July 25, 2008

Is Lassie co-dependent?

This essay isn't illustrated with a nineteenth century masterpiece, but the picture so beautifully captured the essence of my personality, I just had to share it with folks who couldn't see me behind my monitor.

If you're like me, you probably wonder what anonymous bloggers look like. As a blog-reader myself, I get a sense of someone's appearance but my imagination is the artist behind their portrait. In the interests of appeasing curiosity, this is a picture of me: a fluffy little collie with an attitude.

I'll admit to being a collie though I never thought of myself as a collie until reading the results from a personality test. I decided to go with the N’s allegations that I was a dog and find out which breed of dog I might be. Seems like I’m the loyal and trustworthy type, even if I didn't fetch sticks very reliably and I didn’t "Roll Over" on command, or "Play Dead" when my Master fed me biscuits.

I've been swamped with essay ideas ever since writing Stop The Abuse
. A few good friends asked me if my blogging career had ended with that post---or maybe I was hiding under my bed? No. I'm not finished writing about narcissism but summertime is here and the livin' ain't easy...it's Hard Work. There's a lot for a farm girl to do in the summer when her grass grows faster than codependence in a bad marriage.

Which speaking of co-dependent traits, would not create abusive relationships if narcissists were capable of transforming puppy love to interdependent and mature loving kindness.

In my mind, the loyal, considerate and helpful collie sets everything in place for narcissists to have a second chance for love. But even when a collie is willing to try, the narcissist must drop his pretenses, lessen the defenses and STOP unnecessary aggression. Human beings cannot be on guard 24/7 and build intimate relationships…not even if Lassie is willing to share her dinner bowl.

I've considered the assertion that pathological narcissists partner with people who are co-dependent. Relationship books, reality TV, radio psychologists, and even self-help support groups accept the co-dependency model. I’d be denying reality to suggest people don’t react to Power & Control tactics whether they know their relationship is abusive or not. But can we get real for just a second?? Being attacked for seemingly no reason tends to bring out the worse in any one.

The question that keeps coming to my mind, is this: If people have co-dependent traits after years of relationship, were they co-dependent before meeting a narcissist who refused to rely on others, refused to trust others, and relegated everyone to last place by thinking of themselves first and foremost?

Nah, I don't think so.

It’s just that Collies and Rottweilers do not fine kennel mates make.

If you are gifted with the capacity for loyalty, trust and compassion; if you have a solid sense of justice and mercy; if you have a pleasing personality, if you treat others as you wish to be treated; if you make mistakes, realize everyone makes mistakes, and forgive the whole sorry mess of humanity for making mistakes; and if you desire intimacy because you know you’re worthy of both giving and receiving love---then you ought not partner with dogs that howl at the moon. Especially when the very moon they are trying to bark down from the sky, is lighting dark pathways at midnight. 


Hamilton, Anita. What Breed of Dog Are You?


  1. HI CZBZ,

    I would have to disagree with you about the co-dependent traits.

    So my answer to your question would be a YES.

    The traits you listed above are not what I consider co dependency to be about.

    It is not the traits but how one relates to or through the traits in terms of other as well as self.

    Keeping in mind that when a diagnosis is made it is always a liquid state meaning it changes for each person and it is simply a list of so called symptoms or attributes that create the label.Every one is different and like pigment and oil make a unique and individual map of color & then are are grouped by certain characteristics...you already know this I assume.

    I believe co dependency is something that has now taken on a term such as feminist. it hasn't been created until after the fact has been played out for eons/centuries due to the radical changes that have come about though human research. Prior to this change in the science of human affairs, social and psychic..I believe that women were automatically put into a role that included co dependency mechanics (just as males).

    For me it is related directly to power over, authority, patriarchy, territory/ownership and linear thinking rather than the list of attributes you write about.

    While those attributes such as loyalty etc are important a while other side of attributes have not been made available to the female gender.

    I find it just as so that the opposite attributes have been instilled in the male gender.

    observing a picture as such I see no one person as individual or atonomous but rather two parts having to complete the other. One is dependent upon the other for the ideal of the completed self experience. And with in that form the females qualities are reduced in terms of the usefulness in function.

    Yet the process of individualization is relatively new. This sort of process would include the characteristics you listed above but the growth of self awareness is to be continued.

