This blog is published in elephant journal
Part III – Growing and healing together as a couple
For the most part, my last blog on Understanding and Loving the Borderline was well received except on a Facebook group that brings together a vulnerable minority group. My blog triggered them, as they felt stigmatized and shamed. I removed the post from this private group as my intent was to make people feel better not worse, and they were unable to make use of the information. They probably suffered a lot in the hands of a mental health system that often uses labels to prescribe drugs and to scapegoate them instead of providing them with genuine support for healing. Labeling is indeed a dangerous thing. It is fine for people to label themselves as borderline or codependent as a tool for self-observation, but we should refrain from labeling other people this way, as it would just trigger their shame. Shame and self-awareness are incompatible states. This is why, once our shame is triggered, any positive change towards our authentic healthy self becomes impossible. We become frozen and what can happen instead is more fragmentation, meaning that we would build a false self in order not to experience this feeling of shame again. This is actually the process of how false cult personalities are created, and how the false “good guys” personalities are built with codependents. The borderline is however unable to cope and goes into rage. I sincerely do not know which is healthier. Every tool can be used for empowerment or to hurt people. It is up to each one of us to use this information wisely.
We mirror each other’s disowned self
As I was doing inner work, I remember when I first met my “inner borderline”. We call this process voice dialog or parts work. I display externally little of the BPD characteristics. As I mentioned previously, I have been struggling instead with codependency in my intimate relationships. This makes sense as we manifest externally what is deeply repressed in us. This is how attraction works. As a child, the borderline aspects of my mum and stepmom terrified me but I had to bond with them for my emotional survival. I had made the depression of one and the anger of the other one unacceptable emotions. I created these parts internally to mirror them but buried them deep within my psyche out of fear and in a subconscious attempt to feel safe. I could not have been a magnet for PBPD partners all of my life unless there was a part in me to reflect them. So if a codependent is in a relationship with a PBPD, we need to remember that the borderline is the repressed aspect of the codependent, and vice versa. There is futility in blaming our partner because they are you, both representing the positive and negative aspects of you that you have disowned. The most extreme form of internalizing the people we feel traumatized from, and that we feel dependent on for our survival is well documented as the Stockholm syndrome. An example was the adoration of Nazi concentration camp SS physician Josef Mengele by his victims. Josef Mengele performed the most horrific deadly human experiments on prisoners and in particular on children twins. I recommend a quick read on other famous cases of the Stockholm syndrome. Here is how it works. When a traumatic event occurs that we are not able to process consciously, we fragment. This means that aspects of our consciousness leave our body to find escape somewhere else. In very powerless situations, these fragmented selves actually find refuge in the abuser as it feels it is the safest place to hide. As a result, we create deeply repressed internal parts of the very same persons that traumatized us. We cannot acknowledge these aspects consciously as otherwise we would live in a constant state of anxiety so they manifest externally in particular in the form of romantic & intimate relationships. We have a tendency to fall in love with people showing the same dysfunctional aspects of our parent of the opposite gender. This is why women raised with an emotionally unavailable father would attract the same in their partners. And this is why I have been with PBPD most of my life. I am not a victim. They are simply mirroring the aspects of me that I have repressed. They are helping me to become conscious. In the same way, all the PBPD I have been with had a codependent father that I was mirroring back for them. It may be depressing news but most of us are simply trying to earn back the love we did not receive as a child (from our parents). We are actually replaying the traumas and the stories of the past instead of actually truly connecting with our partners. There is only one way out, which is bringing these lost aspects of ourselves back to the light of consciousness. Seeing these parts, accepting them, loving them and ultimately forgiving oneself for reenacting this drama subconsciously are the steps to recovery.
In the process of integration, I have found it a helpful tool to see myself as the composite of my (hurt) inner child, my adult and my transcendental self. The codependent identifies with his adult self, while the PBPD identifies with her hurt inner child. The borderline feels too much while the codependent is hardly in touch with his feelings. For a healthy development of the individual, we need a balance between these two aspects. The inner child gives us our spontaneity, our creativity, our joie de vivre, access to more subtle aspects to our being. The adult self keeps us out of trouble, has wisdom to draw from, and helps us function in this physical reality. A genuine partnership between our child and adult has to be formed to restart an inner development that likely stopped during an early traumatic event. We do not want an overbearing internal adult (codependent) or tyrannical and out-of-control inner child (BPD). Life has its way of recreating balance. This is why children of PBPD get parentified, and why codependents are irresistibly attracted to PBPD. If you able to create a healthy balance of these aspects within yourself, the universe will also mirror it externally with a more stable partner. How does this work in practice?
- When you feel uneasy and stuck, do shadow work to bring these aspects of you into awareness. Do not bulldoze your inner child into performing other activities that may appear more important to the inner adult. I understand that life has constraints so if you cannot attend right away to the inner child (which is the ideal), commit to schedule this inner work within 24 hours.
- Follow personal inspiration, creativity and your inner joy whenever you can. Look for simple ways to feel genuinely happy
- Stay aware of the consequences of your actions. Spontaneity does not have to equate with recklessness
- Temper your internal fears with the wisdom from your personal experience
- Know your limits, and assess your personal boundaries wisely. Follow-through, be responsible but not at the expense of your authentic self.
Try to visualize some of the healthiest parent/child relationships you have witnessed in your life. This is what you need to create internally. The inner child is the seat of the soul. The bible says “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. But the child needs to develop to become this clear channel to the higher self. And he needs a wise, compassionate and supporting inner parent to grow-up. As we enter the spiritual path, many of us will find a hurt inner child whose development stopped at a very early age. We need to take this traumatized child where he is, without judgment and patiently re-parent ourselves. Another way to look at it is to see our inner child as our essence and our adult as our personality. When these two aspects of us start working in harmony, we can consciously access the more transcendental aspects of our beings.
