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Your symptoms are not signs of a codependent mental disorder. You are suffering from betrayal trauma induced PTSD. Society needs to see and treat the victims as victims, not co-addicts. The codependency model is abuse.
The Relationship Begins
One day a young woman was standing on the shore of a big lake with her sweetheart. He asked her to get in a boat with him and row to the beautiful garden on the other shore several miles away.
The journey started out fine. They were rowing together to the other shore, chatting and laughing and enjoying their time together.
They talked of all the wonderful things they were going to do once they reached the garden.
There were a few differences of opinion, but they both knew these were little hiccups because the main goal, living in the garden, was the same. They resolved their differences in love with open and honest communication.
The Abuse Begins
Then the woman noticed that the man had stopped rowing. When she asked him why, he said he was tired. She put her oars down as well. She was tired too. They should take a rest.
The man yelled at her for her selfishness. Why couldn’t she just let him rest? She started rowing again.
After a few minutes the man picked up his oars and started rowing again. She was happy until she realized that rowing had suddenly gotten a lot harder. She looked at the water, tested the wind, and checked for an anchor, but there was no explanation.
Then she looked closer at the man. He was rowing in the opposite direction. “That looks like a better destination!” he said, pointing at an empty beach that was much closer than their original destination. She didn’t agree, but when she tried to state her objections, he yelled at her again for being selfish.
She kept trying to row towards their original destination, the beautiful garden, and the man kept working against her while blaming all the problems on her not being willing to change their destination.
The Woman is Left Alone
Soon they saw another boat rowed by their pastor and his wife. They were also heading towards the beautiful garden. She called out to them, “help me reach the garden with you!”
The pastor replied, “Your duty is to help your husband reach his destination. You need to support him. He knows what he is doing,” and rowed away.
Then they saw a boat with some friends in it heading towards the garden. “Please help me come with you to the garden” she called. “Follow us!” they said then rowed off without offering her any real assistance.
Then they saw a boat with therapists and support group members in it. The man hissed “Don’t you dare ask them for help. You don’t need help. You need to respect me as the head of this boat.” She was afraid and didn’t call out. They probably wouldn’t help her anyway.
The Abuse Escalates
The woman eventually decided it was easier to row with the man than against him, so she capitulated to his demands. Pretty soon they ended up in a portion of the lake that was full of weeds and rocks and their boat capsized. The woman tried to turn the boat over and climb in, but the man yelled at her that she was selfish for not helping him.
When the woman tried to go back and help the man, he grabbed onto her and pushed her head below water. She kicked and thrashed and finally broke free and came to the surface gasping for air. The man yelled at her for kicking him.
The man insisted he couldn’t get back in the boat without her help. He blamed her for the boat capsizing. If she hadn’t resisted his lead then they would never have capsized.
She tried desperately to help the man get back in the boat and head back to the garden. Each time she went to help him, he pushed her head back under water.
She tried just going limp, but he didn’t let up. She tried swimming for the boat, towing him at arms length, but he just grabbed her and pulled her down again. She quickly learned that the only way to keep her head above water was to fight with all her might to make him let go.
The Woman Tries to Set Boundaries
Soon the woman realized that she couldn’t help the man. He didn’t want to be saved. He only wanted to drown her. She swam away.
When she got a little distance away, the man cried out for her help. He was sorry. He knew this was his fault. He loved her and didn’t want to lose her. He would never try to drown her again.
She went back, and he tried to drown her again. After fighting her way free she swam away again. This time the man climbed into the boat, and rowed after her.
“Please just get in the boat!” he called. “I won’t try to hurt you again. I know this is my fault, and I need this boat to get me to the garden. I promise we’ll head to the garden.”
She let him help her into the boat. Pretty soon they were rowing together towards the garden. It didn’t take long, however, for the man to once again stop rowing, and change his mind about their destination, then the whole scenario repeated itself.
The Woman Tries to Leave
Finally the woman managed to fight off the man enough to climb in the boat and row to the garden herself. The man followed after her crying and pleading for her help. Everyone who passed by her in their boat chastised her for not allowing the man to get back in her boat.
After several friends and family members told her to help him, she began to feel guilty. Maybe he really had changed this time. He did seem like he really wanted to get in the boat and go to the garden.
She reached over the side of the boat to pull him in. Instead of climbing in, he pulled her out of the boat. “I’ll make you pay for leaving me behind!” he whispered menacingly as he shoved her head back under the water.
As the boat began to drift away, the woman lost all hope of ever getting away from this man who kept trying to drown her. She couldn’t do it on her own, and no one would help her.
The Onlookers Judge the Woman
From the onlooking boats she heard the calls:
“Why didn’t she just leave him behind?”
“She deserves it! She shouldn’t have gotten in a boat with him in the first place.”
“She’s so controlling, she HAD to go to the garden. She couldn’t just accept that he wanted to live on the beach. He was right to drown her. She deserved it.”
“I can’t believe she is hitting and kicking him like that. If she’d just stop abusing him he wouldn’t need to drown her.”
“You go man!! Drown that bitch.”
The more these voices entered her head, the more hopeless she felt. She deserved this. They were right. She stopped fighting. She stopped breathing. She was gone.
The Codependent Model is Abuse
This story is an illustration of how the codependency model plays out. No matter what the woman does, she is in the wrong.
If she withdraws because she is hurt, then she is removing the man’s safe foundation.
If she lashes out to get her head above water, she is being abusive.
If she says, “I’m a victim help me!” she is gossiping and shaming him.
If she says “You can only get in my boat if you are willing to let me choose the destination,” then she’s controlling.