    To put it on small scale...simply not knowing that what is taking place is obviously abusive means that some where something wasn't taught. Human rights were non existent, developed or instilled.

    Sure, I can focus on what I did that was the right thing or the human and humane action but how am I to focus on the other properties if I do not know them as in behaviors and emotional/intellectual skills that are valuable . Loyalty is a valued emotional skill (awareness) for all. Yet there is the other side of the coin and that is what has been omitted and that is what creates the co dependent state.

    Compassion is a well known state although "mindful compassion" is not so well known. It is not well enough to say..I am compassionate but the questions arise to how does one behave compassionately. there are various shades and to think one shade is the ultimate shade reduces the quality of the action...it becomes automatic as if there is one right way because I was told this is the way to do it and this is how compassion acts and so by this I am rewarded with an agreement emotional and intellectually charged as in YES I did the right thing I am practicing my value system on the level of intuition as well as reason .

    In terms of loyalty which is a changeable word in that to be un loyal and unfaithful is to be frowned upon with in certain conditions. this is where things get tricky and questionable.

    Being disloyal might very well be mindful compassion.

    I would say lack of knowledge creates co-dependence firstly. Not knowing ones human rights is the same as having them take away.
    Not being informed at the age of 3 or 4 as to what is abusive and what is NOT is certainly of interest.

    As I see it for many people they have one foot in the co dependent door and one foot which can sense the natural instincts to survive and flourish. some folks have two feet in one side and vise versa.

    The title Co-Dependent is just one label for something I believe is enormously historical as well as part of the entire human condition. This is ultimately something that points to what is to happen on an evolutionary level with in the human psyche.

    When people are sticking to relationships that produce states of power over and loyalty to an abusive individual I don't look at it as though it was just born in that specific relationship/situation. It is rooted much deeper in the psychological make up of all individuals (collectively) and extends way back before my ancestors of 100 years ago.

    So essentially it isn't about this one narc relationship it is a continuum (theres that word again) further back than even parents.

    So this is a collective ordeal as much as it is subjective. Most recently this term of co dependence has been created. It is a good start in order to under stand self awareness, self empowerment, human behavior and in furthering process of individualization.

    There fore I would never look at my personal and subjective experience as being the single means of my co dependent behaviors. Yet we unplug one person at a time.


    anonymous eyes

  2. I will need to write a more serious response about codependency than my impromptu "Lassie" post. But for this morning, these are a few of my thoughts about your reply.

    I agree that codependency is a complicated topic and my post was not intended to mock a codependent relationship “with the self.” Codependency defines internal deficits, though most people assume codependency to be a dysfunction between two people. If two people are codependent, they can fix themselves and save their relationship. But I don’t see the N-relationship as being codependent. It’s Abusive. There’s a difference.

    One thing I am beginning to understand is that normal relationships have typical 'dependency' traits ameliorating over time if both partners (with internal deficits) are committed to each other's best welfare. Perhaps that is why most people relate to articles about codependency. We all have some growing up to do. In other words, both people correct their dependency/immature issues as they age. That, as we know, is NOT the case with the N-relationship because narcissists are incapable of emotional maturation.

    The N-relationship is based on oppression, control and domination precluding commitment, trust and reciprocal good will.

    In my way of defining the N-relationship, what we might deem to be codependent traits are actually reactions to Abuse. If we consider what psychologists have learned about manipulation, brainwashing tactics, terrorizing prisoners of war, the Stockholm Syndrome, etc. we can apply that knowledge to the domestic relationship in which one person has an ulterior motive: control ‘the other’ with abusive tactics.

    It's important to learn how people react to abuse before accepting the cultural assumption that victims wanted to be abused. OR, that we were seeking a controller in order to work out our childhood problems. I don't like that kind of thinking and whether we'll ever know the answer as to why someone ends up in a N-relationship or not, I refuse to believe there is something about a victim that attracts abusers into their lives. Anyone can get him or herself in a narcissistic relationship. That’s not hard. What’s hard is getting OUT.

    Do we have problems to deal with post-N? Yes. One of those problems is feeling good about ourselves---knowing we did not ASK to be manipulated, mistreated or abused. I find no benefit in labeling the narcissist's victim as being complicit in his or her abuse.

