If you don’t know what a codependent relationship is, it’s when two people in a relationship surrender their independence and develop an unhealthy dependence on each other. In this dynamic one partner is so obsessed with the needs of the other, that they ignore their own needs. In turn, the other partner controls the relationship in a selfish and often abusive way.
This is a dangerous dynamic, but it’s not as easy to identify as you may think. Abuse often doesn’t look the way people expect it to, and many people are unaware of the different forms it can take.
While codependent relationships may have physical abuse, all have emotional and mental abuse. This type of abuse is often extremely difficult to identify. It slowly creeps into the relationship and becomes a pattern of behavior that the codependent cannot change.
In a report published by the Office on Women’s Health, the origins of emotional abuse in a relationship can start suddenly, or they can gradually build. Often what’s seen by the codependent partner as a loving, caring and attentive partner is actually a controller, a stalker, and a person who is isolating and feeding off the needs of the codependent. Once the relationship is established, the attempts to appear caring and concerned vanish, while the negativity, hostility, and demands increase.
The Effects and Impact of Emotional, Mental, and Verbal Abuse
Emotional, mental, and verbal abuse not only creates feelings of guilt, shame, and blame for the victim, but they also impact how they see themselves.
Because codependents fear being alone and get so much of their identify from their relationship with their partner, they have problems saying no or standing up for themselves when they begin to experience abuse. Saying no often results in more verbal abuse, isolation, and threats to leave—all issues that are exactly what the codependent is trying to avoid.
This creates a behavior cycle where the codependent accommodates for the narcissistic partner, who in turn becomes more abusive and more demanding about getting their needs met with no concern for the other.
It’s important to realize that, just like physical abuse, the emotional, mental, and verbal abuse is intentional behavior by the abuser. It’s not a harsh word or a comment made that is apologized for with genuine remorse. Instead, the narcissist uses this behavior to get what they want, intentionally tearing down the other person’s self-esteem, self-worth, and ability to stand up for themself.
Another common form of emotional and verbal abuse is gaslighting. This is not a new behavior, but it’s recently been identified and labeled as a behavior used by those who engage in emotional abuse.
Gaslighting is, in some ways, more difficult to detect and more damaging than some other types of emotional abuse. In this type of abuse, the abuser controls the codependent by providing false information or false recollections that cause the codependent to begin to question their sanity and their ability to recall and remember things correctly.
In some cases, gaslighting is the use of denials that things occurred. This is not simply differences in recollection. It is malicious, intentional, and designed to create guilt, uncertainty, and doubt in your mind.
There are some common signs that gaslighting is going on the relationship. To help identify this behavior, look for the following:
Covering up behavior: If a partner is caught in a lie, often they will use lies to attempt to explain away the issue. However, the lies are repeated over and over again, and may be obviously inaccurate accounts of what has occurred. At the same time, the codependent is unlikely to challenge the lie, and it keeps getting repeated until it’s hard for the codependent to recall the specifics of the situation.
Giving false information: To reinforce a lie, an abuser using this technique may talk about other people as also seeing their version of the truth. For example, a man may tell a woman she was flirting with someone at a party, and everyone noticed and was talking about it. He may make statements about what others said and how they saw the behavior.
As gaslighting can be difficult to detect, talking to a therapist and building a strong support network will be critical to avoid further damage to your self-esteem.
If you think someone may be abusing you or someone you know, get help. And for more information on relationships and safety, visit https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Certified Transformation and Recovery Coach and the leading Psychotherapist on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and Sex Addiction. Her book, “The Marriage and Relationship Junkie: Kicking your Obsession” is on sale for 50% off from now until February 18, 2019.
She helps singles navigate the dating process to find the love of their lives. Take her quiz to find out if you’re a love addict, sign up for a 30-minute strategy session, or learn more about how to get over a break up. Sherry maintains a private practice in Westlake Village, and is a sought after online dating and relationship coach. For more information visit www.sherrygaba.com.