A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Are Abuse Victims Codependent?

The term codependent is often used to describe the relationship between victims of abuse and their abusers, whether the description is made by a counselor, therapist, friend, or an author. It is easy to find online articles that link codependency and domestic abuse. For example, one article I found is titled, “DOMESTIC ABUSE: C is for Codependency”

Another article titled, “How Does Codependency Play into Domestic Violence” has this to say,

One can easily see how the abused spouse falls into these destructive patterns [of codependency].  Codependency is also progressive.  The longer a person stays in a destructive relationship the more codependent they become. . . Usually a wife subconsciously feeds into the behavior of the abuse due to the desperate needs similar to being addicted to a substance; however, in this case it is an addiction to the unhealthy behavior of her abuser. . .

And finally an article titled, Domestic Violence, Part 2, by a marriage and family therapist says,

There is another concept called ‘codependency’ that is also found in battering relationships.  Basically, codependency means: ‘I see what is wrong with you and I know how to fix you.  I will make you better, or heal you, or bring out your potential.  No one understands you like I do.  I know all that you need is a little love, my love, and you will blossom and grow into who you truly are.’ What is amazing about the codependency is that both the batterer and the injured are saying this about each other.

But are women who live with abusive husbands really codependent?  I use to think I was codependent.  I read books that popularized the concept of codependency — books by authors such as Melody Beattie — and I was almost convinced that I was guilty of being codependent.  I say almost because part of me was still uncertain, but I didn’t know why.  Then I started learning about the mentality and tactics of abusers.

It is time to take a careful examination of the term codependent and how it is applied to abusive relationships before we either label a victim as codependent or accept such a label.  Let’s start with the origin of the word codependent.

Origin of term codependent

The term codependent is a relatively recent term, dating back as recent as the 70s.  In his article “Commonly Misused Psychology Terms Part 2″, Dr. George Simon explains,

The term codependence came out of the self-help ‘recovery’ literature (based on the 12-step model of addiction treatment) of the 70s and 80s and was originally meant to describe the phenomenon whereby the life of the non-using spouse, partner, or other family member became just as governed by the substance(s) involved as the life of the active substance user.  So, in effect, both the user and the non-user were in some way dependent (i.e. co-dependent) upon the same substance(s), even though one was not technically addicted.  The concept of ‘enabling’ also came out of this formulation.

Additionally Greg Dear in his paper “Blaming the Victim: Domestic Violence and the Codependency Model” explains that,

the notion that problem drinkers and their partners develop complementary relationship in which each reinforces the pathological needs of the other . . . was developed from a crude and simplistic adaptation of systems theory incorporating aspects of the disturbed personality model which [some researchers] had discredited more than ten years earlier.

So the concept of codependency was never intend to describe the relationship between a battered woman and her abuser rather it originally was meant to describe the relationship between a person with a chemical addiction and other family members affected by that addiction — yet it is a theory that continues to be used by professional and lay people today in spite of the fact that at the time when this theory emerged it was discredited by some.

Characteristics of Codependency or the Effects of Abuse

Some people argue that the abuse victim that they know has so many of the characteristics of codependency, how could she not be?  Although CoDA.org (Co-Dependents Anonymous) doesn’t offer a definition of codependency they do provide as a tool to aid in self-evaluation a lengthy list of patterns and characteristics.  Here are a few:

  • She has difficulty identifying what she is feeling.
  • She has difficulty making decisions.
  • She harshly judges everything she thinks, says, or does as never “good enough.”
  • She does not perceive herself as a lovable or worthwhile person.
  • She puts aside her own interests and hobbies in order to do what others want.
  • She compromises her own values and integrity to avoid rejection or others’ anger.

When I first read these characteristics I was thrown back into confusion because I could identify with each and I know that other abuse victims have described similar characteristics in themselves.  But are these characteristics of codependency or are they the effects of — or responses to — abuse? In her article “Are women who live with abusive partners codependent?”, Dr. Clare Murphy explains how effects of abuse are often erroneously labeled as codependent characteristics:

Research with women shows that the above six characteristics are an effect of experiencing long-term, ongoing, relentless abuse and control.  Many male perpetrators degrade and intimidate women into believing they deserve physical violence, sexual violation, verbal abuse, or the forms of punishment.

A tactic of abuse entails brainwashing women into believing they think and feel something other than they actually do.  Many domestic violence perpetrators control the decision-making.  Many make women wrong for making decisions, or denigrate any decisions made by women.  Many male perpetrators enslave women, making demands that she be a more than perfect housekeeper, partner, parent or woman.  No human can meet those kinds of demands, hence can never be ‘good enough’.  Being degraded several times a day, or several times a week, month after month after month leads to feeling unlovable and unworthy.

Changing her values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger are often consciously chosen strategies of self-preservation used by abused and controlled women.  Women I have interviewed would confront the man, avoid the man, lie to get some freedom, be completely honest to try to make him stop controlling them, become violent themselves, retaliate verbally, be passive or silent.  Yet these women would secretly harbour knowledge of their true selves, whilst attempting a variety of behaviors — that went against their values — in order to avoid, or stop the abuse.  These are not strategies of a codependent person.

The Codependent Abuser

By definition if the victim is codependent then necessarily the abuser is also codependent, which is noted in our earlier quote:

There is another concept called ‘codependency’ that is also found in battering relationships. Basically, codependency means: ‘I see what is wrong with you and I know how to fix you.  I will make you better, or heal you, or bring out your potential.  No one understands you like I do.  I know all that you need is a little love, my love, and you will blossom and grow into who you truly are.’ What is amazing about the codependency is that both the batterer and the injured are saying this about each other. (emphasis mine)

According to this author, the abuser is addicted to improving his target.  His ‘need’ is simply to fix her, bring out her potential, so she can blossom.  The needy abuser is just guilty of wanting to bring about the best for his poor wife.  Yes, it is acknowledged that his methods are wrong, but since, as some argue, those methods are just learned behaviors, it is believed that the abuser can be taught proper methods with the right treatment.