    Would we say such a thing about prisoners of war?

    That's my opinion; however, there are plenty of experts suggesting I'm incorrect and unfortunately, plenty of people willing to tell me I'm in denial. Ha! I don't think so.

    Every person’s situation is unique and I hope each person wrangles enough courage to assert their truth.

    To me, it’s typical non-thinking that leads people to assume only codependent people end up with narcissists. All we have to do is study the impact of abusive tactics on normal people and we begin to understand how the N used our Good Will to manipulate, control and attack our self-worth.

    This is a very complicated topic, Eyes. I appreciate your willingness to dialogue with me, though.

    I’d like to post a more in-depth message about the distinctions between a codependent relationship and an abusive relationship. In my mind, we are comparing apples to prunes.


  3. I really want to connect with you on some of these points. I feel I have to think about some of this.

    I would like to at least say one thing.

    I do not believe there is a fault on the victim as in they wanted abuse. Never in a million years. But I do think there are some things i have learned about the dynamics of all this which might make it clearer why I have a certain point of view.

    I think you are very focused on a fault oriented way of looking at this. as if to say the victim is being pointed at for being the culprit for her/his situation. I say there is more to it.

    I will write back later or perhaps to you. I need to think about how to describe and communicate what I think you might want to know .

    I will be putting on my thinking cap and soon come up with a response that addresses some of what I see that continues to challenge. I do understand where you are coming from and by gong through the amount of council which I have I am able to see what it looks like in another way.

    anonymous eyes

  4. Great! I'll look forward to what you have to say.

    Hugs back,

  5. But I don’t see the N-relationship as being codependent. It’s Abusive. There’s a difference.

    I think I would say that abusive relationships are co dependent by nature.
    So that is a big opposite. All narcissists are dependent on supply. So for sure at least one person is co dependent. Narcs do not function by themselves. They need supply.

    Co dependency doesn’t tell about a personality. Also, Many aspects of the person may be covered up or hidden and under developed. Since the learned behavior is being used and is being given all of the energy or attention. The learned behavior is keeping the person stunted.

    This is how narcissist like to keep it. As soon as a change in behavior happens then the supply is cut short and they leave.

    Co dependency behaviors can be changed. They are not hardened & are not personality but they are behaviors and it certainly requires some work to change and be replaced with new behaviors that serve the persons needs.

    To realize that my mother is co dependent means she has a personality but the behaviors that her personality uses to survive and exist on are dysfunctional. She has learned a few new behaviors but they require much attention and are not the ones she practiced through out her life. She will even tell ya so. She could have learned even more and become more affective had she gotten some pointers at an earlier age from people who study the stuff. But she didn’t continue to go to therapy after she divorced. I learned everything she practiced and of course then there is my personality which is not a photo copy of hers. We are different as the color of our eyes. We both have eyes on the light side though. I wouldn’t kid myself for a minute in thinking I escaped a childhood of dysfunction and didn’t come out at least 25% dysfunctional. That wouldn’t be the way to approach it.

    I approached it on the level of what are the things I learned at an early age that still stick with me today. I was hypnotized by the narc because I stayed around and didn’t speak up and say…no more. My behavior was such that I was supposed to stay. I was supposed to tend to someone else. This is co dependent. I can call it loyal but really it is just my definition for loyalty some one gave me. There dysfunctional definition.

    I was used to abuse . This is not to say I enjoyed it. I was shocked to find out that my mother was abusive and can still be. On the other hand, there was a large part of me that always felt that this or that just didn’t feel good or right and did feel really horrible. But my gut instincts were denied. First by the abuser and then me.

    I was loyal to my mother. Why the heck wouldn’t I be loyal to another abusive person. Why heck it was the way I was taught to be.

    What has to happen is that we must understand exactly what is unhealthy and what is emotional abuse. A whole bunch of stuff I never would have thought was abusive was abusive. My fathers actions were never dealt with as abuse. His stuff was way more overt.
    No one taught me how to leave a person who was abusive because basically what was abusive was acceptable and that is what made my behaviors co dependent.

    It is not me, my soul, my personality that is co dependent. It is the learned behaviors.

