’re giving things that they think another person wants, not things that they actually are.

How can you feel secure in the love of another human being when ultimately you can’t believe that they love you for who you are… Because all you’ve shown them is what you can do for them and not who you can be with them? It’s an innate contradiction that someone who is codependent may never see. They give things, they give actions, they give relief of responsibility, but what they aren’t giving is the one thing they really need to give in order to form a true bond… themselves. But since their own identity is based on the perception of the person they’re trying to please it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of sadness, self-doubt, and resentment.

Also ironically, is that the actions of a codependent often contribute to their partner being selfish and self-serving instead of appreciative and nurturing, which is what they want. When everything you do is focused on another person, naturally their focus is going to turn more and more towards themselves as well. The codependent may subconsciously condition their partner to also believe that everything that is done should be done for them, which contributes to their partner ignoring the needs of the codependent, and makes the codependent redouble their efforts to gain attention and favor, leading to the partner becoming more self-involved…. Can you see where this is going? It doesn’t help cultivate a healthy relationship at all. All it does is cultivate an environment where nothing is ever enough and the codependent person will continue to lose themselves to a cycle that they can never find the security they need.

“ What is Co-dependency?

When my good feelings about who I am stem from being liked by you.

When my good feelings about who I am stem from receiving approval from you.

When your struggles affect my serenity. My mental attention focuses on solving your problems or relieving your pain.

When my mental attention is focused on pleasing you.

When my mental attention is focused on protecting you.

When my mental attention is focused on manipulating you "to do it my way."

When my self-esteem is bolstered by solving your problems.

When my self-esteem is bolstered by relieving your pain.

When my own hobbies and interests are put aside. My time is spent sharing your interests and hobbies.

When your clothing and personal appearance are dictated by my desires as I feel you are a reflection of me.

When your behavior is dictated by my desires, as I feel you are a reflection of me.

When I am not aware of how I feel, I am aware of how you feel. I am not aware of what I want, I ask you what I want. If I am not aware, I assume.

When the dreams I have for my future are linked to you.

When my fear of rejection determines what I say or do.

When my fear of your anger determines what I say or do.

When I use giving as a way of feeling safe in our relationship.

When my social circle diminishes as I involve myself with you.

When I put my values aside in order to connect with you.

When I value your opinion and way of doing things more than my own.

When the quality of my life is in relation to the quality of yours. “

How else can you tell if you are codependent? There are quite a lot of symptoms actually, but I’ll get to those tomorrow.


  1. That 1+1 = 1 (with two heads) picture has made my day twice today.

    1. Some days I think I spend as much time looking for pictures as I do writing the damn article, haha. Ok that's an exaggeration, but I love finding "appropriate" pics =D

    2. You do a good job finding them. I kind of wonder how you come up with the idea for or find them. It seems like something I am not capable of doing.

    3. I like to play with associations. I think of words that are relevant and then free associate and let my mind roam to what images I think of that relate. Then it's a matter of letting Google be my guide.

  2. Haven this is a topic close to my heart...many nons are crazy codependent. ;) When you say you are counterdependent but not codependent, look closer at that. I said the very same thing most of my life, then I met my lovely woman. I see now - clearly- that what I rejected as being "self" most vehemently, that is "needy", was in fact what I was and the counterdependency was overcompensation. I've found as I have recognized, accepted and started to fill that need on my own, my dependency on her, has eased. The intensity of my NOT ME reaction was inversely proportional to reality.

    1. I agree. Many people, not just those with BPD, are codependent.

      I do think you are right that I a need to look closer at it and I will. I definitely think I have codependent tendencies but ultimately I am not.

      I think you have a good point that the counterdependency may be overcompensation for being dependent. However, I also think that's kind of the point so it all works.

      Thank you !

  3. I have been working hard in therapy to break myself of this and establish healthy boundaries and gave my friend acceptable boundaries that my therapist and I cooked up (more me, but I got a seal of approval lol) it is nice to have a peek in the male psyche in the form of a male therapist.

    I talked to friend tonight and he confessed his love and confusion and apprehension for valid reasons but agreed to work instead of run and progress us into a couple. He needs the patience I am giving myself. We are both growing. We made a pact to be responsible for ourselves.