Now let’s compare this belief to ACFJ’s definition of abuse which can be found on the side menu bar:

Abuse is fundamentally a mentality.  It is a mindset of entitlement.  The abuser sees himself as entitled.  He is the center of the world, and he demands that his victim make him the center of her world.  His goal is power and control over others.  For him, power and control are his natural right, and he feels quite justified in using whatever means are necessary to obtain that power and control. The abuser is not hampered in these efforts by the pangs of a healthy conscience and indeed often lacks a conscience.

How can we reconcile the above belief with ACFJ’s definition of abuse?  Simple — we can’t.  I’ll let Dr. George Simon explain why.  In his book, In Sheep’s Clothing [affiliate link*], Simon describes the relationship between Janice and Bill, a typical victim and abuser relationship.  Simon says this about Bill.

Bill is an actively-independent personality and a victimizer. Bill’s actively-independent coping style is reflected in just about everything he does. . .[and] although his tactic of playing the needy husband makes it appear he depends on Janice, his desire to keep her is largely pragmatic.  He has substantial wealth and property and doesn’t want a fair divorce settlement. He would rather keep Janice in tow and do all of his philandering on the sly.  Make no mistake, Bill is a very independent guy.

When [I was] asked if Bill wasn’t at least to some degree co-dependent on Janice because he fought so hard to not lose her, [I replied] that Bill, as an aggressive personality simply hates to lose.  Losing means giving up a position of dominance and power.  And no matter what relationship he’s in, Bill seeks to be on top and in control.  In any abusive relationship, the other person is never the real object of the aggressor’s desire, the position is.  Every time Janice feels empowered enough to even think about leaving, the balance of power is upset.  That’s when Bill goes to war.  He doesn’t fight to keep the woman he loves, wants, or needs. He fights to stay on top.

The Danger in Applying the concept of Codependency to an Abusive Relationship

Let’s continue to use Janice and Bill as our model.  If Janice is considered codependent then it is believed that she isn’t assertive in expressing her opinions, needs or rights. Therefore, a counselor applying typical codependency treatment may assume that encouraging Janice to be more assertive in these areas would be good for her.  After all one of the characteristics of being codependent is a lack of assertion.

Let’s look again at what Simon said about Bill when Janice felt empowered enough to assert her desire to leave.

 “That’s when Bill goes to war.”

Do you see what happens when Janice becomes more assertive? Bill becomes more abusive.  And who do you think is going to win that war?

According to Albert Roberts, Professor of Criminal Justice at the State University of New Jersey, victims who subscribe to codependency treatments will often experience more abuse. He explains,

The goals of Al-Anon and codependency treatment typically include helping family members of alcoholics to get ‘self-focused’, practice emotional detachment from the substance abusers, and identify and stop their enabling or ‘codependent’ behaviors, and stop protecting their partners from the harmful consequences of the addiction.  While these strategies and goals may be useful for women whose partners are not batterers, for battered women, such changes will likely result in an escalation of abuse, including physical violence.

Battered women are often very attuned to their partners’ moods as a way to assess their level of danger.  They focus on their partners’ needs and ‘cover up’ for them as part of their survival strategy.  Battered women’s behaviors are not symptomatic of some underlying ‘dysfunction’ but are necessary lifesaving skills that protect them and their children from further harm.  When battered women are encouraged to stop these behaviors through self-focusing and detachment, they are, in essence, being asked to stop doing the things that may be keeping them and the child most safe.

The ‘Codependent’ Label Blames the Victim

Being labeled codependent implies that the victim is in some way responsible for the abuse she receives and/or is enabling the abuser.  While it is quite likely that the victim has some personal issues or maybe even some type of dependency she needs to work through, to imply that she is codependent and therefore at least partially responsible for her abuser’s actions can be not only detrimental to her healing, but in some incidents even abusive.  Dr. Murphy explains how labeling a victim as codependent is not only a misuse of the term, but is also abusive.

Anyone who gives the ‘codependent’ label to anyone who is living with a man who engages in a degrading pattern of psychological abuse and control  — is blaming the victim and pathologising her.  This label implies the victim has behaviors that pull the abuse out of the man.

Many perpetrators of intimate partner abuse consider themselves to be the King of the Castle, the Boss, the Master who must be obeyed at all costs.  Such attitudes may creep in slowly over time entrapping and disempowering their female partners.  These men may also be charming caring, protective and kind at other times.  This is confusing to women.  Many women spend years attempting to understand and change the man’s abusive behaviors — they do not accept abuse as their lot.

This kind of intentional behavior aimed at subservience, and at lowering a woman’s sense of self-esteem, worth and personal integrity, is a hallmark of a systematic pattern over time.  A pattern that entails the male abuser refusing to take responsibility for his behaviours and entails blaming the woman, confusing her, isolating her, making her wrong and demanding respect for his position as the man.  Coping with such behaviors does not make a woman codependent.

Additionally, Dear explains that applying the codependency model to domestic violence not only blames the victim but may undermine her ability to leaving her abusive relationship. He says,

This use of the codependency model in the area of domestic violence is of considerable concern.  The notion that all women who have difficulty leaving violent and abusive men have some form of personality disturbance is dangerous because it blames the victim for not being able to prevent, avoid or cope with the violence. . .  Moreover, blaming the victim further undermines her ability to take action against the violence. . . As Roxburgh explains, blaming the victim

  • reinforces the abused woman’s low self-esteem. . .
  • can contradict her interpretation of the violent situation and distort her version of what is happening. . .
  • can weaken her resolve to act because she feels responsible for and therefore deserving of the violence
  • makes her feel undeserving of other assistance
  • diminishes the capacity of the service provided to offer assistance which will be of real benefit to the woman
  • and is untrue.