To get out of codependent relationships, we need to realize that “People in the relationship are more important than the relationship”. This sentence goes against many of our social bias. Miserable married people are often advised to stay together even when they have become toxic to each other. I understand that any intimate relationship will go through their ups and down and I am not advocating to breakup as soon as there is a bump in the road. Sometimes we struggle with the relationship but we deeply care about our partner and we feel this is helping us become a better version of ourselves. This is a situation where we need to fight for the relationship because it is supporting us as an individual. Actually, as we are able to successfully survive these difficult times, the relationship will then reach a much higher intimacy. There are other situations however when the marriage brings both pain and the loss of self. These are times to get out. Staying in a miserable marriage for the sake of the children does not make sense; they are well aware of the conflicts and this is damaging to them. We want to be models that they do not have to compromise their personal happiness to be in an intimate relationship. Putting the self above the relationship is a very scary and risky choice for the codependent. We probably entered the relationship pretending we were someone we are not because of our personal shame. Our partner may feel betrayed, duped or threatened as we reveal the real us. We may be rejected, abandoned as a result, and if your partner is narcissistic, they will surely do this and also discredit you to any common acquaintances. This is a very painful experience but a price worth paying to recover your authentic self. In any case, we need to remember that any other option is futile. What makes us attractive and sexy is our individuality; not being an accessory to someone else. As we compromise ourselves to fit into the relationship box dictated by our nascissistic partner, we will stop our attractiveness and our mate will abandon us anyway. We need to remember that it is better to be alone than being in the wrong company. We can remind ourselves that we survived brutal breakups in the past, and ended in a better place once the grieving was done. As we feel depressed by the loss of the relationship and see no end to our personal misery, we can bring King Solomon’s wisdom: “This too shall pass”. Actually, when we look back at the most difficult times of our life, we can see retrospectively that these were the times we did the most growth, and created the foundations of our future happiness. Life is a series of steep climbs and flat plateaus, then further climbs. Being in a relationship should always be a free choice. This is the only way to experience a true heart-to-heart connection to our partner. While there are external forms of coercion such as the threat of personal injury, losing one’s children or litigation when attempting to leave a relationship, these are quite rare and extreme. What is more insidious and common is the coercion coming from our own personal fears. Here are some examples.
If I leave her/him, if s/he breaks up with me:
- I will have to compromise my personal lifestyle, take care of my personal finances and probably lose financial security
- I will be alone which I cannot handle
- I will have to be back on the dating scene, which I detest
- I will lose face with my family, friends and community
- I will have to go back to work
- I will have to move
- I will not have sex anymore
- I will not handle seeing my ex with a new partner
- I will have to take care of the children on my own which I feel incapable of doing
- I will die because I cannot handle another breakup
- I will not handle the guilt of hurting my children
- I will have to start cooking and do my own laundry
- I will lose all of our joint friends
- I will have no one to protect me
- I will have no one to take care of me if I am sick
- I will lose the relationship with my children
- I will lose the relationship with my in-laws
Can you see these are all wrong reasons to stay with someone? It makes the person a means to an end and this will destroy your intimacy. The times for selecting our partner for survival reasons are well over. In this day and age, intimate relationships are primarily for emotional nurturing, experiencing love, feeling seen, felt and understood, personal growth and enjoyment. If you are just looking for transactional relationships, you can simply use service providers as our world can offer any possible service imaginable in exchange for money. This is why it is so important to develop personal autonomy in our life as this allows our closed ones to be with us because they want to be there and not because they have to. We can move from the conditionality of love of the sacral chakra with all its cords, control drama and power struggles to the unconditional and pure love of the heart chakra. Of course, we should not take the goal of personal autonomy to the extreme to the point of being afraid of asking for support from others. The key is never to put yourself in a state of dependency that may lead you to compromise your personal integrity or stop honoring your personal boundaries. When your personal situation does not allow for this right away, just make a goal to create this personal autonomy in the future and make it a priority. Authenticity cannot strive in a controlled environment because the price to pay for your personal truth would be too high. Also, when we are incapable of taking care of ourselves, we will create expectations in our union, which in turn will create tension. This is not a conducive environment for love to flow. If you want a clean house and both you and your partner dislike cleaning, best is to hire a cleaning lady. If you are in need of physical affection but your partner is drained, go get a therapeutic massage. As a codependent, authenticity can be daunting as we are so afraid to lose everything once we find ourselves, and start sharing our authenticity with the world. It is true that the world reacts often very brutally to codependents finally standing in their truth. If you express your authentic self to your partner in a vulnerable way but s/he is not able to carve a place for your authentic self, it is best to let go. Our authentic self is our most treasured possession and without it, there cannot be the possibility of a joyful and happy life. I had given everything to my relationship but once I stood in my authenticity, the relationship did not survive. It took courage and it was incredibly painful but as a result, I received the ultimate gift of living an authentic life and stepping out of codependency. It was all well worth it.
Loneliness is one of the most painful feelings to experience consciously. We understand conceptually that we are one and connected to everything that is alive. I remember reading Radical Forgiveness years ago from Colin Tipping, and I had an epiphany when the author stated that our experience on earth is first about experiencing the illusion of separateness. Separateness is an enduring illusion because our physical body is separate from other beings. We are one with our mother then separate from her at birth to create an individual experience. We go through the process of death and many other painful experiences alone. We cannot go through life without feeling rejected, abandoned or criticized at times. In my personal experience, there is actually no biggest suffering than losing the connection to our creator. Even Jesus doubted on the cross if God had abandoned him “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Many of us with attachment traumas are suffering from profound loneliness and we become vulnerable to a variety of addictions as a result. There is a compulsory need to fill this void at any cost. This feeling of emptiness is actually caused by our internal fragmentation as we have lost many aspects of ourselves through the traumatic events of our upbringing. Filling this void with people or various addictions can only give us a temporary relief, and this is what codependents and borderlines attempt to do. It is like the person who lost his way in the forest who gets relief by meeting someone else only to realize this person is lost too. This may bring some temporary comfort however the two people are still lost. From my perspective, this form of pathological loneliness can only be healed in two steps. First, we need to feel consciously our deep and profound loneliness without trying to escape it. This is best done in a meditation setting where we create an internal container for the painful emotion with no judgment, letting our internal torment and fears run their course. From this place, if we are patient enough, eventually grace will come in and we will remember somatically our divine nature and recover our connection with God. As we realign with our soul and our sense of purpose, we can feel complete. We may still feel lonely at times as we go through phases when we do not have special people in our life to reflect our wholeness. However these phases are temporary and they do not destabilize us because we feel the security of our connection with our higher self that is connected with everything. Overtime, we learn to be alone without feeling lonely and aloneness becomes even a means to strengthen our connection to the divine. Our deep longing for an intimate connection becomes more a thirst to reflect our divine nature than to fill an endless void. Our divine nature is love, giving and receiving love. Is there anything better in the world than intimate relationships to experience it?