    I finally got to a place where I realized I didnt need him to be happy and now he feels safer letting me in. He knows I am a risk. He is too. It took asserting my value and worth and really meaning it, but it worked. Who knows what tomorrow holds.

    1. I've never had a male therapist. I've considered it because sometimes I think women can be too careful with my feelings (I may have some sexism haha), but I also don't trust men. At all. I'm definitely a little biased there.

      Oh wow, so you're going to try and work together and make this an attached whole? Just be mindful. It sounds like accepting that you need to be responsible for yourselves is a really good start.

      Yay! I'm so glad you're in a place where you realize that your happiness isn't dependent on him. It's very apparent to me just how much value and worth you have. I would be sad for you if that was suppressed. Someone that loves you should hold those in high esteem.

      I hope things work. It sounds like you're really working on communication too and that will make things much easier.

    2. Therapist isnt ur typical male. He is soft spoken, kinda new agey, grows his own organic food etc. He is a good influence. My intention was to develop a healthy dynamic with a male that I could translate to others. So far so good.

      As for my friend, he didnt realize he was being so hurtful. He admitted he has been trying to protect himself and I scare him. He is willing to allow me to grow out of the crazy woman image he has in mind. He has noticed my attitudes shifting. Therapy is helping. I am breaking myself of the obsessive needy stuff. No one is perfect. We both have our shit. We can work thru it tho. Its just gotta be slow and compassionate. His fears about me are why he hasnt let me in his house since we got back together. I think he thinks I am a bigger nutcase than I actually am. But in the 8 months we have known each other, I have done some fucked up shit.

      Also, he has always seen my worth, I didnt. As soon as I started feeling it too is when I started feeling less nutty. Ive been way more level (other than my anniversary last week). I feel more balanced. Taming Your Outer Child and the dbt workbook are helping too. And you :) thank you too!

  4. Also, its not pretty, but its true: its about control. One is attempting to control the people around them. It usually stems from attempts to control the emotional states of the parents on the part of the child. The desire that if I could have just been this or that, they would have been happy so I would have been happy. I know this stuff first hand. My first step in breaking myself of this was to admit that I can never actually control another persons feelings and all I can do is concern myself with my emotional reactions. It took hating being controlled by others to realize how I must make others feel when I try to control them. I never really realized how detrimental it is to everyone involved. I wont beat myself up about it. I have learned a valuable lesson and my life is better now that I am learning to unlearn what I have learned.

    1. I love that you give me so much to think about.

      "It usually stems from attempts to control the emotional states of the parents on the part of the child. The desire that if I could have just been this or that, they would have been happy so I would have been happy."

      This sentiment strikes me. I don't think there is ever a 'good enough'. There is always 'could be better'. I never doubted that my parents loved me, I always recognized that they were pushing me to succeed and be the best that I could be. I've always been dependent, wanting love, but strong willed and therefore incapable of being controlled, even at the expense of losing my parents love. I was never worried about that. I think a lot of my issues may stem from my parents pushing me to be independent too early. I had so many lessons of "you need to learn how to take care of yourself", "you need to learn to deal with your {whatever}", "I won't always be around so you have to do it". I don't know how to rely on other people, even when I want to.

      This may contribute to why I have such a hard time asking directly and my emotions and reactions would manifest in more manipulative ways. I couldn't rely on anyone consciously even when my subconscious knew I needed help. I just went about it destructively. In a way that was very unhelpful to anyone.

      I've always resented when anyone would try to control me. While I was very manipulative in the past when it came to my emotional Acting Out I do see now how that behavior is considered controlling. It's strange. In the moment I never would have seen that. It was never a conscious decision to control or manipulate, but it's controlling and manipulation none the less.

  5. Personality assessment is most comprehensive available assessment nowadays which can measure attitude, behaviour and personality you have. This kind of assessment brings out the traits to be triumphant in existence. By the use of these assessments various organizations and individuals finds out every traits which are applicable behind success in every positions of life

  6. Thanks so much for your insights. It seems to take an entire lifetime to finally get relationships "right". Thankfully, we can now be healed from our borderline personality. Because I have a borderline close to me, I did a lot of research on BPD and have published a book on it. If you wish, please visit my website.

