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Codependency: The Ghost, The Over Giver, and The Over Taker

Authored By Stephanie Smith LPCC Image credit: Image credits: thestevenjames


Codependency and Attachment style:

I recently took an online training to help clients work on codependent behaviors in relationships. The training was titled, "Codependence Treatment Strategies for Clients Who Lose Themselves in Others" with Nancy Johnston, MS, LPC, LSATP, MAC, NCC. Here are few highlights that felt enlightening and provided surface to make contact and get to know more about Codependency.

Let's begin with the following idea: codependency is not a diagnosis and it is not something that you are. Rather, codependency describes behavior patterns that involve someone putting others before themselves, taking more than is healthy for the relationship, and avoiding others and avoiding help. Nancy Johnston, MS, LPC, LSATP, MAC, NCC says codependent people, "lose themselves in others". This feels like tender terrain to tread. Why? Because this is where care gets blurred with control and dependency overtakes personal efficacy. Funky dysfunctional expressions of codependency are just attempts to regulate one's deepest fears and feel better/not bad. Viewing it this way allows me to find a connection and compassion point. It allows me to depersonalize the behavior and recognize everyone is seeking reprieve from discomfort.

Seeking to feel better is a healthy thing. Codependency behaviors offer short term relief with long term detriment and the continuing of unmet needs. It's a mismatch. Seeking others is good in contrast to avoiding. Still, knowing your needs and wants matched with acceptance for the fallibility of the human condition in the face of your own anxiety is a the direction to head.

Still these behaviors need to be addressed. I recommend looking at them in yourself for a while before applying these ideas to your nearest and dearest.

For the purpose of this essay allow me to make up a few terms:

1) The Over Giver 2) The Over Taker, and 3) The Ghost or (avoidant codependent). Recognize that everyone cycles through the roles at different times.

1) The Over Giver: is the type of codependent style that we tend to recognize easily and mirror behaviors associated with anxious attachment. Familiar social tropes of The Over Giver include the helicopter parent, the needy girl friend, even the Godfather. These relational styles are overly involved in the lives of those that they care about. They will go further than above and beyond to help others. A great example might be...driving a friend to work and in turn being late for work yourself. Their generosity is transactional because it tends to seek outcomes which position others as indebted to them and in need of them. The generosity of The Over Giver accumulates relational control, efficacy, and autonomy. The Over Giver's behavior patterns help them feel seen, needed, and connected. In turn they avoid the pain and anxiety of parental childhood abandonment wounds that shape the attachment style from which they operate.

2) The Overtaker: also has an anxious attachment style. The Over Taker's historical attachment wounds are soothed by The Over Giver's relational style. When The Over Giver can't meet The Over Taker's needs anxiety is trigger. The limbic system and Camus and Hippos Camus turn on and activate memory recognition. Mirror neurons start firing between The Over Giver and the Over Taker. The deal is done. The mirroring back and forth of childhood attachment pain and unmet needs intensifies. We lay our wounds before our attachment relationships. Then what do we do?

The Over Taker operates in whatever manner garners affirmation of the The Over Giver's commitment to them. The Over Giver does the same. The cycle goes on until it can't or is interrupted. That intensity between The Over Giver and The Over Taker is reverb from the original childhood attachment wounds. It is helpful to read about "good enough parenting" as a resilience factor. Good enough parents do their best while operating from a place of being completely imperfect fallible humans. Folks like Dan Siegel say that this approach will help create a character trait of flexibility in later life relationships. Those who lean towards more secure attachment and those creating it by learning to brave their anxiety start to have less intense triggers and more present centered interactions.

3) The Ghost: How might avoidant attached people exhibit codependent behaviors? They are fiercely independent, a pro at meeting their own needs, and their absence haunts the relational dynamics that they avoid. This allows me to call them, The Ghost. A Ghost exists in the eye of those who perceive them and their haunting is tied to existing relational dynamics. Name a famous ghost that haunted for no reason? Their appearance and disappearance is dependent upon others. That means the ultra independent ghost, away off by themself is not individuated. They behave based upon needing to sooth their own anxiety by not being present and this is similar to The Over Giver and The Over Taker (remember people switch roles to off steam intensity and the cycle continues). They have not created the ability as (Et al Sue Johnston) says "to be present with those they care for, in the face of their own anxiety, without having to..." people please, over give, or overtake. They stop seeking expected generally healthy close relations in order to soothe the anxiety that exists from childhood trauma and later life experiences too.

All three of these codependent expressions styles are fixed and seeking to sooth the anxiety of relational dynamics instead of facing them.

I offer the following as strategies towards changing codependent behavioral patterns:

  • Increase Relational Flexibility,

  • Increase confidence in ability to face and soothe discomfort in relationship

  • Increase ability to express needs, boundaries, and daily preferences.

  • Decrease instances of soothing anxiety by people pleasing

  • Decrease instances of over giving

  • Decrease instances of over taking

Then journal a few antidotal and personal ways to do each of the above bulleted strategies.

You know this is actually really not easy. More people are anxiously attached, preoccupied attached, and avoidant attached than secure. It gets easier. It requires some bravery and in practice it get easier.

This is not then. The reverb is an echo and you don't have to yell back at it, mirror it, and have it go on forever. Though tempting and familiar as it maybe.

I hope this is helpful and as we move into the new year we will be addressing some interesting topics like compensatory exercise, the importance of hobbies, and more artist interviews.


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