Clearly the misuse of the term codependent when applied to abusive relationship is a common occurrence — too common.  Sometimes using a wrong term in a situation is not a big deal because there are no serious ramifications.  But in the case of misapplying the term codependency to abusive victims, it is important to get it right because there are serious ramifications: the victim is possibly advised to follow a treatment plan that could actually cause her harm or at the least prolong her abuse, she is blamed for actions which are beyond her control, and all the while the abuser’s actions are minimized.

I am now fully convinced that applying the concept of codependency to abuse victims is not only a misuse of the term but can also be misleading and even harmful for the victim.

For Further Reading

Interview with Catherine DeLoach Lewis (Part 2) — a Christian counselor explains why she doesn’t use the term codependent to describe victims of domestic abuse.

The Myth of “Stockholm Syndrome” and other labels which are used to discredit and pathologize victims of abuse   — this post explains how the term ‘codependency’ is one of many terms that have been used to pathologize  and discredit victims of abuse and oppression.


  1. a prodigal daughter returns

    Thank you, I’m deeply grateful for the truth here. Words fail me to express how grateful. This part comes with a trigger warning, stop reading here if sensitive to trauma.

    First, I went to the church, after years of escalating violence that I kept hidden out of shame. They told it me it was my sin that made the problem. They told me I needed to submit more, and I quote the pastor here “if my wife had your personality I’d beat her too”. My personality was that of a mouse, I had no opinion of my own. The only opinion that carried weight to God and humankind was that of my husband. Because of the church teaching I believed I was created to gratify him and live a slave-like existence.

    Then after decades when I began to break down from the increasing trauma of abuse, I went to therapy. My then-husband, a therapist, sent me he was incredibly abusive. [My abuser then-husband, a therapist, sent me to an abusive therapist?] They looked for my pathology because of course, a therapist couldn’t be an abuser. There is just as much shame with mental illness as there is with sin, it’s just a variation of the same theme, “something is wrong with you”. What a powerful tool it can be in the hands of those that want to exploit you and give themselves a get out of jail free card for abusing you. “Officer, she is mentally ill, I had to restrain her for her safety”. A lie which worked by the way, and it worked incredibly well to erase me and the truth of anything I had to say about what I was living in.

    After my divorce of course they decided only a mentally ill person would be in an abusive relationship. They began to look for ways I was victimized all my life and what about me, what sickness, what mental illness made me abuse fodder. By the time I was done with years of that I was incapacitated and decided that I should not be alive. The message from birth, and on was the same “something is wrong with you”. Of course that leaves a soul open to the idea they deserve much of what happens to them, or did in my case. And in my case I began to actively seek death which only reinforced “she is crazy”. I wasn’t crazy, I was tired.

    What the husbands had not destroyed the church and then mental health completely smashed. Years of counseling and then 8 different kinds of medication, sometimes simultaneously were followed by repeated suicide attempts and hospitalization. It wasn’t just my husbands that brainwashed me, but the systems of help heaped on deep, deep shame “something is wrong with you”. I was just as much brainwashed by mental health as any abuser in my life…. Years into the slaughter of my life only 1 person said 1 time, “nothing was wrong with you, you were not abused because you are defective”. It was a pastors wife that said that. That was the day I got hope and began to extricate myself from the lies.

    Survivors of the mental health system that abusers can use to justify their abuse learn to seek help from those that ask “what is right with you”, not those that ask what is “wrong with you”. If you found help in therapy or in your church, fabulous. For those of us that didn’t, our stories are true and need to be heard as well.

    • Ann

      We are criticized for becoming the mice they want us to be. we are told to be assertive as a form of codependency – we must fix it by being assertive. Assertiveness just brings violence. They like the broken thing they make. We need to go away and be unbroken by people who understand and love. I think of abusers like radiation- get away, but we are told to handle it….

    • Sasha

      Your story is so similar to mine in many ways and I have no one to talk to, I just live in a hole suffering alone. Your comment is helping me not feel so alone right now, but not understanding how to find people like you. It’s been many years this was written, but I’m just seeing it now, and I was wondering, do you have an update? I would like to read how you are doing now and what came of all of this, if you don’t mind sharing.

      • Hi, Sasha, I’m not sure that A Prodigal Daughter Returns is still following this blog, so I’ve emailed her a link to your comment and asked if she can reply to it.

        Some years ago this blog suddenly went offline for reasons outside my control. I had to change the address of the blog to get it back up again. The address used to end in .com, now it ends in .blog (cryingoutforjustice.blog).

        When the address changed I lost a lot of followers; A Prodigal Daughter Returns may have been one of the followers I lost then. 😦

      • Sasha

        Oh, I see and I’m sorry for that happening, your wisdom and intelligent experience has helped me several times now, I have been quite impressed.
        Thank you so much for doing that. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness and effort. I hope the person responds, that would be quite nice.
        I wish you get could more followers for your blog, I have linked it to someone so maybe a new reader will pass your way. Maybe a social media presence would help, but of course I don’t know what you do or if that’s your wishes. Thank you also for responding back to me, on an older blog post. You are one of the first to do so, actually of people I have written.
        Thank you.

      • I have a Facebook page and a Twitter account associated with this blog. When a post is published at this blog, it is automatically publicised on Facebook and Twitter. I don’t encourage a lot of comment at the FB page. I prefer people to comment here on the blog itself, because FB comments are soon buried and FB posts cannot easily be searched for months or years after they have been posted, whereas blog posts here can be easily searched for by putting key words into the search bar, or by contacting my assistant Reaching Out reachingout.acfj@gmail.com.

