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A Subtle Sign of Co-dependence


So often when I suggest to clients that they may be co-dependent, they say, “Who me?” They can’t see what I see about them because they’re so entrenched in their interactional patterns and fail to recognize that they’re more other than self-focused. Here’s a major clue that you might lean toward co-dependence

One major tip off is when I ask a client about how they’re feeling and they don’t talk about themselves but start talking about another person’s feelings. For example, I was asking a client how she felt about a break-up with her boyfriend and she responded, “Well, you know it’s his choice. He thinks we should try to work it out, but I’ve tried everything to make things work. I guess I just don’t meet his standards.” 

A slightly different example happened during a conversation I had with a client about his narcissistic mother. Again, I asked my client how he was feeling about dealing with his difficult, aging mother and he responded, “I’m worried about my kids. They’ll really miss her if she doesn’t come to visit. They understand how she can be and why she’s that way due to her childhood, but it’s not fair they’re in such pain.”

Can you see what’s off with these reactions? If not, you might be co-dependent. The answer is that when I ask clients about themselves, they tell me about other people’s feelings. In the first case, it’s the client’s boyfriend and in the second it’s the client’s children. Nowhere is the focus on my question, which is how my client was feeling. 

This subtle shift from “me” to “them” is common with people who engage in co-dependence. These clients didn’t realize they were avoiding talking about their feelings and instead were worried about someone else’s. In fact, I had to ask both clients a few times what was happening for them and then explain the faulty dynamic I observed. 

When someone asks about you, your response should in the first person and begin with “I” or “My.” You want to be turning inward and exploring your emotions. If you start talking about “She, he or they,” the focus is external, on someone else. This happens when you’re used to squelching or ignoring your feelings because another person’s reaction have been more important than yours in securing your well-being. 

This habit can be changed. Next time someone asks about you, stop and make sure you’re in first gear (first-person, that is) and not thinking about anyone else’s feelings. Just yours. Stick with your own feelings and expressing them before moving on to how someone else might feel or feel about them.