Stepping out of the drama triangle victim/persecutor/rescuer
The PBPD is addicted to the victim role. She feels so unworthy and hopeless that she believes she can only get attention through pity and other form of victim control drama. The codependent is addicted with the rescuer role. He feels so unworthy that he feels he has no value unless he fulfills a specific role or does something for someone. To break this negative cycle, the codependent needs to apologize to the PBPD for putting her in a state of dependency, disempowering her and not creating the conditions where she could solve her own problems. Without bypassing her pain, the PBPD needs to find the strength to find the hidden treasure that came from her abuse, to realize that her persecutor is just another victim like her and eventually forgive her abuser and herself for creating this painful experience at a soul level. The Hawaiian prayer Ho’oponopono “I am sorry – Please forgive me – Thank you – I love you” is another powerful way to break out of the dysfunctional roles of the drama triangle and undo the false narration. But please remember to do this prayer from the adult or soul perspective but never from the hurt inner child as this could be very damaging.
Transition plan as we rewire our brain for real love
Because of his unhealthy childhood environment, the codependent actually got addicted to constant drama. He thrives with chaos, conflict and dangerous situations as this gives him the opportunity to prove his self-worth by rescuing. Drama is actually associated with love in his brain. Because it takes time to rewire a brain and examine all false beliefs, I recommend the recovering codependent to engage in more productive activities where he could experience the same adrenaline rush. He can start a more risky professional activity (reward and risk often go together), or enjoy extreme sports. On the other end, the borderline is addicted to emotionally abusive situations so that they can get attention through victimhood. Abuse equal love in her brain. One of my partners had suffered in a horrific way in the hands of one of an extremely disturbing violent cult. The abuser of her childhood pretended to be her dad but was also sexual with her. As we can expect, her intimate relationships were very unstable as a result. She would start all of her relationships idealizing her partner but then would slowly start seeing her companion through the filter of her childhood abuse. She would then replay the escape of her childhood nightmare by orchestrating the end of the romance. Then, she would enter a demonization phase where she would try to convince anyone willing to listen to her that her ex was part of the same cult that inflicted her so much grief as a child. In a similar way than the codependent, the PBPD can turn her addiction to abuse to productive use by helping the unfortunate ones. Since 2001, Angelina Jolie has been on field missions around the world and met with refugees and internally displaced persons. She also adopted 3 children. French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot has dedicated the second half of her life rescuing animals. Princess Diana was involved in over 100 charities and she made a big impact fighting homelessness and helping victims of HIV/AIDS and leprosy. Overtime, as healing takes place, both PBPD and borderline learn to enjoy a more peaceful and simple love without relentless crises. They realize that can experience intimacy and love without the roller coaster.
The 80/20 rule in seeing the positive in your partner
The PBPD will have a tendency to catastrophizing and only focus on the negative in herself and her partner. The codependent will often err on the opposite. He will stay positive and apparently strong any time his partner feels bad or negative. This is his way to cope and exercise control in the situation. He has a tendency to act too optimistic in situations potentially dangerous to his partner. Even if his wife struggles with alcoholism, he could say “Let me give you a glass of champagne darling, this will help you relax”. He will let his wife go out with a man interested romantically with her trusting them a bit too much. He will give his daughter to a baby-sitter with bad vibes. He will decide to go out with his friends at the time his wife feels suicidal. Wearing pink glasses is his way of coping. He thinks he can make himself safer when imagining that we live in a good world with good people. He actually endangers himself and his family with this attitude. His borderline partner, on the opposite, feels too much the potential dangers and often amplifies them. She feels she cannot trust her codependent partner to keep her safe and will go ballistic at him when her anxiety reaches a threshold. The codependent will typically only crash emotionally and display negative emotions when his borderline partner feels happy! First, he feels very threatened by her happiness as he fears that she will not need him anymore if she feels good. Secondly, he built resentment through the many crises but did not allow himself to feel any of it because of the instability in the relationship. If he sees his borderline partner doing well, he feels this is his opportunity to share everything that upset him over the last few weeks, which unmistakably overwhelms and triggers his borderline girlfriend.
It is very frustrating for the PBPD as she feels she spends most of her time in doom, and when the sunshine comes, he immediately spoils it! In my twenties, I worked as an engineer in the Silicon Valley software start-up. We had a borderline male employee called Steve with constant conflictual relationships with many co-workers. The CEO liked him however because Steve’s mind was always focused on what could go wrong and this helped avert potential business threats as he felt that the rest of the management team was too optimistic. Though there are some positive aspects in looking at a glass half empty however there is a problem in always seeing the negative in your partner. The codependent struggles with shame too. If he is constantly shamed who he is and what he does, he will start deflecting the shame and pointing to his partner her own shadows. They will work on each other non-stop. It will cease to be a relationship. It will become a self-improvement torture chamber. To support someone towards positive change, it is well known that we need to receive more compliments than criticism. By continuing to reflect the positive of our partners, we will support their development towards their higher potential. On the other hand, the codependent needs to be more connected, aware of his environment and realize that the policy of burying one’s head in the sand is not the right strategy to follow. He should ensure to stay positive when his borderline partner feels good so that she can fully enjoy these brief moments of happiness. He needs to improve his communication so that he can bring constructive feedback in a way that would be best received by his borderline partner. He needs to express things as they come so that they do not have the time to fester in him. The borderline has to learn to see her codependent partner more objectively. She goes from idealization to demonization back to idealization and then again demonization in no time. She needs to recognize that her partner has qualities and flaws just like she has. Putting in writing how she feels about her partner will help her realize her “splitting” and eventually heal from it.