        ACFJ on Facebook: Facebook: A Cry For Justice
        ACFJ on Twitter: Twitter: A Cry For Justice

      • Sasha

        Thanks, I will save this.

  2. Still Reforming

    Thank you. Like you, the term “co-dependent” never sat well with me. I started to read one of the popular books out there about it (maybe “Co-Dependent No More”? I can’t recall; I gave it away), but when I read it, it just didn’t sound like me. I didn’t depend on my ex-husband’s treating me poorly. Neither did I encourage it. The very term smacks of a victim’s or target’s dependency on the poor treatment or bullying, and I reject that.

    May I ask an off-topic question? I’m not quite sure where else to put this query. If I were to start to write a book about my experience with my abusive ex-husband, I don’t know whether or not to use his real name. If I did something like Christie Paul did, changing her husband’s name, while documenting real events, is that done for protection from a lawsuit? I’m not sure how to do this (include names) or truly why (not to). I do know why I’m writing it – because these testimonies need to be out there – both to support others in the same or similar situation and expose this present evil that remains with pastoral permission in the church. Any thoughts (re: inclusion of real names or not)? I intend to use my real name.

    I also want to include information about how my church handled the information and the people involved. Without mentioning the name of the church, do I also change those people’s names (church leaders and others – just use first names maybe and/or alter them slightly)? I’d be telling only the truth, but I don’t want to face a barrage of lawsuits following any publication, if that ever happens. What say you?

    • Jeff Crippen

      SR – We aren’t qualified to give legal advice, so that one you should most likely either research online pretty well or consult a legal expert. You could also get some good input from Julie Anne Smith over at Spiritual Sounding Board blog. She actually was sued by her former pastor just for warning others about spiritual abuse there. The pastor lost the case big time and had to pay all the fees.

      • Still Reforming

        Thank you, Pastor Jeff!

  3. LH

    Thank you!!!

  4. Charis

    I still remember being taken aback by my husband’s counselor when, after returning from a women’s intensive, he said “No doubt the women’s intensive shared how you are the co-addict in your husband’s sexual addiction. They discussed the role you played and how you contributed to your husband’s addiction.” I sat there stunned. Um. No – it did not, in fact, come up. Although it IS a tenet embraced by that group, it would NOT have been wise to tell a group of 24 shocked, angry, hurting, reeling women that THEY are somehow to blame for the pain their unfaithful spouses have caused, the deep damage of countless affairs, lying and deceit. The moderators were wise to keep this for a later “stage” of healing. I was hearing it now from him for the first time…and unfortunately, this would not be the last.

    I remember reacting instantly to the “wrong-headedness” of this co-dependency concept. It was instinctual. No. There was no way I could be held accountable for my h’s choices, not his 30yr sexual addiction (which pre-dated me by 20 yrs) nor his abusive behavior.

    It was for this very reason I chose my counselor: Barbara Steffens. The premise of her PhD is based upon the idea that the psychology world has got it all wrong and taken it off track as described in this article. Her premise is that the way we women respond, although it may mimic certain aspects of how co-dependency is described is, in fact, a trauma response. Her book “Your Sexually Addicted Spouse: How Partners can Cope and Heal” is a wonderfully rich text explaining the intricacies. Indeed, I was pleased to see her book recommended on ACFJ.

    I also know from having counseled with her that she does NOT hold a permanence view of marriage. She is pro-health and counsels to that end. If the marriage is toxic and unhealthy, then other considerations must be weighed. She also is an advocate of the character of God as seen in scripture. I would rather not put words in her mouth; I simply know I was blessed by God to be counseled individually by her and found her advice sound in all areas: emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually.

  5. Annie

    Thank you for this article. I thought I didn’t understand co-dependency. It didn’t fit with my experience but I thought maybe I wasn’t getting the concept. Now I realize it’s because I’m not co-dependent.

    One more label I can kick to the curb!

  6. Sarah

    Amen, sister! Love the comment about how the needy abuser is the addicted person! We all know the addicted hate it when they are denied their drug of choice.

  7. Gary W

    Some counselors, believing in the essential goodness of mankind, are not willing to assign responsibility to those who harm others. Rather, seeking explanations and excuses for bad behavior, they invent concepts such as co-dependency. Though they are not willing to blame the perpetrators, they are all too perversely willing to blame the perpetrators’ victims.

    Others counselors embrace a view of human depravity such that they are unwilling to suppose that one party to an abusive relationship may be free of blame. They subscribe to concepts such as co-dependency in order to assign shared culpability to predators’ targets.

    Who, then, enables abusive, predatory, behavior? It is not those who are being devoured. It is these counselors, both secular and ecclesiastical, who are the enablers. These counselors open the gate so that the wolves may easily enter in and drive our Lord’s precious lambs to slaughter.

    • NoMoreTears

      You are absolutely correct! Living in a world like this is really difficult as we learn to discern good from evil …

      • Still Reforming

        I wish more church members would want to learn to discern good from evil. I spoke briefly with one of the members of my former church last night about his role in what happened to me and my child after my husband abandoned us. The man flat out told me he didn’t want to know and he was not going to “take sides,” then he turned from me and walked away. I am disappointed but not overly surprised. Since this man is teaching a class all week on wisdom, I thought he might actually be interested in the topic. I weary of lip service from the church.

      • NoMoreTears

        Reply to Still Reforming.
        I am so sorry about what you had experienced in church. But I have been there. How can people be so cruel to tell you that they did not care to want to listen? How can a man as such become a leader in a church? Christ teaches love and empathy. It makes me so angry and helpless … All you can do is to keep Jesus in your heart and let him lead you from one day to another. It is so easy to want to organize one’s life months ahead of now. Yet, we do not know what each day will bring. When the chips are down and one cannot see where one’s foot print may fall in the fog, it is easy to get discouraged. I will pray for you.