    1. Hi Marylin, I started a relationship 6 weeks ago with a woman I think is a borderline. The advise I've read on most of the posts on the net was to run away. It's not clear to me yet if she's only codependent or borderline but she told me she was taking some anti-depression medication, she's had eating issues... Are you living hell with your partner ? It looks like she's doing her best to take care of herself like going to coda meetings ( she even organizes coda retreats ), she walks a lot in the nature, she's not allowed to work more than 2 days a week from her doctor ( don't know what kind of doctor it is ). She even suggested I go to coda meetings and I did go with her and actually discovered I was codependent. I'd like to know if she really is borderline or only codependent. Any advise on how to approach the issue without hurting ? thanks

    2. Ed, I just left a 2 year relationship with a nice gal with BPD. I've also recently come to learn of my own codependence.

      Regarding tact when approaching the subject with her(I've had a whole slew of BPD girlfriends and approached the subject the wrong way many, many times), I think it depends on the following:

      Are they 'out'? Meaning are they aware of the possibility of the existence of their problem with BPD? If not, do NOT bring it up directly. Only address instances of happenings (e.g. "I have a problem with the way we fight. We need to communicate in a more compassionate way."), not the possibility of personality disorders and abuse/self-image issues. Always let a therapist pave the way to understanding childhood/core image problems.

      My recent ex was very receptive to the idea of having BPD, especially considering her past. However, since I (the codependent) would bring it up to her in hopes that she would go do something about it, her nature was to go do something self-destructive. I truly believed that I was 'in the right' by finding a balanced, loving way to pressure her to address the issue by seeing a therapist. I was wrong! I was feeding her self-destructive behaviors by coming too close to the emotional system-nerve that she didn't know she had. Every time I asked her to go, it was another 2 weeks that she could be pretending to be active. I was too giving and too patient, and she subconsciously took advantage of it- up until 3 months ago when I finally called it off. Lose-lose situation.

      In the end, it's all a big learning process. I'm developing an awareness of my own behavior. Had I been more focused on taking care of myself, I never would have let the cycle go on that long, and without the cycle of dysfunction, she probably would have taken matters into her own hands.

      End of story: Be supportive and offer suggestions based on specific instances of problem (again e.g. "I'm not ok with our fluctuating emotional relationship and I think we should see a therapist." Equally as important, YOU MUST DRAW THE LINE between being 'caring' and being codependent. This can and often does include leaving the relationship if it crosses the threshold of unhealthy living.

      Best of luck in the future.

  7. Hi Haven...I just found out that I have been codependent most of my life, and it has been severely exacerbated while in a relationship for the past few years. I may also be borderline, but mildly so. Anyway, just want to say thank you for the very clearly written and insightful piece here. I will probably be devouring your site/blog for a while. :)

  8. Haven,
    This is by far the best article I have read in regards to Codependency.

  9. I entered a codependency treatment center in 1986 and have been in a recovery process ever since. It is a disorder that stems from dysfunctional parenting but, no one is to blame. Codependents find countless way to survive their pain from childhood. It can lead to numerous dysfunctional behaviors and physical illnesses. I call it "the dis-ease of diseases." People can be mildly or severely codependent. and, probably no one isn't at least a bit codependent since no one grew up with perfect parenting with all needs met -spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.At the core of codependency is shame. Other uncomfortable feelings such as fear, sadness and anger can rule one's life. Difficulty in intimate relationships is only a symptom. There is recovery of self and wholeness, as well as an amazing life for codependents in recovery. Thankfully, we live in a place and time when all the help necessary is available to us.

  10. Yea that's me all thoes horriable things so now what ... I now know why no one can love me or want to b around me so why am I alive what's the use take ur meds go to therapy for what at the end of the day I'm still alone and everyone hates me bcuz I try to make them happy? What! Then throw in bipolar adhd and premenipause yea ppl are beating my door down... I hate watching everyone b happy and live life while I lie in bed in pain knowing ill b alone and empty the rest of my life id rather b dead its like I'm breathing air better spent on someone else... wasted on me. Love ur self what! Seriously how why I mean if know one wants/likes me how can I.

  11. I think also over-giving because of fear of being rejected and abandoned. Here are some signs of the origin of codependency in childhood from a background of conditional love (short animation 2 mins)


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