During the early stages of therapy, I commonly have some version of the following exchange with clients:
New client: “I did everything for her! I gave her my heart and soul! At the end, she said I didn’t do anything for her!”
Me: “Why did you keep giving, doing, sacrificing, spending when she was so cruel, abusive, dishonest, unappreciative, selfish, etc.?”
New client: “Because I loved her!”
That’s what many codependent clients experienced as “love” in childhood with dysfunctional, personality disordered, alcoholic, codependent and/or mentally ill parents. It isn’t love. It’s incredibly unhealthy. Good enough parents teach their children to avoid people who bully and mistreat them, not do their laundry (sheepishly raises hand).
If you still believe being a doormat/beast of burden was evidence of your love, stop. When discussing it or thinking about it, change the language you use. Call it what it is — unhealthy codependent behavior and there’s not a damned thing romantic about it.
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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