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Some authors in the area of codependency (sometimes spelled co-dependency in the recovery field) have stated that people who are codependent engage in behaviors that are compulsive, maladaptive, or self-defeating. They also talk about codependent individuals as being controlling. Have you read this as well about codependents?

I don’t know about you, but when I was married to an alcoholic who I believed displayed pathological levels of narcissism, although perhaps not full-blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), I didn’t feel as if I was very controlling. Now, I admit I likely displayed some compulsive, maladaptive, and self-defeating behaviors. But again, I hardly thought I was being controlling. How could I be when he was so intent on controlling me?

I now look at things a little differently. Maybe what I’ve learned will help you, too. Let me explain.

In Pursuit of EXternal versus Inner Power

As codependents expressing our codependency, those of us who married successful narcissistic men probably did so in part because we wanted what they could provide us. Now, I’m not suggesting that we were blatant gold-diggers, but we didn’t feel as good about ourselves as we might have— or as would have been desirable, certainly. Of course, we might not have been aware of the fact that we didn’t feel good enough or worthy. And indeed, we might have been unaware, either, that there were likely shame issues driving our feelings and behavior. However, because of our own shame issues, we looked to our husbands and the enhanced status we’d gain through our marriages to them, as well as the lifestyles they provided with all those nice material things, to help define us and make us feel better about ourselves.

What am I suggesting here? Well, I’m suggesting that we likely turned to external things to squelch emotional pain—emotional pan that we sensed might prove overwhelming if allowed to enter our level of awareness. And indeed, these things worked initially to enhance our feelings of being safe, valuable, and loved. But then the tides turned, didn’t they? Because of our partners’ narcissism, addictions, and abuse, happiness and contentment turned to hurt and pain.

Actually, this is to be expected. After all, we pursued external power rather than what’s sometimes referred to as personal power, inner power, or authentic power. Furthermore, not only did we pursue and attain a sense of external power through attachment to our husbands, but what little personal power we possessed, we essentially turned over to our narcissistic, addicted, and abusive spouses. Hence, our emotional pain became more immense yet.

While we reached outward rather than turning inward, we were trying to rearrange external circumstances to better please us. This suggests manipulation and control. Sure, we might not have used the same tactics that our abusive narcissistic husbands favored. This is also why we might not have seen our behaviors for what they were—controlling.

Now, that me step back a minute and clarify something because you may be getting the idea that I’m professing material things are inherently bad. No, I am not saying that. Preferring nice homes and other material things is not destructive. However, when you want to gain them and to maintain them in order to make yourself feel more whole and secure, then you do have a problem. Furthermore, you need to face your insecurities and learn how to overcome them from the inside out. The answer is not going to come from manipulating and controlling external things.

When we are suffering from codependency, we are in need of spiritual growth. Indeed, codependency is about spiritual bankruptcy. But then, so are your husband’s narcissism, addictions, and abuse. And in reality, most all of us are in need of enhanced spirituality—though it may be more obvious that those displaying narcissism, addictions, and abusive behavior have real problems. Indeed, as such men strive to control their wives through emotional abuse and verbal abuse, for example, it is more obvious that they have issues around power and control than it is that the codependent woman does.

Some of the Controlling Behaviors of the Codependent Woman Partnered with the Narcissistic, Addicted, and Abusive Man

As the wife of a man suffering from narcissism, addictions, and abuse, you undoubtedly feel that your life and relationship are spinning more and more out of control. And certainly, this is a reasonable perception because in reality, both probably are. Also, as a result of living in this chaotic environment, you may engage in some rather strange behaviors. If you’re like I was, they give you a false sense of control when indeed, you’re really quite powerless over all that is happening.

So what are some of the things a woman married to an alcoholic who’s also narcissistic might do, for example? Well, she could try to influence the amount her husband drinks by searching regularly for hidden bottles of alcohol, and then dumping them out. Or, if she is like I was, she might run around marking bottles he was drinking from—as well as searching for the empty bottles often hidden away versus in the trash—in order to track the amount he was drinking daily. Of course, neither of these things make much sense. They don’t come to impact the situation in any positive and lasting way. In my case, for example, how could the information I gathered—which was undoubtedly incomplete and inaccurate anyway—help me to control matters? Of course, it didn’t. Except it gave me this false sense of having some control over a situation that was already quite out of hand. Since I was in denial about how out of control things were, though, I assumed that by doing what I was doing, I’d know when the tide had turned and things were really worsening. That didn’t prove true, though.

It was a frightening incident that became may wake-up call. After this incident, I finally engaged in an intervention that got my spouse with his narcissism, addictions, and abusive ways into a treatment center. But it wasn’t until after he had taken off for that treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, or when things were quiet and peaceful about me, that I finally awakened to my own need to pursue the path of spiritual growth.

Yes, I finally accepted it was time to turn over the pursuit of external power for enhanced spirituality instead. To achieve spiritual growth, I needed to turn within so I might discover and trust in a power greater than my mind and ego self.

Might it be time for you to do the same, perhaps? For despite the fact you don’t see yourself as manipulative and controlling, perhaps it is so—as it was with me. And while I still find myself reverting back to the old ways at times, I realize life is better—full of more contentment and joy—when I don’t go there. And in truth, I suspect it may prove to be the same for you, too.