Signs You Might Be a Trauma-Bonded Co-Dependent (and what to do about it)
One of the most difficult challenges in working with victims of Narcissistic abuse is helping them see that they are not responsible for their abuser’s actions, behaviors, cruelty, or consequences that arise out of said partner’s bad choices.
With rare exception, those who reach out for help in escaping their abusive partners feel responsible for every bad thing that ever transpired in their toxic relationship. They doubt themselves, they continually wonder if there’s something they could have done differently, and they come to me with unbearable feelings of guilt, humiliation, and shame. This is all due to the Narcissist projecting their shame onto them, as well as having been the target of abusive, exploitative conditioning.
When something goes wrong in the Narcissist’s life, or he or she becomes angry, the victim is made to believe it’s their fault. (i.e., “You should have told me my car was low on gas! I was late to work again and put on probation! It’s all your fault!). Or, victims feel not good enough, smart enough, or attractive enough due to cruel statements made by their abusive partner. (“I never loved you. You were just here to pass the time”; “You were never good enough for me. I just kept you around as a maid”; “Everyone is always saying they cannot believe I’m with someone like you”). Over time, the victim internalizes these statements and believes there’s something wrong with them.
Even worse, they begin to resign themselves to a life of accepting the abuse based on these false beliefs.
A person who has healthy boundaries wouldn’t stay in such a relationship very long. On the other hand, a person who scores high in codependent traits would not only stay in the relationship, but do everything in their power to avoid displeasing the Narcissist. Many victims will allow their careers go to waste, cut off friends and family, stop practicing their favorite activities/hobbies, and live as an extension of the Narcissist.
Often, victims will defend their partner’s cruelty with statements such as, “He had a difficult childhood”, “She’s had a hard life because she was abused by her Ex”, “He or she really seems to want to change”, “Only losers give up”, “If God brings you to it, He’ll get you through it”. These beliefs (in context of the abusive relationship) all enable the abuser to continue their abuse and only lead to negative consequences for the victim.
They’re also signs of trauma-bonding and self-defeating beliefs of people with enabling personality traits. Those aren’t labels to be interpreted in a negative way. They are both defense mechanisms that result from being emotionally abused and most often stem from not feeling loved during one’s formative years, usually from birth up to age seven. Typically, this is because one parent was codependent themselves, and the other had exploitative traits.
Since abusers always maintain the upper hand, codependents learn early on that they can only receive “love” and “acceptance” through what they can provide for the abusive parent. Further, the codependent parent spent all their energy trying to avoid the abuser’s rage and displeasure, so there was little left to give to any children involved. So, not only did the child(ren) not receive the nurturing they so needed, they learned how to avoid the wrath of the manipulative parent. (This is a general scenario, not comprehensive).
Codependents can go through life without ever realizing they are, in fact, codependent. This usually comes out as “being too nice”, being overly forgiving, always turning the other cheek, or doing more for other people than for oneself. It’s only after pairing with an emotional abuser, such as a Narcissist, that codependent traits are brought to the surface in full force.
Am I a trauma-bonded codependent?
If the following examples apply to you, you have been the target of emotional/Narcissistic abuse, trauma-bonding (think Stockholm syndrome), having your childhood wounds exploited, and acting from cognitive dissonance, which means your partner has a Love-Avoidant or Narcissistic personality type.
- You feel you can’t leave your partner, even though the relationship or marriage is extremely toxic for you
- You feel powerless over your future
- You have sleeping difficulties (too much or too little) and eating problems (not having an appetite, which leads to weight loss, or emotional eating, leading to weight gain)
- Thoughts of suicide
- Easily startled or over-reactive to everyday situations
- You check your cell phone every two or three minutes (for messages from your partner)
- You rarely go outside the home because there’s usually a price to pay, or if you do go out, there’s always a deep sense of urgency to get back home as quickly as possible
- You’ve stopped going out due to the above, and/or because you’ve lost interest in life
- No matter the contributions and sacrifices you’ve made for the relationship, you feel you haven’t done enough
- You’ve developed OCD tendencies since you’ve been with your partner, or you might exhibit behaviors that mimic bipolar disorder (which are really symptoms that developed due to emotional trauma)
- You experience panic attacks, fear leaving your home, have nightmares, experience extremely high emotions, frequently relive past abuse (all symptoms of PTSD and/or C-PTSD , which are psychological injuries)
- You hide your partner’s cruelty and abuse and/or lie to friends and family about your reality
- You tend to accept accountability for the bad things that happen in your partner’s life and feel the need to fix their problems…always
- You doubt yourself and/or your sanity. Believe you might be “the crazy one”
- Feel a relentless need to give your abusive partner the benefit of the doubt – always to your detriment
- You don’t want to say “No” or stand up for yourself because you don’t want them to think you’re mean or unwilling to make compromises (although they are repeatedly mean to you and unwilling to be flexible)
These signs are by no means comprehensive. They are merely the most common concerns I hear from clients, as well as victims who’ve left comments across the forums. If the above list sounds like your life, your partner is a manipulative, emotional abuser and has little chance of changing.
The good news is you can. You can overcome your feelings of low self-esteem, hopelessness, powerlessness, and all those icky, self-defeating beliefs that were implanted in your psyche by the people who exploited you over the years, even as far back as childhood.
But, it all starts with going No Contact (or Modified Contact, only in cases of shared custody).
**If you do share custody with a disordered partner, it may benefit you to inquire about changing your custody arrangement, especially if your partner is absent.
Going No Contact is hard, and things will get worse before they get better. But, the payoff is worth it…a life without abuse; a life that you can enjoy; a life where you can find a truly loving partner.