This post was updated on Oct 11, 2023
The term codependency refers to a relationship that revolves around unhealthy helping dynamics. A person with codependency tends to struggle with setting healthy personal boundaries, low self-esteem, and poor emotional regulation, as well as self-blame. All of these behavioral patterns can result in imbalances in relationships.
But why do codependents struggle with control? Why do they seek power even though it seems they are happy to relinquish it?
In this article, we delve into the complex dynamics within codependent relationships, aiming to shed light on why a person with codependent tendencies may grapple with these issues. By examining the various factors that contribute to the struggle for power and control, we hope to provide valuable insights for those who have a codependent person in their life, those who personally experience codependency, or those who are simply curious about this behavioral pattern.
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Codependency and Control
Although most relationships more or less have balanced power structures, codependent relationships are often characterized by strong feelings of powerlessness and deep urges to feel powerful. The extent of codependent traits may vary from one person to another, depending on their unique experiences and learned behavior.
Control serves as a key aspect of codependency, encompassing both self-control and control over others. Codependency typically causes individuals to grapple with self-empowerment and assertiveness, leading them to seek power from external sources as a means of self-validation. A codependent person may attempt to alter their partner’s behavior or life in pursuit of happiness and may feel a sense of helplessness if their efforts are not acknowledged or appreciated by their partner. It is important to recognize and address these controlling tendencies in order to foster more balanced relationship dynamics.
How Are Codependents Controlling?
While being in control may not be the first characteristic that comes to mind when thinking of codependent individuals, the need to change, fix, or manage other people is one of the primary traits of codependency. This behavior often stems from deep-rooted fears and insecurities that drive codependents to desire ways to maintain a sense of security and self-worth. Here’s how this controlling aspect of codependency manifests in various ways.
Taking Responsibility For Others’ Feelings
Codependents who assume the role of a caretaker often have an exaggerated sense of responsibility to manage their partner’s actions and feelings. This sense of control can make them feel more secure and valued in the relationship, as they perceive their partner or family members to be more emotionally dependent on their help and guidance. However, this mindset can also prevent them from effectively managing their own feelings, as they prioritize someone else’s needs and well-being above their own.
The belief that the other person is incapable of resolving their own issues without the codependent’s intervention can stem from low self-esteem and a need to feel needed. This often leads them to take on excessive responsibilities and make sacrifices to ensure their partner’s happiness and stability.
While the codependent may believe that they are demonstrating love and caring behavior by taking over their partner’s problems, this behavior can create a dysfunctional relationship pattern. The partner may become overly reliant and develop an unhealthy dependence on the codependent for emotional support, decision-making, and problem-solving.
Additionally, the codependent’s over-caretaking can inadvertently enable unhealthy or self-destructive behavior in their partner or family members, such as substance abuse, poor decision-making, or emotional manipulation. Instead of fostering growth and self-improvement, the codependent’s excessive caretaking may perpetuate a cycle of dependency, poor boundaries and stagnation.
Jealousy and Possessiveness
Jealousy and possessiveness in relationships often stem from underlying fears of abandonment and a belief that one must protect their partner from external threats. These behaviors can manifest as monitoring a partner’s social interactions, emotional manipulation, tracking their whereabouts, and attempting to control their relationships with others.
Such behaviors are unhealthy and can damage trust and respect within a relationship. Addressing these issues often involves confronting fears of abandonment, building self-esteem, and developing healthier communication and coping mechanisms. PIVOT relationship coaching can be beneficial in helping individuals overcome jealousy and possessiveness.
Criticism and Belittling
Some codependents may resort to criticism and belittling as a way to maintain control in their relationships. This behavior can undermine their partner’s self-esteem, causing them to feel incapable and reliant on the codependent’s assistance in managing their lives.
This controlling tactic can be damaging to the relationship, as it erodes trust, mutual respect, and the emotional well-being of the person being targeted. Addressing this issue involves recognizing the unhealthy behavior, improving communication skills, and fostering a more supportive and balanced relationship dynamic.
Controlling Through Enabling
Enabling is a behavior often exhibited by codependents, in which they assist or support a person in ways that ultimately prevent them from facing the negative consequences of their actions or taking responsibility for their own well-being. When codependents enable their partner, particularly if they are dealing with addiction or mental health issues, they may inadvertently contribute to the continuation or worsening of the problem. This can also be seen as a form of control, as the addicted or mentally ill partner becomes increasingly reliant on the codependent individual.