    • Thinking Freely

      So. Terribly. True. And some of them are just apathetic, or mentally lazy, or get a sadistic kick out of making the victim feel bad about themselves, or have some kind of mean-spirited countertransference going on. I want to upvote this comment x1000.

  8. loves6

    I have not liked the label codependency. My view is I am like this because I have been traumatized and I do what I do to cope either the circumstances.

    As for my situation today …. since the weekend my husband is having a time of awakening. I am dealing with awakening emotional broken man that is admitting to sexual and verbal abuse and stating certain situations. He wants to go to counseling for help with these issues.

    I air there while he cries band says sorry… at times I feel pity and others I feel nothing. I feel I should be angry and reacting to these confessions but I awakening am not. I just feel nothing … it is the strangest weirdest reaction … it worries me because I don’t understand why I’m not doing what other women would probably do awakening mind that’s leave. Codependency??? Trauma???

    • it worries me because I don’t understand why I’m not doing what other women would probably do … Codependency??? Trauma???

      I think your non-reaction to his confessions is totally understandable. I certainly don’t think it’s codependency. I think it is most likely the trauma he has put you through. This is what I’ve gathered from what you’ve shared with us on this blog —

      You have seen and heard him make partial confessions in the past. And each time it amounted to no real change in him. And each time he recommenced his abuse of you. And sometimes when he did more abuse it was worse or at least as bad as other times he’s abused you. You very naturally, as a survival mechanism, became numb. He wasn’t to be trusted, whatever face he showed you. And you numbed yourself to protect yourself from totally unfraying. Why trust his latest face now? If you trusted it, and opened your emotions to him (un-numbed yourself) he might only re-abuse you. . . .that’s been the pattern in the past, and there’s no real signs that pattern is changing yet sufficiently for you to be safe to open your emotions to him. So I think your lack of feeling for him is completely understandable and realistic, given the circumstances.

      I encourage you to not compare yourself with some other imaginary woman. I bet the woman you are imagining and comparing yourself with has not suffered the duration and intensity and complexity of trauma from her husband that you have. And remember, you have blocked out and numbed yourself to much of the trauma your husband caused you, just to survive! Trust your feelings. If you are still largely numb, that is very likely best way for your mind-body-spirit to keep safe at the moment.

      And if you un-numbed, you might become really really angry towards him, rather than tenderly compassionate. And maybe anger would be more appropriate than compassion.

      So far, he is only saying words. Remember, words and crocodile tears are cheap. They don’t evidence real change. Action in the here and now evidences change. Would it help you to re-read the Checklist for Repentance?

      And he is free to go to counseling for the issues he is admitting to, if he chooses to. But that does not mean you have to remain with him while he does it. He can go about his own reformation and recovery journey without you. As the person he has so deeply injured, it’s not your responsibility to help him on that journey. Should he actually chose to take it, which so far from what you’ve described there is no sign that suggests to me he WILL actually take it.

      • NoMoreTears

        To: Barbara and Loves6 – I have been there. Barbara is correct. I had no feelings either … and it was better that way than to be caught up in another spider web.

      • Still Reforming

        Ditto. One of the ways in my three-fold plan to protect myself and remain sane in the marriage – about three years ago – was to “detach” emotionally from my marriage. That’s what I told our marriage counselor during my last session with her. There are many ways to do that, and more ways surfaced as time marched on.

      • NoMoreTears

        To: Still Reforming.
        Quite often in an abuse case, people have to detach themselves to survive. It almost is like looking from the outside into one’s own life thus my blog name NoMoreTears.
        One day, a long time ago, I got tired of crying, having swollen eyes and a stuffy nose because of the hurt. I built this wall around my soul so nothing else could penetrate and no more tears could be shed.

      • Still Reforming

        I did a similar thing. First, I didn’t engage in conversation with him when he returned from work. I handled everything just as informative, like on a “need-to-know” basis. He’d get home, shower while I got his dinner on the table, then I’d park myself somewhere and read. I didn’t attempt to “connect.”
        Near the end of our relationship, before he left, I took to putting an mp3 player in my ears when we were alone together, because his lies and abuse were getting worse. I would only allow myself free ears and eyes to him when another witness would be present. Otherwise, I closed myself off because his hissing at me and cruelty were like poison – and I wouldn’t take it voluntarily anymore. (So he started leaving notes, but even those I wouldn’t read.)

  9. Daisy

    I appreciate this post, but I hope that women (or men) don’t completely disregard the concept of codependency altogether.

    My mother was brought up in a family where her father was alcoholic and was physically abusive to her and her mother (when he was inebriated).

    It took me a few years after my mother’s death to realize (after a lot of research) that my mother was very codependent. And that she in turn raised me to be codependent. That realization, and learning the steps to escape codependency in books I read about it, was what freed me from the years of clinical depression I used to have, and a ton of anxiety.

    It also allowed me to in some measure get a grip on my verbally abusive sister – I have cut contact with her.

    I appreciate that being assertive and practicing boundaries may not work in all relationships, or in abusive marriages, but those ideas (under the umbrella of codependency) can be very beneficial.

    My mother got away from her abusive father, but she did have codependent coping habits as an adult. She rarely stood up to people who used her or who treated her poorly, including my father, who could be mildly to moderately verbally abusive to her.

    I really think if she had understood about boundaries and realized it was okay to be assertive, she could have challenged my father, and he would have backed down.