Become an expert in your partner
First by becoming an expert in your partner, you will learn to spend enjoyable time together while minimizing triggers. Ask lots of questions, be inquisitive and curious about him/her. The better she feels, the better you feel or more succinctly “Happy Wife, Happy Life”. By better understanding your partner’s dysfunctions, you can also better support their recovery and avoid fatal mistakes. This knowledge is best received when it is inconspicuous and unconditional. It should not be a way to score points for a hidden agenda. In this day and age, we are lucky that so much valuable information is at our fingertips. About any question we have may be answered by an insightful YouTube video or podcast. We can make our car a university on wheels during our commute time and keep improving our relationships. There are optimal communication strategies for any type of person and this is what we need to become skillful at using the right words at the right time. If you partner is codependent, here are some of the approaches that may work:
- If he feels disconnected, be inquisitive, ask him how he feels, use his love language to bring him back to his heart, help him bring out to the surface what is bothering him deeply inside
- If he says yes but you feel no weight behind his words, challenge him in his commitment. Either get him accountable and make it easy for him to say no. Confront him every time you feel he is lying to him and others (mostly subconsciously because he is a people pleaser). Do not let him off the hook. Point out his lack of consistency and how this is impacting others
- If his words or actions are hurting you, become vulnerable on how he is making you feel and take responsibility for your feelings not to trigger his shame. Empower him to make things better for you. Tell him you hurt because you love him
- Get him in touch with his shadows. Create a safe container for him to express the parts behind the “good guy”, all of the unsavory aspects of his hurt inner child. Reward him every time he has the courage to go there
It is important that we learn to clearly communicate our needs and likes instead of expecting our partners to know them telepathically. While this feels great when our partner does things what we treasure without the need to ask them, why not make it easier on them instead of constantly testing their love for us? Let us coach them to speak our love language instead of doing things for them with the expectation of getting something in return. Even the most compatible persons will have difference in their love language so communication is key. Make separate lists of your needs, what you love and share it with your loved one. Provide loving and non-judgmental frequent feedback so that both partners can improve constantly of making each other feel loved.
The importance of the commitment to self
Happiness comes from the simple things of life: knowing who you are, feeling love for who we are, intimacy with special people and relationships, a supportive community, feeling creative, have our needs met at a physical level, being healthy, a connection to something greater than ourselves (ideal, God, values) and practicing activities that we enjoy. This is not rocket science but it takes commitment to fill our life with the ingredients of joy. In codependent relationships, we sacrifice our authentic self for the relationship. We are so desperate to be loved that we project a false idea of us so that we may be liked. The commitment to self has to come first as the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship. If the relationship stops supporting the individuals within the relationship, it does not have to mean a break-up. People can find creative ways to adjust the relationship in a way that they will feel better supported. This takes tremendous courage as these changes may trigger our insecurities and fears of abandonment. The commitment to self requires us to be OK to be alone, as we cannot control the reactions of others. This may not be our preferred way of being but unless we can sit in peace with ourselves, we will not be able to give our partner the freedom to love us by choice. Once our sense of self is secure, the commitment to the relationship comes with less anxiety so we can navigate the ups and downs in a more astute way. We typically make the worst relationship mistakes when we are triggered. As we dive deeper in intimacy, we start including the other into our personal field so the commitment to self will naturally encompass them too. Loving oneself extends to loving our partner and eventually to the whole universe as we increase our awareness.
Own your shame
Most fights between codependents and borderline are escalated when shame is triggered. Owning your shame is the best way to de-escalate the argument. Let me give you a couple of examples. Instead of “Why did book this shitty hotel? This is the last time you do the travel reservations”, say “I felt small and taken for granted when you booked this hotel for us. I really want to feel safe with you and it is hard to do when you do not seem to see me”. Instead of “Can I have some space now? I cannot take this constant drama” say “I feel at odds with myself and I do not think I can be a good company for you until I can sort things out. May I go meditate and reconnect with you after I am done?”. Instead of “How can you be friend with that asshole? He is just a narcissistic jerk” say “I feel triggered around your friend. He always speak about himself and never seems to care to listen about things in our life”. Instead of “Being with you is like being with a cold stone. It is obvious why none of your relationships never lasted very long” say “I do not feel seen, felt or understood right now. I feel unsafe as a result. I need you to really connect to me right now”. If you can show some genuine vulnerable emotions, your communication will be that much more effective. Owing our shame starts with the courage to believe that our innate nature is lovable, which would allow us to be vulnerable and therefore to build intimacy. It is important to stay humble because unless we are willing to acknowledge our own failings, we will continuously project what we refuse to see in ourselves into our partner. I had once a partner who kept saying obsessively that I had duped her to get in a relationship with her. This was partly true because as a codependent, I would portray myself as someone I am not in order to conquer the object of my desire because I felt unlovable deep within. However, what she failed to realize is that she felt even more intensely like a bad apple and did not believe anyone could love her for who she is. There were just as many things she hid about herself than her codependent partner. Projecting this deep shame solely into her partner prevented her to own it.
