Tag Archives: Hypnosis

What Is Codependency?

photo by Christiemanning.com

photo by Christiemanning.com

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve been keenly aware of the fact that the term codependency has been around for almost four decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, first called co-alcoholics, it then became abundantly clear that family and friends also constituted a network of codependents whose lives centered around the alcoholic, or addict.  Researchers have since revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had been imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, you’re likely codependent.

Dysfunctional families often include family members that are narcissistic, borderline, emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive,  passive, helpless, dependent, manipulative, enmeshed, dramatic,  and prone to martyrdom.  In this unsafe and chaotic environment, children never have the opportunity to develop a solid sense of themselves. Instead, they develop a list of characteristics or symptoms that include many common traits.  Before I present this list of symptoms to you, though, I want to credit Darlene Lancer, MFT, for putting together the bulk of what’s in the list below.  In doing my research on codependency, I found her list to be so clear and comprehensive that it seemed foolish for me to try and reinvent the wheel.  Never the less, throughout the list, I’ve added additional insights on the traits that characterize codependents to make your understanding of this phenomenon even clearer.

Incidentally, before reading through the list below, please bear in mind that most American families are dysfunctional, and therefore most people have some codependency traits!!  As a matter of fact, I would offer that most people have unwittingly entered into a codependent relationship at some point in their lives.  Therefore, if you recognize aspects of yourself in the list below, you can rest assured that you’re in the majority!!  In addition, if you worry that believe that you’re a codependent person or that you’re in a codependent relationship, there are ways to get treatment and reverse this trend.  I will happily list treatment options for you at the end of this blog.

Alas, the following is a list of symptoms of codependents.  You needn’t have all of them to qualify as codependent.

  • Low self-esteem.  Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable, fraudulent,  or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.  Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
  • People-pleasing. It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.  They usually engage in people-pleasing to seek acceptance and approval and to preserve their attachment to someone else; Their people-pleasing stems from their wish to keep their fears of imminent rejection and abandonment at bay.  Codependents who engage in people-pleasing often gravitate towards narcissists because they are all too willing to set aside his or her own needs to feed and fuel the narcissists ego. This gives the codependent a sense of purpose and a sense that they are needed, and codependents can’t stand the thought of being alone with no one needing them.
  • Poor boundaries.  Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. Their poor boundaries often stem from their underdeveloped sense of self and their lack of individuation and differentiation from their family of origin. In turn, codependents often responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else. Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.  When their boundaries are weak, codependents are willing to be victimized, abused, coerced, manipulated, etc.  When their boundaries are rigid, they may be too afraid of being victimized, enmeshed, or lost in yet another codependent relationship, and so they choose to withdraw become isolated from others.
  • Reactivity. A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
  • Care-taking. Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.
  • Control. Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control. Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.
  • Dysfunctional communication. Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear of rejection or abandonment.
  • Obsessions. Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”  The assume that if they make a mistake, they will be cut-off, abandoned, or rejected.  Codependents often engage in mind reading, and presume to know that others are thinking poorly of them.  They are prone to projecting their own sense of worthlessness and fear of rejection onto others, and this in turn often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy where the other person eventually does leave them!!  Sometimes codependents lapse into fantasy about how they’d like things to be or about someone they love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps them from living their lives.
  • Dependency. Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. As I’ve already mentioned before, they’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
  • Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem. Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy, for example. Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.
  • Problems with intimacy. By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
  • Painful emotions. Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

In my experience as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve learned that when two people enter into a codependent relationship, they often enter into what is known as the Drama Triangle.  Imagine, if you will, the triangle below, and notice how at each of the three end points of the triangle are three separate roles that each codependent person in the relationship potentially plays at one time or another.  When each person in the relationship plays at least two out of these three roles often enough throughout the course of their relationship, it’s a tell tale sign that they’re in a codependent dynamic. These three habitual psychological roles include the following:  The Rescuer, the Victim, and the Persecutor.