    Regarding this part: “The ‘Codependent’ Label Blames the Victim”

    I think it depends on how it’s being used, so I have to very respectfully disagree a little bit with this part.

    I think if you are a woman who is single and prone to being codependent, it can be very educating and eye-opening to learn that your particular type of people skills (ie, you are very much a “people pleaser”) may be very attractive to men who are users, con artists, or abusers, so you may end up dating or marrying men who are like that.

    When I read books about codependency, I did not feel as though the authors were “blaming” me for being codependent, but that they were opening my eyes to the dangers of my previous habits and giving me tools to live a happier and safer life, and for keeping the jerks out of my life to start with.

    I was definitely codependent in my several year relationship with my ex fiance, who financially exploited me. I wish I had known it at the time and had boundaries, since I would have refused to have given him (loaned with an expectation of repayment) any money.

    This part:

    the notion that all women who have difficulty leaving violent and abusive men have some form of personality disturbance is dangerous because it blames the victim for not being able to prevent, avoid or cope with the violence

    I don’t think codependency is regarded as a personality disturbance but as a system of behaviors. It is itself a way of coping with difficult people or conflict.

    I don’t personally see this as victim blaming but just acknowledging the dynamics of some relationships. When I learned all this stuff, it raised my self esteem, not lowered it. I felt freed.

    I read Bancroft’s book some time ago, and I am aware he has a single, lone statement that abused women are not codependent, but I disagree – I do think some are. My mother was one. I was one.

    I don’t regard that as victim-blaming, but just reality, and once I got the information on how to change, I was freed from it.

    • Thank you for your patience Daisy.

      I hear you and believe you that you found a LOT of help from learning how to be more assertive, have boundaries, etc. when you came across the concept of codependency. But here’s a question for you: do you think you could have learned about dangers of being a non-assertive, people-pleasing, boundary-weak personality, without that teaching being delivered under the title ‘codependency’? Just something for you to think about.

      Personally, I think that many of us can benefit from learning about or sharpening our skills of assertiveness, boundary-setting, etcetera. And I agree with you that exercising those skills is no guarantee that one will not be abused by an abuser — but it certainly can sometimes help, as it has done in your case with your sister. 🙂 However, I do not believe that the topic or label of ‘codependency’ is necessary for gaining such insights and learning such skills.

      For me, the term codependency begs the question “what is the person dependent on?” And the range of answers to that question is so amorphous and too potentially insulting to victims to be of much use. Is the victim dependent on being abused? Is the victim a masochist? NO! Is the victim dependent on the identity of being a doormat, a martyr, an enabler? I would say no.

      I know you hear the term differently, Daisy, and it reminds you of the healing and growth you’ve achieved. But that healing and growth — could it have happened without the term ‘codependency’ being involved?

    • Ann

      It is hard to stand up to a father. My father asked why I tolerated bad abuse from people other than him, because his treatment was discipline. I told him, his training made it impossible for my mind to split and respond to others differently. He said it should be different because he was my father. Our relationship ended emotionally five years before his death, and when he passed my grief was already gone.

      • Hi Ann, welcome to the blog 🙂 and thanks for your comments.

        We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

        And after reading the New Users’ Info page, you might like to look at our FAQ page.

        If you want us to change your screen name to something else, just email TWBTC (The Woman Behind The Curtain). Her address is twbtc.acfj@gmail.com

      • Sasha

        This is how it is. I understand this. I hope your life is experiencing some healing now.

  10. Daisy, we have put your three comments on this thread to one side, till we have the time to fully consider them. Please don’t take offence. We want to give thought as to how to respond to them. My father died a few days ago so the Admin team is not running on all cylinders at the moment. We hope you will understand.

    • Still Reforming

      I am so, so, so sorry to read of your father’s passing. You’ve had a lot on your shoulders and heart these past months (if not longer) with caring for him, as I’ve read intermittently in various comments. I shall pray for peace and comfort for you from our heavenly Father.

    • Anotheranon

      Barbara, So sorry to hear you lost your father. May the God of all comfort be with you and your family in the days and weeks ahead.

    • Just Me

      Barbara, I am so sorry to hear that your father has passed away. I will pray for you.

    • Gary W

      Barbara, although I am late in doing so, and although I am not good at this sort of thing, please allow me to join those who join with you in your sorrow at the loss of your father.

    • Barnabasintraining

      Dear Barbara, I’m sorry to hear about your dad. May God make His presence known to you at this time.

  11. Round*Two

    I’m so sorry for your loss! May the Lord bring you comfort during this time of sorrow! Lifting you and your family up in prayer.

  12. Annie

    There have been times I felt guilty about being numb to my husband. I also worried that I was learning to not have feelings at all! Over time I did come to know that I am a feeling/caring person because of the good relationships I do have.

    I also came to realize that being numb was a natural and actually safe thing for me. I do still feel sad that when he’s sharing (though rarely) some achievement or excitement I can’t share in it with him. I no longer have the emotional resources to do that plus I feel resentful that he’d actually think I’d care considering how he treats me.

  13. Thanks everyone for your condolences.

    • Friend of Target


      Sorry I am late in commenting. “Target” & I both want you to know that we are very sorry for your loss.

  14. Thinking Freely

    I just found this post. I wish more people could see it! It’s so cathartic, so well-thought-out, and so true. I’ve even heard this label applied to people who were sexually assaulted — could anything be more disgusting or cruel? It’s like the vinegar-soaked sponge that was given to Christ. I also think it’s self-defeating and sinister — the more someone tells you you are codependent, the more you will live up to their expectations that you behave as a codependent.

