Love and Codependency in Relationships

May 25th, 2015



”If I could start again a million miles away, I would keep my Self. I would find a way.”


– Trent Reznor





“When ‘X’ is here I know myself in my world. When ‘X’ is not here I get anxious. When I know ‘X’ is returning I get excited. When ‘X’ is here again I feel relief.”



‘X’ in the above example could be someone we think we are in love with. Then again, it may be a description of addiction…


So what is the difference and how can we tell? The short answer is ‘respect’: to Self and others. More on that later. Let us start however by seeing how we might be sabotaging that respect.




Why and how do we hurt ourselves?




The first, last and longest relationship we will ever have is with our self. It pays to be our own best friend. That includes loyalty. It does not include abandoning ourselves then looking outside of ourselves or to things or other people for endless confirmation of who we are. It does not include numbing the pain of self-abandonment through escapism and addictions. One such addiction of course can be relationships.




Codependency and self-esteem in relationships



Codepent triangle



It is all there inside the word itself. Before there was codependency there was dependency. Before dependency there was self-reliance. Before self-reliance there was self-esteem. Self-esteem is not only a feeling of self-worth. It is the confirmation that we even exist. Without that we can suffer an existential crisis that can paralyze us with fear and doubt about every aspect of our lives.


What we have forgotten is that, in every relationship there are three paths. The relationship with each other. Our relationship with our Self and our partner’s relationship with themself. All of these require attention and nourishment or there will be consequences. (For a little more about this click here)



Case 1:


A young woman in a relationship. Her partner was charismatic and powerful. He represented the privileged background and economic success she aspired to while rejecting her own. She forgot (that is, rejected and abandoned) herself in the relationship, even combining her professional identity by working for his company. She disappeared into this all-consuming life for several years.


When the discovery of her partners’ many and long standing serial affairs broke her idealised bubble she was devastated. While she understood that the breakup would be difficult, she was completely unprepared for the deep terror that gripped her among the cascade of other emotions. So identified had she become with the escape into her fantasy ideal of a relationship that she had abandoned herself.


At the very least abandonment gives rise to sorrow and separation anxiety. In its more advanced forms it is the terror of non-existence; that we (as we once saw ourselves at least) are dying. In a sense of course this is exactly the truth.


This began a journey back to her relationship with herself and the realisation of how she had unconsciously abandoned herself by giving away her power and denied her intuitive feelings time and time again in all her relationships – not just this one.




Low self esteem


self esteem einstein


This is a subject covered many times in these blogs.[1] It is the root cause of so much suffering. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is our developing Earth element that helps shape our identity in this physical plane of existence. (For more on the Earth element click here) The phase of transformation in this element is maturation.


The emotional correspondence to problems when we are not yet mature enough to meet our challenges is anxiety. In other words, we will identify more with an abandoned child (and all the terror felt with that mind-set) than with a resourceful adult.


In codependent relationships we can unconsciously attempt to heal that abandonment/anxiety wound through one of two main roles:


  1. The carer, nurturer, saviour – the projection of our own need through giving to others and ‘escaping’ our own anxiety.
  2. The dependent child – the acting out of our wound until such time as it destroys our health, takes our life or at least can no longer take us further: We may then create a new desire for personal freedom and independence


This is why we stay in codependent relationships:

It still gives us something we need


Eventually however (and that can be a long time and many relationships) we will realise codependency costs us more than it gives us. That is why the secret of true and lasting change lies not in the Earth element at the top of the digestive tract (it rules the stomach) but at the other end in the Metal element (ruling the colon).


The colon energy system has the title ‘The minister of Change and Evolution’. The secret it imparts about change is that it is not about what we want and don’t have but what we already possess but have not yet let go. It is often only when we are truly ‘fed up’ and done with a situation that we are prepared to let it go and risk what we were not prepared to risk before. Change after all, is often seen as a kind of death when we resist it so it may take a push to set us upon that path.



Passive aggression



While we are still stuck inside our low self-esteem based, codependent relationships however we become unhappy. We are unhappy with ourselves for co-creating a situation of limitation and we are unhappy with our partner for the same reason. That frustration often expresses in acts of passive aggression.