photo by traumahealed.com

photo by traumahealed.com

The Rescuer, for example, plays the role of the care-taker, and he sees his partner as a victim in need of help.  He sets aside his own needs and becomes singularly focused on caring for his partner, who he believes is weak, helpless, wounded, and fragile.  The rescuer is not consciously aware, though, that by playing this part, he may be avoiding looking at his own anxiety, underlying feelings, absence of meaning in his life, hunger for a sense of identity and purpose, etc. In addition, he may be denying the sense of self-esteem and status he feels as he plays the role of rescuer nor the joy that comes with having someone depend on them. As he is rescuing his partner, his partner in turn is being treated as though she is a victim, incapable of caring for herself.  She is his damsel in distress, dependent on his heroic love, nurturing, and resources.  At first, his partner may welcome his wish to rescue her.  However, in time, she may come to feel smothered, and she may resent the tacit message that she is a victim who is unable to care for herself and therefore is in need of rescuing.  In turn, she may grow weary of his overbearing interventions and attempts to rescue her.  Soon she may grow more and more resentful of him, and she may finally lash out at him and reject his help all together.  In this moment, she has switched from playing the role of victim to playing the role of persecutor.  She feels angry, and she rejects his care-taking overtures and verbally accosts him instead.

In the aftermath of this confrontation, her caretaker may feel that his efforts to rescue her have gone unappreciated, and he may in turn feel very hurt.  Suddenly he finds himself playing the role of victim.  With his head bowed down and bent, he appears visibly wounded.  When the dust settles after this contentious fight, his persecuting lover may feel compelled to assume the role of rescuer again and make efforts to care for his hurt feelings.  If she doesn’t make this nurturing effort, he may take on the role of persecutor, and he will vent his anger and disgust at her for taking his rescuing overtures for granted.  In turn, she may feel victimized and wounded.  Seeing her in emotional distress, he may move away from playing the role of persecutor  and assume the role of her rescuer again.

Incidentally, Co-dependent relationships, of course, take on more patterns than just those presented above  in the Drama Triangle.  However, this dynamic is one that is very common among codependent couples and/or families.

Unfortunately, in my work as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve seen first hand how unresolved patters of codependency can lead to more serious problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders, and other self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors.  People in codependent relationships are often more likely to attract further abuse from aggressive individuals, more likely to stay in stressful jobs or relationships, less likely to seek medical attention when needed, and are less likely to get promotions and tend to earl less money than those without codependency patterns.  In addition, for the codependent person who lacks a solid sense of self and feels like victim at times in his relationships coupled with feelings of  intense anxiety and a profound fear of rejection and/or abandonment, his or controlling ways can eventually turn violent.

The great news is that there are treatments and recovery paths for individuals, couples, and families that struggle with codependency.  Psychotherapy, Family Therapy, Group Therapy, Bibliotherapy,  Psycho-Education, Psychodrama,  Gestalt work, Hypnosis, EMDR, Assertiveness training, and support groups like Co-Dependents Anonymous ( CoDA) and AL-Anon are all powerful ways and places to go to overcome your codependency and feel happy, healthy, and whole again.

If you feel as though you’re a codependent person, stuck in a codependent relationship, or enmeshed and/or triangulated  in a codependent family system, please e-mail me or call me if you’d like help breaking free from this old pattern. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I know of tools and techniques that can help you to feel more independent as well as learn how to participate in interdependent, reciprocal, and happy relationships instead.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article.  I hope that you found it educational and informative.


John Boesky, LMFT



Image taken from digitalfiles.com

Image taken from digitalfiles.com

There’s no question that Sean Lowe, America’s most recent Bachelor, seems like a great catch.  He’s good looking, well spoken, appears to be sincere, claims to value integrity and character above all else, etc.  In light of all his positive traits, it makes sense to me that some women would find him attractive, and it also makes sense to me that some women would even fall in love with him and want to marry him.  However, it doesn’t make sense to me at all that every single female contestant that gets on the show ends up falling in love with him.  The odds of this seem happening to one mere mortal guy seems astronomically low.  So, I ask myself, how come every time a new bachelor shows up on our television sets to find his potential wife, every single woman flocks to him, fawns all over him, and falls deeply in love with him in a matter of weeks?

I think I have the answer.  With all due respect to Sean Lowe, it isn’t him at all that’s causing these ladies to fall head over heels in love with him.  Its the culture of the show, and the way the show’s  producers deliberately and pre-metitatively use social psychology to entrance these women into believing that their season’s bachelor is the Chosen One.  The truth is, the moment the women get out of their limousines to greet their prince charming, they’ve set out on a hypnotic journey full of symbols and metaphors that are intended to get them to fall in love with their man as quickly as possible.  In addition, other psychological forces are at play that get the women in deeper and deeper over their heads, and what’s sad is that the women have no idea that their emotions are being manipulated by a bunch of reality T.V. head honchos.