    • Hi Thinking Freely! Welcome to our little blog 🙂

      I love your screen name 🙂
      You may wish to check out our New Users Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  15. Free

    Heard this for YEARS. It’s a way that I was blamed!!! I hate this stuff people make up. I’ve never met a “codependent”. I don’t believe they exist. I do believe people control others and that is abusive! There’s an abuser and a victim. Or there is no abuser and no victim. It’s abuse or it’s healthy. That’s it. End of story IMO.

    The evil x anti h LOVED all the anonymous groups and theories. He always called me “sick.” It’s NO WONDER!

    The torment I lived through is so much. I look back and see so much wickedness and hate and yet I wasn’t allowed to feel anything about it. My feelings “weren’t real”. I hope the x anti h suffers tremendously at God’s mighty hand for the evil that’s gone on. The evil x anti h NEVER showed me mercy for all the things he hated about me (all the things I didn’t submit to him about)

    Oh man do I HATE the submission craze going on. And guess what I’m more respectful and wiser and stronger than when I was under that evil teaching. There’s the proof. I don’t bow down to man or to women. I have dignity and I HATE when anyone attempts to rob me of it now. I question and fight and run the other way. I’ve been the subject of abuse all of my life. I’m not codependent nor do I have a victim mentality. The is abuse is and has been REAL. It is incredibly hard to fight this fight. But this is what I must do to live.

  16. I am free

    I 100% agree with Daisy. I’m very sorry your experience with the term co-dependant makes you feel like you are being blamed. That is not at all what it is about. It is a support group, it helps you learn you don’t need to depend on what others think of you to be happy. That you can learn to have your own identity and to stick up for yourself. It never says its your fault you are being abused. The abuser is 100% responsible for his / her behavour, we all are. We can’t control them we can only control ourselves.

    This is a non-jugdemental support group to help you raise your self-esteem enough to get out of the situation if possible and to learn how not to fall for an abusive person again. And to learn to be happy on your own. So what if some one gave it the label of co-dependent. You can call it what ever you like. I love that it helped me learn to be more assertive. I love that it taught me to love myself and to stop caring what bullies thought of me. I love that I can now acknowledge my feelings and have healthy boundries instead of being a doormat. And if thats not for you then thats fine too. But I don’t think its up to you to put something down that [you] really have no understanding of. Did you go to any meetings? And yes you’re right you can learn these things from councilling but not everyone can afford councilling. And you don’t gain new friends at councilling.

    I wish you love and happiness.

    • Hi I Am Free,

      I would like to encourage you to re-read our post. The author of the post, TWBTC, was presenting what professionals and published authors say about codependency. So when you wrote—

      I’m very sorry your experience with the term co-dependant make you feel like you are being blamed.

      … it made me think that you hadn’t really understood the main message of the post. TWBTC’s post hardly talked at all about her own experience of the term ‘codependency’. So I think you may have misunderstood her post.

      You said:

      This is a non jugdemental support group to help you raise your self-esteem enough to get out of the situation if possible and to learn how not to fall for an abusive person again. And to learn to be happy on your own. So what if some one gave it the label of co-dependent. You can call it what ever you like. I love that it helped me learn to be more assertive. I love that it taught me to love myself and to stop caring what bullies thought of me. I love that I can now acknowledge my feelings and have healthy boundries instead of being a doormat. And if thats not for you then thats fine too. But I don’t think its up to you to put something down that [you] really have no understanding of. Did you go to any meetings?

      It sounds like you have gone to a codependency support group and got a lot of help from it. It sounds like the group helped you become more assertive, helped you to love yourself more, and helped you have more healthy boundaries. All those things are great! Any group that does those things for an abused person is a very helpful group! But a group could do that without using the term ‘codependency’. It could be an ‘assertiveness training group’ for example. The things that group taught you don’t have to be given under the label ‘codependency’.

      And the point of our post is that applying the label ‘codependent’ to victims of abuse is a misnomer. And the term is often used in ways that can be hurtful and misleading for victims of abuse. The way they used the term ‘codependency’ in the group you attended may have been unhurtful, non-judgemental. But many people use the term hurtfully and judgementally when they apply it to victims of abuse

      I’m really glad you were helped by that group, but your experience can’t be generalised to everyone else. And I think you would benefit from opening your mind to what we have said in this post.

    • And allow me to welcome you to the blog, I am Free. 🙂

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  17. Anonymous

    Thank you for all this and I do understand where I Am Free is coming from as well as Free. And I’m glad Barb explained it.

    Being tied to abusers in any form, once we realize that abuse took place, is unacceptable to those of who know how evil and pervasive their mechanisms are.

    When I was an infant I was not co-dependent–I was placed in the care of humans that were supposed to take care of me. When I was a toddler I was not co-dependent–I was in the care of people who were supposed to take care of me. When I was a preschooler–I was not co-dependent I was supposed to be able to trust the people who were caring for me. When I went to school–I was not co-dependent, I was supposed to be taught by people capable of caring about my welfare and concerned for my education. And on and on it goes.

    Just because my parents are abusers doesn’t mean it in ANY way was my fault or choice. Just because I learned to function within these many abusive institutions has zero bearing on my decision to BE in these relationships in the first place. Since I WAS raised with and by mostly people who ARE abusive and who DON’T have a conscience, I should be applauded for continuing to have a kind heart and loving disposition. It was NO MEAN FEAT to suffer through decades of unrelenting mind games with not one person explaining why I was so different from those around me. At SOME point in my life there should have been at least ONE person who pointed out that my differences were not only beautiful, but that I had in fact survived a holocaust of sorts.

    So yes, I get why using the term co-dependent is not something I want placed on myself. I would’ve gladly chosen to have mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy people who nurtured me, but God chose to place me with people who chose to be self-worshiping, self-loving people who provided only basic physical and emotional care–but in spite of them I still love others and desire to serve Jesus. NOT because of them. Only after years of God undoing all the damage that they did to me, which affected every other aspect of my life including the choices I made and my views on marriage and children, can I see how destructive their influence was and realize that I was COMPLETELY INNOCENT OF ANY INVOLVEMENT except that I was born into it and trusted it. My survival and escape is nothing short of miraculous so yes, I don’t want to be associated IN ANY MANNER with these people.