What defines it as passive is that, because we identify as the victim, we do not risk overt aggression or we would lose that status. We could no longer position ourselves at the ‘good’ or righteous victim in the relationship. Instead that aggression is deflected. How might it express?


  • Petty criticisms, complaining and dissatisfaction with our partner and their behaviour
  • Poor communication of our needs while being irritated that our partner cannot guess what they are and meet them for us
  • Martyr-ish acts of self-sacrifice that are not necessary, elicited nor appreciated by others. This leaves us feeling frustrated, disappointed, self-pitying and misunderstood




  • A lack of trust and a need to control others behaviour
  • The manifestation of suffering – illness, fatigue and emotional exhaustion. This carries the implied message “Don’t you see what you are doing to me?!” – when we are in fact doing it to ourselves.
  • Starting shared projects that are never satisfactorily completed or staying stuck in a situation that is often complained about but never resolved – the outward manifestation of the malaise in the relationship


Case 2:


A middle aged woman in a 20 year marriage with a teenage child. Her husband worked as an airline pilot which took him away from home on long haul flights for 5 days at a time. She was a teacher. They were in the process of renovating their bathroom but it still was unfinished three months after it began. She contracted very strong migraines. With her husband away this sometimes required an emergency house call from the doctor and a morphine injection to relieve them.


In our first sessions together she complained a lot about her life and her relationship in particular. Even though she knew it was part of his job she resented her husband for ‘abandoning’ her with the responsibility of the house and child. She positioned herself as the responsible adult while he was away ‘having fun’. Inevitably she suffered these migraines the most upon his return.


Instead of getting the attention and sympathy she craved her husband felt powerless to help her and thought it best to leave her to rest while she had these ‘attacks’. During our sessions I must confess that my treatments yielded only marginal and temporary improvements in her condition. They did serve to reflect her situation back to her however.


Several months later, as luck would have it, I met her on the street and enquired about her health. She replied that she was fine and symptom free. Curious as to how this miraculous turn around happened and hoping I could learn from my failure to help her, I asked her what treatment she had since our sessions together.


“Oh no, I didn’t see anyone after you. I just changed my attitude.”




Codependency, Love and Respect


So what may have been part of that attitude change? The answer to that lies in understanding the difference between love and the codependent behaviour and the emotions that are often mistaken for it.


While codependency is a set of dysfunctional communication and interpersonal behaviours we often learn early in life and are passed off as love,  it is not love. While attraction and desire to be and stay with a person special to us may look similar to love it contains aggressive, passive aggressive, controlling and self-sabotaging behaviour that mark it as something else.


What love contains that codependency does not is respect:


  1. Respect for the Self. A person with self-respect would not hurt themselves in passive aggressive acts designed to control, manipulate or prove a point to someone else.
  2. Respect for others. A true love would only wish the highest good for another – even if that meant the end of the relationship (in its current form at least). We cannot change others, only our self. In so doing, our partners may change positively too but that is a bonus, not the goal.


Love uses triggers like irritation, insecurity and fear to look inside and investigate what we need to change. It does not abandon us and then look outside of ourselves for someone else to blame or control in an attempt to dampen those triggers into silence.


Love also respects the Self enough to remove us from harmful relationships where we are abused or manipulated. It reminds us of our true Self and gently guides us away from the dysfunctional traps of addiction and codependency. It reminds us of our own worth. Regardless of the ups and downs of life we remain our own best friend and source of encouragement, curiosity, creativity, love and support.



That lovin’ feeling


The point of these challenges is of course to help us define  and confirm ourselves as beings of Love once more. Like a bodybuilder welcoming the resistance of the weight because they know it will help make them bigger and stronger we can welcome the triggers of codependency and its co-conspirators as a way to become stronger and wiser.




Well, sometimes at least…



Till another Monday finds that lovin’ feeling restored and ready to take on a new week,




[1] For a three-part series on self-esteem click here, here and here




© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation:

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