For starters, when the women first meet the bachelor, he’s there to greet them in front of a mansion with roses in hand.  Women naturally associate a mansion with power and wealth, and it’s fair to say that most women find power and wealth very attractive.  Soon after their brief meeting outside of the mansion, the women are given champagne, which is another symbol of decadence, sophistication, wealth, etc.  Inside the mansion are fireplaces and candles, which women associate with warmth, romance, and masculine charm.  Finally, at the end of the first evening, the bachelor gives out roses to the women he’d like to get to know better.  Women of course love roses, and they associate them with romance, passion, and love.  Alas, unbeknownst to the women, they’re already in the process of making an unconscious link (Anchor) between their bachelor and their own seductive longings for power, wealth, opulence, sophistication, warmth, romance, charm, passion, and love.  The bachelor has become an archetype for the perfect gentlemen, a prince if you will.

The producers of the Bachelor surely know that most women start off as young, impressionable girls reading fairy tales that kindle their dreams to one day find their prince charming.  They also know that these girls also long to one day become princesses.  With this awareness in mind, the producers present the women the seductive vision of a real life prince standing before their very eyes in front of a castle-like mansion, and they give these ladies the persuasive impression that if they win their bachelor’s heart, their dream of becoming a princess and leading a fairy tale life may soon become their reality.

In addition to creating this intoxicating link between the bachelor and all things rich and royal, the producers of the show seem well aware of the psychological concept known as social proofing.”  Social proofing essentially describes when people unconsciously engage in a herd mentality.  If someone who is perceived to be knowledgeable or credible strongly believes something, everyone else follows suit.  This happens a lot in the stock market, for example.  If a well known investor like Warren Buffet, for example, says with conviction that America is entering into a bull market and it’s time to buy stocks, droves of ambivalent investors will follow his lead.  This is because a man like Warren Buffet is highly esteemed, and he’s become a credible source to turn to for direction throughout the years.  Most of the time he’s managed the winds of the market well, so investors worldwide are willing to blindly follow his lead for this reason alone.  In the case of the Bachelor, the show’s producers have rolled out the red carpet and told the world that their bachelor is highly desirable.  They’ve deemed him special, and they have concluded that he is the ultimate prize for any lady seeking love.

The Bachelor is a credible show, and most people who tune in to watch it assume the producers of the show must know something about their chosen man that they don’t.  Alas, social proof is in securely in place.  When the women meet their bachelor, they already believe that he’s the highest of the high hanging fruit.  He’s the ultimate prize, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  It only makes sense then that their hearts flutter within seconds of meeting him.  And it only makes sense that they find themselves falling in love with him within days.

There’s another psychological factor at play on the bachelor that compels the female contestants to fall in love with their chosen one so soon after meeting him.  It’s called “confirmation bias.”  Confirmation bias happens when someone believes something to such a degree that they’ll actively disregard any information that contradicts their fixed belief.  If these girls believe that their bachelor is the ultimate prize, then they’re going to ignore the fact he’s kissing 5 or 6 other girls on the very same night.  They’ll also choose to ignore the fact he may be having sex with the last 3 remaining women in the fantasy suites within days of their own sexual encounter with him.  In addition, they will choose to ignore red flags like he may be emotionally immature, self-preoccupied, etc.  I’ve often found it interesting that the bachelor takes his women on dates that he would like, without much consideration for whether or not his date would like it.  He’ll have her repel down a jagged rock face, eat rancid insects,  or plunge into freezing water, for example.  He’ll say these activities are designed to build trust, of course.  He’ll also say that they serve as metaphors because relationships often have downturns when you feel like you’re repelling backwards or plunging into cold water.  It’s important, he’ll say, that he and his date can weather these metaphorical storms to build trust, connection, etc.

The truth is, however, that most women would rather not repel down a cliff, eat unsavory insects, or endure freezing water to prove their worth to their date.  It’s because of confirmation bias, however, that they’re willing to subject themselves to any and all kinds emotional torture to win the approval and affections of this very special man.  It doesn’t even occur to them that their bachelor is being awfully self-centered.  Just because he’s adventurous and likes to rock climb or plunge into cold water doesn’t mean that she shares his same interests.  When most women have their head’s on straight, they’d ditch that date right after it got started!!  But in their minds their handsome bachelor can do no wrong.  They’re mired in confirmation bias, and nothing he does will dispel them from their belief that he’s every woman’s fantasy.