    My mother was loyal to my father despite the fact that she didn’t like him that much if at all. If I hadn’t learned any better by this point I would still discount my gut feelings of dislike or I would never feel it since I had to stuff it my entire childhood and say I love you with kisses and continue to be loyal to a person whose behaviors disagreed with some sort of internal wisdom, such as my house mate or the narc or even my mother. Am I loyal to my mother now?? This is a good question. Do I have to be? Another good question. Should one be sentenced to loyalty to an abusive parent or spouse?

    I would say I see into my mothers co dependency and create boundaries in order to function better. I could get caught in the loop in a matter of moments but never like as a child. For when I was a child that is all there was and I needed love so I had to agree for survival. Now I have many new tools , so many new learned behaviors. I have a new teacher. My mother’s behavior is so off the map that I had to confront it the other day. There was a time when I would have believed what she had to say or at least never seen the inappropriateness.

    I would have subscribed to “every parent is this way”, as she put it. But every parent is not “this way” yet I’ll bet with in a generation every one is this way and that way numbers count… this is fact & accepted as TRUTH…she speaks the truth. My voice is of a child’s…a big adult child.

    So I don’t have a hard time seeing my part N the coNtraption. I see it quite clearly. I can even see it in other relationships which were not necessarily threatening or abusive and had some healthy things going on. Yet it required the threatening one to to shake my tree enough that I would fall out and hurt myself enough to ask WHY ? WHY ME ?

    To me, it is so dang obvious why I was in a relationship with an abusive person. Hell, I didn’t know the difference. I really didn’t but my guts knew yet I didn’t listen to my guts. I was told my guts were not allowed. My voice was not to be heard. Well, now I know different. I still deal with a parent who is there to tell me I have no voice. I can promise you I am not loyal to those words. I am loyal when I do not agree and walk away feeling good about exactly the way I feel and respecting my instincts/intuitiveness as well as my rational intelligences.

    This is all for now. I just thought I would share something of my own story to give an idea of how I see the practice of co dependency as in myself. There is still more to be said. I am starting here.

    Anonymouse eyes

  6. Hi CZ,

    When I was in my early twenties I dated a man who had some mighty undersirable traits -- possessive, always late, lied about his achievements. I ended the relationship after a few weeks and he freaked out. For months afterwards I'd find flowers on my car, bottles of champagne, notes strewn with adjectives and adverbs describing how much the loss of me hurt him. Occassionally, I'd get a phone call telling me he was going to commit suicide. "That's your choice," I'd say and hang up. I didn't know about No Contact, but I practiced it anyway. This guy was scary!

    What disturbed me wasn't that the guy was over the top nuts -- I intuitively knew it wasn't about me. What scared me was the realization that he thought he he had the right to try to make me see it his way, that he had the right to take up my space with his ridiculous behaviours.

    But still -- I wanted a man. I didn't feel defined without a man in my life -- I mean, really, my mother had always told me, "You need a man. You can't do it on your own."

    I don't consider myself co-dependent -- but still I needed a man.

    When I met the N/P, he reminded me of that man long ago -- but, I'd forgotten about the parts I didn't like. I focussed on the things I did like. Like how romantic he was. How he told me I was wonderful, fabulous, amazing, talented.... (I know I am but.... it sure was nice to have someone tell me all the time;)!)

    Anyway -- my co-dependence was not on Conrad as my lover. My co-dependence came from my need to hear the good things -- and ultimately the bad things he said. I've always asserted that I became addicted to his negative values. I became dependent upon the poison he fed me -- not because I started the relationship needing his poison, but rather because, during the course of the relationship, his poison replaced my blood -- I became transfused with his nastiness and dependent upon what he had to say.

    Co-dependency can only be created by two people in relationship. It does not exist prior to the meeting. I don't go through my day, co-dependent. I do go through my day dependent upon the universe to support me, uplift me -- and these days, I'm depending mightly on gravity to keep me from falling down -- though it seems certain body parts are acting in defiance and letting go without my consent!

    Co-dependency can happen to anyone. For me, it happened in my forties because -- well truth is, I had a momentary lapse of attention and in that moment, a man walked in with devious intent and I fell under his spell.

    Everyone has the capacity for co-dependency. It's like cancer -- we all carry the cells but only some of us fall prey to its devious intent to take over our lives. For many, that happens when they are stressed, or weakened by some other force.

