Chloe, a 42-year-old married mother of two was a successful businesswoman before she met her husband. For many years of her marriage, she was in a toxic and codependent relationship with her husband. He was initially charming, affectionate, and attentive, and he made Chloe feel loved, valued, and secure. However, as time went on, she began to realize that he lacked motivation and could not hold down a job. Chloe quickly took on the financial burden of the house, children, and her business, and the relationship became increasingly difficult. She spent a lot of her time trying to fix his problems and make him happy while neglecting her own needs. Chloe thought that making her husband happy would improve their life, but instead she became frustrated and overwhelmed. Her business eventually failed, and she lost her own sense of identity. She found herself feeling anxious, stuck, and unable to move forward.
Although not recognizes as a mental health disorder in the DSM-5, codependency is widely acknowledge by mental health professions as a pervasive issue. It involves one person relying on another for emotional and psychological fulfillment, often at the expense of their own well-being. This behavior often stems from childhood experiences of neglect or feeling unimportant.
Chloe showed clear signs of codependency. People who are codependent often fear abandonment and usually neglect their own needs, and enable or excuse problematic behaviors of others to maintain a sense of control/or connection. Chloe had grown up with neglectful parents, and her fear of abandonment was so intense that she would do almost anything avoid it, even at the cost of her won happiness. She had become enmeshed in her husband’s life, enabling his behavior, and neglecting her own needs in the process.
As the therapy progressed, Chloe became aware that she was trapped in a codependent cycle with her husband. She felt miserable and develop a fear of wanting to leave her husband. She felt stupid and unlovable, which caused her to have trouble breathing and a tightening sensation in her chest. Due to the fear of losing control of her situation or upsetting her husband, she frequently repressed her emotions. She yearned to return to her former self and be the independent woman she once was. However, when she made the decision to seek therapy her husband declined to accompany her, leaving her to attend sessions alone. Chloe knew deep down that she needed to leave, but her fear of abandonment and low self-esteem made it hard for her to act. She felt like she had no sense of identity outside of her relationship with him, and the thought of being alone was terrifying.
A comprehensive treatment plan was developed to support Chloe in regaining her independence, utilizing a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, and attachment theory. Using CBT, Chloe recognized and confronted her negative thought patterns that contributed to her codependence, including her belief that she was stupid. By altering her thoughts to be more positive and self-affirming, she gained a better comprehension of her situation. Interpersonal therapy helped Chloe recognize her existing strengths and use them to create more meaningful relationships, while also equipping her with new strategies for navigating relationship transitions and fostering a healthy mindset in her interactions with her husband.
Attachment theory suggests that early experiences with caregivers can shape our patterns of attachment and impact our adult relationships. This framework provided Chloe with a new perspective, allowing her to understand how her upbringing may have contributed to her struggles with forming secure relationships and experiencing codependency. By working through this approach, Chloe was able to develop a healthier relationship with herself and learn to express her emotions in a more positive and constructive manner.
Initially, Chloe was resistant to treatment due to the deep-rooted nature of her codependency. However, she eventually realized that her resistance was holding her back and acknowledged the negative impact it was having on her life. Setting boundaries and asserting her own needs without fear of upsetting others was a significant challenge for Chloe. Her fear of abandonment and letting her husband down made it difficult for her to move on from the unhealthy relationship, even though ti was harmful to her well-being. Chloe learned to confront her fear of abandonment and recognized her role in enabling her husband’s behavior. She gradually gained the ability to prioritize her own needs, set boundaries, and file for a divorce.
Chloe learned how being codependent was leading to negative patterns in her relationships. She established healthy boundaries, prioritized self-care, and engaged in activities such as yoga, and nature walks. Additionally, she pursued hobbies and interests that provided her with happiness and a sense of satisfaction. Chloe practiced using the communication skills she learned in therapy in her daily interactions with others. She made an effort to express her needs and feelings clearly and to listen actively to others.
Chloe’s therapy journey has not been easy, and she continues to face challenges along the way. Through her commitment to healing in therapy, she was been able to break free from her codependent behavior and found the courage to get a divorce. She has a newfound confidence and is able to be clear about what she needs and wants in her life, putting her own needs first. It is important to recognize that overcoming codependent behavior is not a one-time event but rather a lifelong process. Individuals who have overcome codependency may need to continue to work on maintaining their progress and may need to seek additional support if they experience setbacks or challenges. In the end, Chloe emerged from her codependent relationship with a newfound send of self-worth and the knowledge that she could thrive on her own.
By Elyce Kiperman-Gordon, MS, LCMHC, NCC, owner of The Feeling Expert®, an evidence-based and holistic psychotherapy practice located in Boca Raton. She is a Board Certified, licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, offering a range of therapeutic approaches to treat anxiety, depression, trauma, and relationship issues. Elyce is an Internal Family Systems Specialist (IFS) and a Certified International Integral Sound Healing Therapist. She can be reached at (844) CAN-HEAL or Elyce@TheFeelingExpert.com.
Disclaimer: Names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.