Another way the show, The Bachelor, manipulates their women to fall in love quickly with their bachelor is to introduce the psychology of  “human competition” into the equation.  It’s no secret to anybody, least of all the women on the show, that they’re competing for their bachelor’s heart.  First of all, most people who compete would much rather win than lose.  Winning means to the victor that she’s the prettiest and most charming woman of them all.  Her ego gets a huge lift, and the answer she gets to her “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, whose the fairest of them all” question is simply music to her ears.  The losers of the Bachelor competition, on the other hand, generally feel like rejects and failures.  They’re left feeling  inadequate and worthless.  This very phenomenon explains why almost every woman that gets eliminated from the Bachelor whimpers and cries during her limousine ride back to the hotel where she will be asked to promptly pack her bags and leave the premises as soon as humanly possible.  As she’s crying, she’ll inevitably wonder out loud, “What did I do wrong?”  “Why wasn’t I good enough for him?”  “What did the other girls have that I didn’t?”  These types of thoughts and feelings cut through each woman’s heart like a knife.  To avoid this pain, each female competitor sets out to win.  After all, they equate associate losing with deep pain and winning with great pleasure.

Like in every competition, there are certain rules you must follow and criteria you must meet  in order to emerge victorious.  In the case of the Bachelor, the women must generally follow the following implicit rules in order to stand a chance of winning the bachelor’s heart:  She must demonstrate vulnerability, depth of emotion, physical affection,  and an open heart and soul.  And she must demonstrate the aforementioned as quickly as possible, because she’s up against other women who will gladly bear their souls at the drop of a hat to move onto the next rose ceremony and avoid the dreaded pain of losing.  Within days each woman is rushing the romantic process to outpace her peers on her race to cross the finish line and claim her prize:  The Bachelor. In this rush mode, she’s sharing with the Bachelor her greatest fears, her past traumas, her life dreams, her family history, her weaknesses, her strengths, etc.  She’s even sharing with him secrets she’s never shared with anyone else ever before because she really, really wants to win this competition and feel good about herself, and it makes her nauseous to think of how she’ll feel about herself if she loses.  What happens, though, when a woman shares these kinds of thoughts and feelings with a man is that her heart invariably opens.  She feels heard, validated, and connected.  If she shares these deep thoughts and feelings with a man at an accelerated pace, it’s only inevitable that she’s going to fall in love with him.

There’s one last psychological phenomenon that I’d like to touch on to support my hypothesis that the women are more or less programmed to fall in love with their season’s bachelor.  This phenomenon has to do with “unconscious mimicry.”  Essentially, human emotions are contagious.  Human motivation is contagious too.  That’s how come you’re more likely to get into a frenzy when you sit next to other frenzied football fans at a football game.  It’s also how come you’re more likely to laugh out loud when you’re sitting besides others who are laughing out loud while watching a comedy at a movie theater vs. when you’re sitting at home watching the same comedy on your couch.  Finally, it’s how come you’re more likely to work really hard at your job if you’re surrounded by co-workers who are really driven and hard working too.  In light of this, imagine now that you have 25 women who are falling in love with one man.  Given that emotions are contagious, just imagine how one woman’s lust for her bachelor emotionally affects the women around her.  Like the flu, her lust is going to spread, and the other women around her are going to catch what she’s feeling.  Pretty soon all the women have caught the love bug, and the bachelor can’t turn any of them away even if he tried.  Night after night, he offers a lucky woman a red rose, and each and every time she blushes and says, “Of course I’ll accept this rose.”

Image taken from colourose.com

Image taken from colourose.com

I wonder if the bachelor himself has any idea that while he may be a great guy, it’s not his princely charms that were causing every woman on the show to fall in love with him.  It had far more to do with the psychological spell and hypnotic trance that the participants on the show fell under than anything else.  I personally doubt that he had a clue.   It’s more likely that he momentarily forgets who he really is, and he merrily buys into the notion that he really is the cat’s meow.  That is,  until his season of the Bachelor finally comes to a close,  and at least half the women he goes on first dates with in the real world think he’s just alright and politely decline to go out with him again.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post!!

John Boesky, LMFT