    For me, I was tired, stressed out about raising two teenage daughters on my own, stressed out about constantly juggling my life to fit their needs, others needs yada yada yada.

    In rode the P and I was pricked by the tip of his sword -- and the poison started to flow into my body. As the poison replaced my common sense, I became dependent upon him to make me feel right -- that's where I became co-dependent. I gave up my right to be independent, to be responsible for me and gave into him.

    Post P poisoning -- I'm breathing clear fresh air. I don't let myself get so run down I can't think for myself. I don't let myself get so stressed out I can't defend myself against cancerous thoughts eroding my self-esteem.

    Those cancers -- they're around.

    My job is to keep myself strong and grounded in my reality and uplifted by my spirited living this one wild and precious life as if it is the only life I've got -- it is and I'm doing it!

    I'm in relationship now with a wonderful man. We're not co-dependent but we definitely are interdependent -- and I like it that way.

    Hugs! You are an amazing Woman Of Worth!!! WOW!


  7. Dear Louise,

    Thanks so much for writing about your interpretation of codependency. Seems to me that codependency has numerous definitions in our population right now. I started reading several interpretations of what 'codependency' actually means and discovered it's much broader than originally intended.

    It might be interesting to get several people’s definitions and list them into categories. One writer insists codependency is 'in the self' which means it is an internal deficit requiring psychotherapeutic intervention. At one point in the history of this term, codependency was considered to be a personality disorder (much akin to narcissism). But the 'meaning' has a broader scope within the general population...most likely because of 12-step groups’ popularity.

    I've been reading an interesting collection of essays criticizing 'codependency' from a feminist perspective. Even within this collection, theorists disagree on the usefulness of the term. I hope to combine my reading into a message and post it on the blog since it appears we can define codependency however we want. I think it has great value as a short-cut description for being irresponsible or enmeshed with other people’s problems...

    So here’s to Interdependence---o yea. I like that idea!

    Hugs back to another Wonderful Woman of Worth!


  8. Hi!

    Thank you so much for your blog. I've been reading about narcissim and co-dependancy constantly hoping to find out what is wrong with me. I have (had) a "best" friend (we're both women in our 40's with our own families and most of the articles speak of male/female relationships)for 9 years. The 1st year was a dream come true friendship and then the confusion began. I think that I am so confused most of the time and a horrible person. I catered to my friends constant needs over my husband and children. Yes, they are bitter and angry with me and have been with her, also. I know that I'm co-dependent. She's banished me from her life many times over as her children are older now and she "needs" me less. As crazy as it sounds, I'm devastated and want nothing more than the so called dream best friendship back. My family can't understand - we are like oil and vinegar. She deamands and I cower in order to keep her friendship, I guess. As long as I'm going where she wants to eat, seeing what movies she wants to see, picking her kids up, etc. and not saying anything when she makes snide comments about my husband, then life is good. As soon as I challenge because I've had all I can take, I'm told that I'm not a normal human being, crazy and I am to leave her alone. I try to talk and listen through it with her to tell her that maybe I shouldn't feel upset that we sat through a dinner that she invited me to, but had her back turned to me the entire time, but I do feel that way and could she just tell me that it meant nothing. She's not angry - whatever. I guess I'm emotionally needy (codependent) and that is irritating. I don't know, I feel as if I'm a little kid. I've forgotten about all of my other friends pre my "best" friend because she sucked up so much of my time. Now I'm alone. I know I have no one to blame, but me. I am an adult. Anyway, thanks for your last paragraph. I do have loyalty, trust and compassion and I try my best to treat everyone with respect. Somehow I have to figure out how to gain my self respect back, but I'm just to sad right now.

  9. Hi Anonymous! Thank you for posting a comment on my blog. It's always inspiring to know other people are seeing themselves in my life experience. Makes each of us feel less lonely and maybe also: NORMAL.

    Relationships like yours are far more common that most folks realize. There's a Taker and then there's a GIVER and it sounds like you're the latter. How do we let go of a relationship that's not reciprocally GIVING? That's the hard question, isn't it?

    I like what Louise said in her comment: "Everyone has the capacity for co-dependency. It's like cancer -- we all carry the cells but only some of us fall prey to its devious intent to take over our lives. For many, that happens when they are stressed, or weakened by some other force."