A good family therapist is important to help us navigate through the intricacies of interpersonal relationships with our partners, children and parents. There is a significant stigma in Europe with people using therapists. They are often labeled as crazy and unstable so most people in Europe would see a shrink in secret. People in the USA and even more Californians are very open to it. When a situation triggers both partners at the same time, a qualified therapist is critical. I do not recommend using a friend because the friend would typically be biased and they do not have the professional training to rise above the interpersonal conflict. The therapist primary goal is to help release the unconscious into the conscious, support introspection and empower the stakeholders towards a creative solution as their awareness is lifted. It is important to take your time to find a good family therapist. Many enter this profession because they feel damaged and they have not done yet all the inner work necessary to help others. A skilled family therapist is important at times to any intimate partnership but it is absolutely critical for codependent/borderline couple who need all the help they can get with their rocky relationship. The best therapists would actually be the ones that experienced earlier in their life the same negative patterns. I have an absolutely extraordinary family therapist. He is an older gentleman. He was raised in a horrendous family dynamic and he had a disorganized attachment style as a result. He was married and divorced 3 times before he was able to finally develop a healthy and intimate relationship with his 4th wife whom he has been for over 30 years now. He has done immense inner work to get where he is now, which makes him incredible knowledgeable and insightful in helping his clients.
Make the couple a sanctuary
Codependent/borderline relationships are inherently turbulent and therefore experience power struggles. Power struggles come from personal insecurity and powerlessness. We attempt to control our partner to love us because we feel deep inside unworthy of love. If someone does not feel secure in a relationship, they have the tendency to enroll their personal friends to validate their opinions and show their partner that they are right. This can do no good to the relationship. While venting to your friends can be sometimes helpful to release some of the internal pressure and frustration one may experience, enlisting them to prove your points would just damage the relationship. We need to keep remembering what is more important to us, to be loved or to be right? I was once in a very unhealthy community situation where all the community members were either employees or followers of my wife. They worshipped her and she could do no wrong. It was very tempting for her to enlist them to make herself right to me, ignoring the fact that they were all biased to start with. If I had used my close friends or French family to rally to my opinion, they would have sided with me. That would not have made me right. This was not an option anyway because they were not in our living community. And this would have just made the conflict larger instead of contributing towards a meaningful resolution of the conflict. This is why a trained therapist should be used instead of friends or community members to work through a relationship conflict. Communities are a very dangerous place for committed intimate relationships. As a young man, I remember that most couples that moved to the Fellowship of Friends community in northern California would divorce the first year. Community life diffuse the commitment between the two individuals and there is a high temptation to get one’s needs met outside the relationship instead of doing the hard work of focusing and solving the conflicts within the relationship. In my recent situation, community members that were my wife followers surrounded her. It was like living at the queen’s court. They were always fighting for her attention and it was difficult to have time where only the two of us could be together alone to simply connect. If you are looking to live in a community, I would advise to look for an equal community where members relate to each other on an equal basis and have interdependent relationships instead of dependent and hierarchical ones. It would be a model where each family knows very well their neighbors, and where the community is enhanced through regular get together, instead of a pyramidal structure. My situation was extreme and is quite rare, but it is important for any couple to make their intimate relationship a priority. As we discussed, the self is the priority because if we are not true to ourselves, we cannot be in an authentic relationship but the relationship is next in line even before the children for a married couple. The children feed from the energy of a healthy marriage and get damaged by the constant conflicts of their parents. So by putting your marriage first, you are putting your children first. Recomposed families are more complex systems and they are outside the scope of this article. It is a big temptation once we have children to put our marriage after the children, after our hobbies and sometimes even after some of our friendships. The result is often disastrous because the marriage is supposed to be the foundation of our family life but no more energy gets invested into it. You need to treat your relationship like a sanctuary if you want a happy life. The codependent and the borderline need to stop their destructive habit of enticing people outside the relationship to look like victims and instead take full responsibility for their personality disorder and their relationship.
Do not fool yourself that you will jump dramatically in terms of quality of partner from one relationship to the next. Remember that your partner comes to you through the law of attraction so they are an external mirror of who you are inside. What is far more important than finding a perfect partner is to find a partner that you can grow with. If you have attachment traumas, it is then far more sensible to find an introspective partner that has done a lot of inner work, and has learned from their personal wounds. Even if you meet someone with a secure attachment style, it is likely that there will not be any chemistry unless you have a secure attachment style yourself. For this reason, my future partner is likely to be a conscious borderline. After the initial honeymoon phase of a new relationship, we usually come back to the same personal flaws that contributed to our last breakup. Intimate relationships are a personal growth accelerator so there is simply no escape to what we are supposed to work on this lifetime if we are going to share our lives with someone special. I trust in the power of attraction in terms of intimate relationships. Many people have been hurt in intimate relationships so they learned to distrust their own chemistry & attraction feelings. They would rather cut their attraction sensors and focus solely on a compatibility checklist out of fear. Our body never lies. It is all about understanding and becoming conscious of what our body is attempting to communicate to us. Attraction is the path of freedom and back to oneself. However it is critical we move into this attraction with self-awareness because of our personal shadows. If there is no chemistry, there is limited growth. Our society is addicted to the removal of pain and struggles but suffering is a fact of life that needs to be embraced instead of feared so that we can become whole again. A friend of mine has a joke about the frozen packages of processed chicken in supermarkets. He called them boneless, skinless and flavorless chicken. Do you want a boneless, skinless and flavorless relationship or do you want to be consumed by love and be transformed to the full potential of who you are?
Love and intimacy are powerful forces because they reflect the movement of God towards integration. Many of us with attachment traumas, whether we are codependents or borderlines have been damaged through relationships. We can now heal through relationships too. This is why we need each other.
I was fortunate to have many experiences in my lifetime. I have traveled in many parts of the world, I have built companies, non-profit organizations, I have connected with people from many different cultures, I have networked with the rich, wealthy and famous and experienced high-flying lifestyle. Among all these experiences, not a single one ever came close in intensity and happiness than the deep and intimate connection with a beloved. This experience is available to any of us as we open ourselves to authentic love no matter what may be our background.