Codependency teaches us that literally every natural reaction to being abused and mistreated is wrong. Codependency teaches us that we can control the abuser/addict by our behavior while simultaneously telling us that the desire to control anything is unhealthy.
Codependency tells us that staying with an abusive man is wrong and we deserve what we get. Codependency also tells us that withdrawing from an unsafe man is abusive.
Then, after all this codependency-based secondary abuse pushes a woman into staying, it tells her “You must be codependent because otherwise you wouldn’t be in this situation”.
She can’t ask for help, she can’t leave, and she can’t stay. Codependency says that EVERY SINGLE NATURAL REACTION we have to addiction and abuse is wrong.
When a dog has been beaten over and over by its master do we blame the dog or the man when the dog bites?
The Codependent model tells us that this is just a bad dog who attracted an abusive man, so it is all the dog’s fault. That dog should have found a way to leave the situation (even though he was chained up) or better yet not be the kind of dog that attracts abusive masters. It’s the dog’s fault for being a dog, not the man’s fault for being an abuser.
Codependency then rubs salt in the wound by telling victims that they need to work their own 12 step program to fix the codependency rather than focus on asking their abuser to stop abusing them or getting out of the situation.
The victim is told that codependency is the REAL problem here, not the abuse.
Codependency is the Addict’s Invention
Codependency is a very broken and abusive thought process that was invented by the addicts themselves in order to further control the people in their lives who were holding them accountable. The original phrase is “co-chemically-dependent,” essentially meaning the victim is addicted to being in a relationship with the abuser/addict.
Codependency is nothing more than a way for the addict to blame the consequences of his behavior on his partner. After all, “if she was healthy she’d never love or put up with me. She should have just known from the beginning that I was going to cause her all this pain and never started the relationship. She attracted me because of her brokenness, this relationship is all her fault,” or so they believe.
Why on earth have we allowed the addict rationalization rule the mental health world for DECADES? This wasn’t even a definition created by mental health professionals. The professionals listened to the addicts- the ones with broken brains due to their chemical dependencies. In what world does that make any sense at all?!
You are NOT Codependent
You did not do anything wrong to attract this abusive man to you. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
The stats say that 1 in 4 women will be the victims of severe physical violence from an intimate partner. Do we really believe that 1 in 4 women is codependent? Add in the stats for abuse without physical assault or only minimal physical violence, and I’d venture to say the member of women affected by abuse is closer to 100% than 25%.
Why are we still blaming this epidemic on the victims?
Do we really believe that if all women were magically cured of this disease of codependency (pretending for a minute it actually exists) would their abusers suddenly stop being abusive or addicted?
Betrayal Trauma Induced PTSD
The diagnosis we should be giving here is Post Traumatic Stress caused by Betrayal Trauma.
And before you light the fires and grab the pitchforks because I had the nerve to equate my trauma as an abuse victim with that of a soldier who’s seen combat, let me remind you that I am a US Marine who served in Iraq, and my husband is too.
While we were both thankfully able to escape the service relatively unscathed, we know people who didn’t. We both know what trauma, PTSD, etc. look like, and I’ve got it.
I didn’t get it in the military, or at least not more than a VERY mild form of it. I did get PTSD from my relationship with an abuser.
I didn’t do anything wrong by getting in his boat. I can’t control how many times he holds my head underwater. I am not wrong for fighting to get my head above water, and I certainly am not responsible for forcing my abuser back into my boat.
I am, however, perfectly justified in putting as much distance between me and my abuser as I need without any regard for how he feels about it. I am right for setting boundaries around what he will and won’t do if I’m going to stay in a relationship with him.
Am NOT responsible in any way for his continued abuse of me. I am not a bad person for holding on to hope and seeing his potential to be a good rowing partner if he chooses to be. I am not wrong for insisting he prove his willingness to change with actions, not words, before I let him back in my boat.
Let’s stop telling women that any of this is their fault and just rescue them from drowning.
If you still need more convincing, check out this amazing podcast from three victims of betrayal, one of whom is also a recovering addict.
Now That You Know
If you can relate to the woman in this story then check out my 11 post series about the types of abusive men outlines in Lundy Bancroft’s book “[amazon_textlink asin=’0425191656′ text=’Why Does He Do That?”‘ template=’ProductLink’ store=’mymanmon-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ad97ba91-4945-42d5-a0c1-5b4092a57f75′]
If you are suffering from betrayal trauma due to addiction or abuse please visit The Ultimate Betrayal Trauma Resource Guide.
Very interesting article. I’m grappling with the codependency issue. Why is it so very difficult to find a therapist who gets that one can have PTSD from being married to a sex and love addict who continually lied about almost everything? I believed him. Is that codependent? I was told to attend coda meetings. I did 2 semesters of “STEPS”, a Christian based 12 step program, upon the recommendation of my church. I was working to “fix” myself while my (now ex) was probably at home acting out. He never took responsibility. The church thinks I’m the bigger problem because I couldn’t seem to get past it and they don’t believe in divorce. I’m so glad to be out of the relationship, but it is so difficult to heal when so few seem to understand. I’m not sure I completely understand myself. I just know it still really hurts to be so mistreated and misunderstood. I really, really relate to your story. I lived it.
Thank you, thank you, a million times thank you for writing this article. As the wife of a porn addict who has been called a “co-addict” even though I had no idea what he was doing, this article resonates with me. I had come to the conclusion early on that the co-dependent model was a piece of excrement that was shat out by addicts as a way to rub the noses of their victims in the mess they made. It’s nice to realize that other people have come to this conclusion as well. It is time to shout NO to anyone who tries to abuse us more by calling us codependents or co-addicts.
Thank you for sharing your experience!