    Building on her insight, I'd add that it's easy to invest ourselves in a co-dependent relationship before we realize how unhealthy it is. Letting go requires 'cutting our losses' and gosh, we don't want to do that after years of giving our time and energy to a friendship we HOPE will become what we want it to be!

    At some point though, we have to look at the TRUTH and say, "No More. I'm done throwing my dollars in a slot machine and magically wishing I'll win the jackpot!"

    I'd like to write more about co-dependency on my blog and will do that in April. I dislike the pejorative use of a term like co-dependency because some of the kindest, nicest, most wonderful people on our planet are criticized for not being 'narcissistic enough'. That moves us in the wrong direction, in my opinion.

    Would you feel comfortable with me using a quote from your comment on a new blog post? You've accurately described how subtle and easy it is for a Giver (also called 'a pleaser') to end up in a relationship with a 'taker'.


  10. Hi, CZBZ!

    Of course, feel free to quote from my comments.

    I have a question for you. You asked - "How do we let go of a relationship that's not reciprocally GIVING?" This is where my friend has me so confused. She tells me that I have expectations and she does not like my expectations. Her thoughts are that she asks me to do things to "help her out" and if I say no, then that's okay. However, it's not true. I have tried to say no and pay the price by her making little snide comments or simply ignoring me. I do tend to volunteer a lot and she always takes me up on it. Examples, I helped her plant flowers, weed her bushes, decorate for parties, chaparone at her kids events, etc. Rarely in 9 years has she "volunteered" to help me. At first, she would always give me an expensive gift, which made me feel uncomfortable and good at the same time, but that waned too. I have hinted before about helping me with this or that, but then the argument starts that I have expectations and she doesn't like that. My question: Should a person have ANY expectations in a friendship - is that what reciprocal giving really is?

    Honestly, I ask this question because I really don't know what a good friend is or how to be a good friend anymore. I wish that I did not "need" friends, but I do. I have a very poor self esteem and need constant reassurance, which I am positive has not helped the friendship with such a self confident person. Decisions escape me -- all things that I admire about my friend, but can never grasp.


  11. Hi TJ!

    I knew someone named TJ once, what a nice reminder of an old friendship.

    You asked: “Should a person have ANY expectations in a friendship - is that what reciprocal giving really is?”

    You’ve mentioned that your friend makes snide remarks, ignores you, says you’re crazy, says you aren’t normal, puts you between a rock and a hard place with your family (making you PROVE your loyalty to her instead of your husband and children), gives you a ‘gift’ to pay for your time, tells you where to go, what you’re going to eat, when to eat it, rejects you at a dinner party, insists she isn’t angry, and never volunteers to reciprocate the help you’ve given her.

    So yes, I’d say there’s an unfair GIVING situation going on. You aren’t giving her enough shite to keep up with the horse pucky she’s dumping on you.

    Suggesting people not have ‘expectations’ encourages them to be victims. I guess if you don’t expect anything, you won’t be upset when you don’t get anything. That’s a sure-fire way to avoid disappointment. It’s also a sure-fire way to attract irresponsible people who will use you up like Kleenex they can throw away.

    If you value your time and your SELF, then expectations are essential. Expectations like: respect, dignity, empathy, kindness, nurturance, generosity, forgiveness, growth, and for both of you to be better people because of your friendship.

    Your friend is using up ALL your time and it doesn’t appear that she values your friendship enough to invest ‘her’ time (just her dollars). She keeps you so preoccupied thinking about her needs and then fulfilling those needs, that you don’t have room in your life for another friend. Maybe it’s time to consider stepping back from her for a while? Just long enough to see if your life rebalances itself…

    The things is, you gotta clear enough space in your life so there’s room to grow a new relationship---one you can expect to bear nourishing fruit. You’ve already seen what this 9-year relationship will bring ya and it ain’t peaches and nectarines.

    Here’s a great book you might want to read. It offers guidelines for choosing friends---especially if our boundaries aren’t very good. It’s titled “Safe People” by Dr. Henry cloud and Dr. John Townsend.



  12. Hi, CZBZ!

    Thank you so much! I will order the book tonight.

    It's going to be a tough and lonley road ahead, but my shoulders do feel a little lighter tonight.

    I really do appreciate your kindness...

    Hugs back,


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