3 part series of the dysfunctional dance between co-dependents and borderlines
Part I – The dark side of the co-dependent
Disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist so I am not qualified to use these terms in a therapy setting. I have however studied this topic very closely as a tool for self-improvement and self-observation. I am just sharing my own understanding and experience on this matter with the hope it may heal your own relationships and help you to love yourself at a deeper level.
My mother was a discouraged borderline and my father was a codependent. My sister is a borderline, my brothers are codependent and I have been on a life long journey to heal my codependency too. Almost all of my intimate partners have struggled with borderline personality disorder. I am hopefully closer to live a more authentic life as I have brought awareness to my subconscious patterns.
I have shared with you in my previous blog how my attachment traumas made me a match to a cult. The same attachment traumas made me a match to dysfunctional intimate relationships. A number of us with personality disorders can actually be high-functioning according to societal standards. You will find many successful CEOs, performers, top politicians that are narcissistic, borderline or active co-dependents. These personality disorders can best be seen in our personal and intimate lives that suffer greatly from these personality disorders coming from childhood attachment traumas.
I can see that my intimate relationships have been plagued with negative core beliefs coming from an early age. Initially, as a young man, because of my own abandonment traumas, I was deeply avoidant as I was convinced to be unworthy of love. I believed that it was just a question of time for my intimate partners to leave me. I would push them away and they would break-up with me, as they felt unloved. I felt unloved and unlovable as a result while these partners would actually deeply care for me. It was a vicious circle feeding self.
Because I felt unlovable as I was, I decided subconsciously that I need a hook for my loved ones to stay with me and not abandon me. I entered a rescuer phase. As a friend jokingly put it, I became “Captain save a hoe”. In my early twenties, I fell in love with an impulsive borderline in a desperate situation. She had a son with a thug in the northern suburbs of Paris. He was a gambler that would still money from her while she did not even have enough money to feed the child. He used the child to control her. He would sometimes take the child out of the balcony of the 20th floor and threaten to drop him if she did not obey his demands. After I started a relationship with her, my heart broke when I felt the pain of this child. I took many risks to get them out of this desperate situation and we eventually managed to immigrate to the USA together. The relationship eventually ended. I was shut off emotionally past the limerence stage as I continued to focus on external activities to be worthy of love instead of emotionally investing into the relationship. I had no clue that my partner actually wanted to be with me but I felt so unlovable that it seemed like a foreign concept. My partner eventually cheated on me as she was starving emotionally and struggling with her own issues. I felt deeply betrayed and was so confused. How could she leave me after everything I had done for her? As this was not enough, I repeated the exact same experience with a Russian woman and her son a year later. She lived with a violent man who abused her physically. I helped them immigrate to the US as well. Our relationship ended up in the same miserable way and I felt taken advantage, unaware of my own part in the dramas that were unfolding.
These painful experiences made me change my strategy for partners. I felt attracted to stronger and more successful women. However, there needed to be something about these women that was difficult to be with. Something that would keep other men away so that they would not cheat on me. Something that only me could handle so that they would be less likely to abandon me and repeat the abandonment trauma with my mum. The high functioning borderline met these criteria as they share the same abandonment traumas as I did.
Codependents and borderlines are a very common pair. This relationship dynamic allows the codependents to slip into “caretaker” roles, giving priority and focus to problems in the life of the person with BPD (Borderline Personality disorder) rather than to issues in their own lives. No one’s ego likes to see its own dysfunctions as it brings up shame, something especially excruciating for a codependent with a weak sense of self. In these kinds of relationships, the codependent will gain a sense of worth by being “the sane one” and “the responsible one” as he makes the borderline “the crazy one” or “the sick one”. High functioning borderlines are often more narcissistic too. Codependents can provide the narcissist with an obedient and attentive audience that matches the needs of the self-absorbed narcissist. Among the reciprocally interlocking interactions of the pair are the narcissist’s overpowering need to feel important and special and the co-dependent person’s strong need to help others feel that way. Actually, borderline/narcissistic people are only able to create relationships with codependents. A healthy individual with an authentic self could not alternate the roles of perpetrator, rescuer and victim that the borderline requires. Only the codependent can do this as a personality split is required. Their lives together are an endless roller coaster and they alternate control during crises. The codependents submit and weather the storm as the borderlines/narcissists get into their rant or rage. They know however that it is just a matter of time for the borderlines/narcissists to crash. At that time, they can play their favorite caretaker role and get back in control once again. For this reason, it is in the interest of the codependents to worsen and not improve their partners’ mental health. This is a dark side of codependents that only few people understand. This is why they are called enablers. They are enabling and feeding on the most dysfunctional aspects of their partners instead of keeping them accountable for their harmful actions. The borderline is seen in most psychology books as the evil one and the codependent as the good one but the reality is that their shadows are a perfect mirror of each other. The codependent is actually more dangerous as his darkness is more covert. I have worked with many women that had violent and sexually abusive fathers. I have found that they experienced even deeper traumas with their own mothers as they looked the other way and made excuses for their husbands’ behaviors all during the time the abuse was taking place. The child would feel hope as the codependent mother would complain about the father behind his back but felt betrayed over and over again as the mother showed her loyalty to her husband first in her actions. The borderline and the codependent mirror each other attachment traumas, core shame, lack of self-esteem and pathological loneliness. These attributes are directly expressed with the borderline and repressed with the codependent.
Through introspection and the observation of codependents through the diverse communities I have been part of, I have dived deeper into the characteristics of the codependents that I will share with you below. I was able to see the horror of my own psychological make-up through external mirrors and started healing it as a result. I hope you can do the same as you see aspects of yourself in a vulnerable way through the examples below.