Controlling through enabling can manifest in various ways, such as:
- Covering up for the partner’s mistakes
- Financial support
- Rescuing the partner from the consequences
- Excusing or justifying the partner’s behavior
- Taking on their partner’s responsibilities
While enabling might initially appear to be an act of care or support, it can perpetuate a cycle of dependency and hinder the partner’s growth, ultimately keeping the codependent in a position of power within the relationship.
Lack Of Personal Boundaries
The lack of personal boundaries plays a significant role in perpetuating unhealthy and dysfunctional relationship patterns and dynamics. Personal boundaries are essential for maintaining a sense of individuality, self-respect, and autonomy in any relationship. However, codependent individuals often have difficulty setting and maintaining these boundaries, which can lead to the following issues:
- Overstepping their partner’s boundaries
- Allowing their partner to overstep their boundaries
- Difficulty separating their emotions from their partner’s emotions
- Loss of personal identity and autonomy
- Reinforcing unhealthy power dynamics
Why Do Codependents Need To Control?
Codependent individuals often develop their need for control as a result of growing up in environments marked by dysfunctional relationships to power. They may have experienced emotional or physical mistreatment from their family members or caretakers, which led to feelings of insecurity and instability.
The experience of parentification at an early age can lead to the development of insecure attachment styles and contribute to an individual’s need for dominance in their relationships, reinforcing codependent patterns.
Parentification occurs when a child is compelled to assume the role of a parent to their own parent or family members, taking on responsibilities and providing emotional support typically reserved for adults. This role reversal can be triggered by various factors, such as parental addiction, mental health issues, or the absence of one or both parents.
Children subjected to parentification often cultivate a heightened sense of responsibility and an urge to control their environment as a means of preserving stability and security. This need arises from their attempts to manage the chaos and unpredictability they experienced in their formative years. Consequently, these early experiences can significantly shape their adult relationships, resulting in codependent tendencies and a persistent desire to exert authority over their partners and relationship dynamics.
Causes Of Controlling Behaviors In Codependents
In order to paint a clearer picture, here are some common causes of codependency and the need to control:
- The family they grew up with was unpredictable and chaotic, without clear boundaries and power dynamics
- They learned that people pleasing and accommodating others is the only way to feel loved and cared for
- A dysfunctional relationship with power often harbors resentment, leading to passive-aggressive ways and indirectly controlling behavior
- They never learned how to set boundaries and be assertive in their own lives, so they try to change or fix others in order to feel empowered
If you have codependent tendencies, the first step towards overcoming them is understanding that you should look inside, rather than outside to find strength and empower yourself. Dominance over others may make you feel better in the short term, but won’t get you closer to finding balance and happiness in your life.
How Do I Control My Codependency?
If you’ve experienced the detrimental effect your codependent patterns have on your personal relationships, know that you don’t have to stay stuck. There are ways you can overcome codependency and learn to find peace and love in your life.
- Learn The Difference Between Codependency And Support
It is easy to confuse supportive behaviors with codependency, especially because support is a natural part of any relationship. Codependents have an end goal that is driven by the need to control or direct the behaviors of their partner. Although you may not be aware of your need to control, your partner might become more and more dependent on your support over time and stop helping themselves. And, then often resent you for it later down the line.
- Uncover Your Codependent Patterns
Understanding yourself will help you immensely on your path toward self-realization and a healthy relationship. Look into your past and try to see how your environment and upbringing influenced your personality. Of course, the best way to do so is by speaking to a relationship professional who can help you heal your core wound using expert techniques. You can get started with the Survival Pattern module at PIVOT to begin this process.
- Practice Setting Healthy Boundaries
In order to overcome your codependency, you have to learn how to say “no” and focus on meeting your own needs instead of worrying about the problems of others. Understand your own limits and don’t get involved in helping other people when it drains your own resources. The Relational Circle Boundaries in PIVOT will help you cultivate a strong set of boundaries and how to set realistic expectations for your relationship.
- Learn What It Means To Be Truly Assertive
Being assertive doesn’t mean having control over others. On the contrary, it means having independence and understanding who you are and where you stand, and finding the courage to realize your potential and operate as a Healthy Adult.
Find Your Power In PIVOT Codependency Intensive Workshops
Living in denial and lying to yourself may be tempting, but understanding your own codependency and working on overcoming it will give you the power and confidence you never knew you had. And with PIVOT on your side, you can find the strength you need to build healthier relationships and overcome codependent patterns.
At PIVOT, we offer comprehensive retreats and workshops for codependents, as well as professional and insightful individual coaching sessions that will help you heal your core wound. Reach out to PIVOT today and find the support you seek.