    So I get it…I am not “CO” anything…..I am a VICTIM of abusers and I diligently strive to be completely separate from them. However, due to their nature they MUST tether themselves to others so that they APPEAR to be in relationships with them when the reality is that they are only parasites who attach themselves to others to use and destroy them. Co-dependent is a term that needs to be exchanged for something that better explains that its is not a symbiotic relationship but rather one that is wholly unhealthy to the innocent victim stuck in an abusive relationship. Yes, maybe it is JUST a term, but the implication is that WE somehow NEEDED this relationship too. No. Many of us were unwittingly born into it and were then manipulated to accept it as part of ourselves until we woke up to the truth.

  18. mackie

    I think the only issue I have with this article is the statement or presumption that the concept of codependency implies guilt or blame.

    I’ve attended CoDA meetings for just over a year, and never once did I get the impression that those of us in the meetings felt as if being codependent was a character flaw. It instead has given us a small but important tool to better understand ourselves, and a launchpad into a world of self-discovery. Exploring the terms has meant the beginning of understanding how we got into the situations we are in, regardless of what those might be. Are there some of us who are or were in abusive relationships? Of course. But there are more who aren’t and never have been. Instead, exploring the concept and utilizing the 12 steps has us all finally grasping how our pasts have had an impact on our present, and knowledge that we don’t want it to continue on into the future. I embrace the label and all it’s implications, as it has given me a much-needed push into self-exploration, self-responsibility, and self-love. Through working the program, I have a better understanding of and sympathy for the damage done in my childhood and how it has shaped my life.

    I did not end up in an abusive marriage because I am codependent. I ended up in one because I [was] bathed in an environment of fear, uncertainty, and neglect from birth. It shaped who I am, and consequently made hyper-vigilance and rigid control a tool I used to survive. Served me well in childhood, but I didn’t realize it was no longer useful. I made the choices I made because I didn’t know that other choices existed.

    Codependency is not a short-coming or a character flaw. But I do think that those of us who identify as codependent can use the CoDA program to identify patterns and tendencies of behavior that we must take responsibility for and work on to learn to become better versions of ourselves.

    • Hi Mackie, your personal testimony is valid, but that doesn’t mean it applies to all victims of abuse. We wrote this article warning against the use of the term ‘co–dependent’ to describe victims of domestic abuse because we know that many (not all) victims have found it hurtful and victim-blaming. Please do not universalise your personal experience or the experience of your fellow group members onto all other victims of domestic abuse.

  19. Finding Answers

    After reading TWBTC’s post, I think I have some old books I need to toss….

    I hadn’t read the books for myself, but was searching for answers about the members of my family of origin. One of my sexually abusive siblings gave me a book that started me down that road. Now, I think there was a hidden agenda.

    My books on abuse are the keepers.

  20. Agape Moms

    Love your background information and research on this topic. It’s shocking that the concept of codependency has such prevalence in the conversation on domestic violence when it is not an accepted mental health diagnosis according to the DSM. This is due largely in part to the fact that a person cannot be codependent on their own (unlike a person who can be depressed for example, regardless of relationship status). Abuse is psychological torture, much like what POW’s experience. Would we ever say that a POW feels that they deserve the treatment they receive or that they are codependent? No. Yet we do the same thing to abuse victims all the time, when this is a form of domestic terrorism that alters the way a woman thinks, feels, and perceives herself and the world around her.

    • Sasha

      Even if it was an accepted diagnosis in the DSM it would not be legitimate. The DSM has many flaws and agendas too.
      Everything else you wrote is incredibly validating and true. Thank you for writing it. Years later it’s helping me feel sane, finally.

  21. Hi, Sasha, I don’t usually ‘give advice’ but what I can say is that if the church is covering up the abuse and it does not care — does not want to hear your evidence or believe your story — then most likely the best thing to do is to shun that church. Shake the dust off your feet, so to speak. That church is a pseudo-church. It is not following Christ, it is complying with and perpetrating evil. It is enabling evildoers.

    My experience of trying to get justice from churches that do not believe my testimony about abuse is that for my own mental health the best thing for me to do is have as little to do with that church as possible. Trying to get them to show interest and compassion is like bashing my head against a brick wall. It’s re-traumatising.

    I’m in Australia and it’s getting too late for me to compose a more comprehensive response to your comments now. But I will try to reply more tomorrow. 🙂

    If you have looked at our FAQ page you will have probably noticed that we offer gift books to survivors who are strapped for funds. I encourage you to check it out as you might like to request one or more of the books.

    Thank you for commenting, and be assured that I believe you. Your testimony in your three comments has the ring of truth.

    • Hi, Sasha, you are not alone in being unable to find a safe local church or denomination to turn to. The feedback I have heard from readers of this blog is that many of them have the same problem.

      In my opinion, most institutional churches are responding to interpersonal abuse poorly — some are responding horrifically (as you have experienced), others are responding badly but not atrociously. I don’t have any recommendations of churches or denominations. Some survivors of abuse report that they have found a local congregation that they feel fairly safe in. But many do not have that experience. Some say that they found a congregation which initially seemed safe, but in the course of time the cracks appeared and they realised that the congregation or the leaders did not really ‘get it’.

      You may find this helpful: How can I find an abuse-victim-friendly church?. It is one of our FAQ pages.

      • Sasha

        This is also what I have experienced and I know so many others who have as well, in my lifetime. Christians and children of, inside and outside the church.

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