- No sense of self, low self‐esteem, poor boundaries, absence of conscience
In its broadest definition, a codependent is someone who cannot function from their innate self and whose thinking and behavior is instead organized around another person, or even an organization, or substance. This condition originates from childhood trauma. In the dysfunctional family, the child learns to become attuned to the parent’s needs and feelings instead of the other way around. As a result, the child becomes disconnected from his authentic feelings, as there was no space for the essence of who he is. Codependent people are fixated on another person for approval or sustenance and need to attach themselves to a stronger personality. Poor self‐esteem lowers your expectations of being treated well so we accept the unreasonable demands from our narcissistic/borderline partner with little resistance. Growing up in dysfunctional families, we learn to not trust our perceptions and what we know. We just abide by the narcissist. Most codependents find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, supporter, and confidante. These helper types are often dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs and this is the only time they find a sense of self-worth. The codependents cannot believe they can be loved for who they are so they are asking to be given a role where they can be used by their narcissistic partner. They hope to make themselves indispensable through this role so that they would not be abandoned. Their abandonment fears and core shame overpower their conscience so they have lost their inner compass to what is right or wrong. They have delegated it instead to the narcissist, the organization of the substance. As a result, codependents lack authentic and inner accountability. Instead, they do things to stay out of trouble from their partners. They have the feeling to always walk on eggshells as they spend their lives to please their partners and loved ones from the often contradictory feedback they receive externally instead of relying on their inner guidance system that they have shut down to survive their early childhood. Let me give you a couple of examples that I have witnessed personally.
A confidante of a spiritual teacher was asked to lead a group through a process. She started working with the group but in the middle of it, she felt her presence was required next to her teacher so she left without notice leaving all attendees open, vulnerable & incomplete in their healing.
In the cult the Fellowship of Friends, a woman who was struggling raising her child for both financial and emotional reasons asked the narcissistic cult leader what to do. The leader never had children, did not like to be around children and was a sexual predator. He told her to give him for adoption to a couple he designated. Though they were taken by surprise, all parties complied. This left the child with severe abandonment traumas.
A man fell madly in love with a woman but she came from a higher social class. They married and had a child but he compensated his social status insecurity by becoming a workaholic and building/running a successful trucking business. One day, the child died in a car accident. When his wife informed him of the tragedy, he responded he would come after he was done with all his meetings of the day. When he finally came home, he told his wife that nothing could be done, as the son was already dead so life had to go on. The wife left him, as she felt her husband was as sensitive as a cold stone. He later collapsed emotionally and became homeless.
A son visited his dad after not seeing him for 2 years to celebrate his grandmother birthday with him. He spent a day with him then asked to have a walk with him to talk. The father who was afraid that he would get in trouble with his wife (his stepmum) to spend more time away from her encouraged his son to leave right away. The son could not tell him in person that he was getting a divorce with his wife.
As a prank, I showed the most ridiculous video once of an individual portraying himself as a tantric master and I told the manager of a spiritual teacher that she wanted to work with him and invite him to her facility. Though he was conservative and in any other circumstances would have been outraged at the video, he expressed that he was impressed with the tantric teacher and would do the necessary to bring him. I was in complete disbelief that the prank worked so well with no resistance on his part.
A community member of a spiritual teacher fell in love with a woman. He wanted to have children with her but his teacher could not handle having children around him. His teacher required him to continue living with him at the same time. He complied and buried the issue. His girlfriend eventually left him as she understood her family life and her needs would be always second to the whims of his partner’s spiritual teacher.
Enabling the dysfunctional relationship by feeding the partner’s shadows
As we have learned previously, the codependent is an enabler that does not make his narcissistic partner accountable in any way. As a result, the partners’ mental health continue to decline and his narcissistic and paranoid tendencies get worse overtime. While this is true that the narcissists’ natural tendency would be to be comforted in their drama, and have little interest for personal accountability, the codependent enabling tendencies make it much worse. There is a famous quote from Edmund Burke “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. The codependents are these “good men” that do nothing. Codependents and narcissists feed each other false selves as they grow more unhealthy dependency with each other. To survive the dysfunctional environment, the codependent has learned not to challenge the narcissist and on the opposite to play with their shadows to ensure his safety. In return, the narcissist gets addicted to the false validation he gets from the codependent. They both isolate from the rest of the world so that they may not be challenged in their vision of reality. As the borderline/narcissists get more controlled by their addictions, shadows and inflated sense of self, the more they may be controlled by the codependent. Edmund Burke said also “Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver”. Why it is one thing to boost our loved ones’ self confidence, it is another thing to feed their inflated sense of self. By using flattery on his narcissistic partner, the codependent understands he can kill two birds at once. He gains his favor while isolating him from potential rivals. I remember a situation where a follower was shamed for hours by a spiritual teacher and his codependent manager for recommending a change of schedule where another teacher would come on the last day of the program. The codependent manager of the spiritual teacher insisted he was the best of the world so that he had to conclude the program. The spiritual teacher fell for it and went on a rant for hours how this so-called fan could even dare to propose this change of schedule. He was very insecure and insisted for anyone around him to always say he was the best in the world. If anyone would see the value in another spiritual teacher, they would have to face the borderline rage of the teacher that was fueled by the codependent manager. Over time, he developed paranoia for anyone who could potentially compete with him so he got rid of his best disciples, which also comforted the codependent manager who felt insecure with anyone who could have direct access to the teacher. A “royal court” was formed around the teacher that isolated him from reality, and consequently his mental health declined at a rapid pace as his narcissism turned into megalomania.
Denial is prevalent for both the borderline/narcissists and their codependent partners. By staying as victims, they avoid facing their own shame. They both play an elaborate dance to construct a reality that boost each other ego but isolate them from the rest of the world. While the codependent gets rewarded by praise, appreciation, a sense of control, attention and often financial security from their dominant partner, the narcissist gets a sense of security and personal power as their self-concept stays unchallenged. As the pattern amplifies, the chance for this duo to build or maintain any authentic relationship become smaller and smaller. The narcissistic partner thinks he is the one in control however the more their ego get inflated, the more controllable they become by their co-dependent partner that lead the way from behind the scenes. The codependent feeds on the partner’s mental health issues. They may get drown and overwhelmed at times by their partner narcissistic episodes but they know it is just a matter of time for them to regain control as their partners’ steam run out. The narcissist cannot have friends. He can only have employees, followers or fans, basically transactional relationships.
The codependent pattern will encourage the negative behavior “I am serving your father a glass of Whiskey because he needs to relax after a long day” while a more healthy partner will set a clear boundary “If you continue drinking I will have no other choice to leave though I love you very much”. A friend of mine contacted me recently. She broke up with a boyfriend she loved very much because he started being abusive with her. It broke her heart to do it but she knew this was the only way to wake him up. This is the difference between codependent and healthy relationships. The codependent will feed your shadows to be in control and create more unhealthy dependency. Healthy partners will not hesitate to confront you on your shadows even at their detriment. An intimate relationship is the closest mirror we can have. Do you choose to mirror your partner light or darkness? And remember by doing this, you are doing else then mirroring your own light and darkness. By committing to support your partners to become the best version of themselves, you are doing the same to yourself. Codependents choose to do the opposite because of their own insecurity.
The codependents cannot meet their needs directly so they manipulate
This came from childhood trauma. The codependent was simply an accessory to their primary caregivers narcissistic needs. They never received the mirroring they needed to discover their authentic selves. Not only are they unable to meet their needs directly but they are simply completely unaware of their needs. They are actually terrified to figure out what their needs are as this would mean they could be rejected or ridiculed for wanting what they need. It feels so much safer to say their needs do not matter or focus instead on the needs of others. They place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with other people needs. For this reason, many codependents learn to be self‐sufficient and to deny their emotional needs, and this is not sustainable. They match perfectly their narcissistic partners that are self-focused on their own needs. If your important emotional needs were shamed or ignored in your childhood, would you not grow up shutting down the feelings associated with those needs? Why would you feel a need if you do not expect it to be filled? It is less painful to deny it entirely. However, no one can un-need what they need so they live in state of emotional starvation and develop manipulation strategies to meet their needs indirectly.
Manipulation through communication triangulation, being double faced, alienation and” Divide and Conquer” strategies
Codependency is more about why and how you do things than what you do. Their actions are often driven by not getting in trouble with their partners instead of doing what feels right according to their authentic self (that they do not know). They rarely perform any action from their heart instead they expect something in return. They have a transactional mind. Codependent parents would often remind children of all the sacrifice they endured to raise them to adulthood. If they want to be touched by their partners, they would offer to give them a massage instead of asking directly for their needs. The massage would not feel good because of the feeling of expectation. And if the partner does not reciprocate, they are then punished emotionally through withdrawal. If they want a night girl out, they would ask their male counterpart if they would be interested to spend a weekend away with his friends. If they would like to bring their parents over, they would encourage their partners to have their parents visit. Once their partners express their own needs, then they feel they are allowed to express their own needs. It is an exhausting way to live life and they are continuously set-up for disappointment. A relationship is not about keeping counts but it is about meeting each other needs in a mutually beneficial way. When someone does not express their needs directly, the probability for someone else to meet these needs go drastically down. Because of their deep shame, they spend a lot of energy justifying why they need what they need. They react often in a passive aggressive way when they unexpressed needs are unmet. I knew a woman that was in love with another woman but she could not face the truth that she was a lesbian. She made herself her caregiver. Once she felt she had leverage by becoming more indispensable, she would threaten she may leave to find the love of her life (often described as a male). This would make the other woman panic however it was obvious that she did not intend to go anywhere. She eventually succeeded in splitting her with her husband by becoming what she felt the other woman really wanted and by showing her the incompatibilities she perceived with the husband the other woman loved. These types of relationship are doomed and I can speak from experience. I have too attracted lovers and partners by pretending to be what they wanted to see. However we can only hide for so long. Once the real us come out, our partners feel duped and they make our lives impossible. A common ploy for codependents interested in a woman that is a single mum is to build rapport with her children. They understand the intense guilt the targeted partner is experiencing from not providing a full-time and caring father to her children. Overtime, however, the single mum often realizes that the new partner never truly cared or had true ownership with their children. And if the man leaves the relationship, there is no interest in maintaining the relationship with the children.
The codependent cannot be trusted because he is double faced. He shows a different face for every different person he is interacting with. He is a people pleaser and adapts his messaging accordingly. I am also guilty to have played the same codependent game with my company executives in the past. A vice president would come to my office complaining about the behavior of another executive that they would consider bossy, disrespectful and unprofessional. I would empathize with her and would confirm the flaws she had noticed in him. Then the other executive would stop by my office complaining about the immaturity and lack of experience about the first one. I would validate the same way, happy to get rapport through opposition. I felt good and important as the rescuer. However I was undermining my management team spirit and cohesion. Then I was acting surprised why these grown-up executive cannot get along and keep fighting! Overtime, they lost trust with me as they could feel my lack of authenticity.
During one of my divorces, I trusted an individual to act as an intermediary of my wife to act on her behalf, as she was too emotional to take care of legal details of the split. He was very nice and amicable with me while I realized only months later, he was disparaging me behind my back as friends made me listen to voice mails he was leaving about me. Instead of making things better with my ex wife, he kept putting oil on the fire to antagonize each other behind our backs. Both she and I felt very thankful to him at the time to act as a mediator as the other party seemed crazy and ill intentioned not realizing he was largely responsible for the increased strife between us through triangulation. The intermediary ended up getting married to my former spouse!
The codependent learned at an early age to manipulate their caregivers to survive emotionally in a dysfunctional environment. They are excellent at identifying the blind spots to the people around them for their benefit. The can place shame on others to manipulate a situation and then use charm to come off caring as their typical fashion to get what they want from others. They are experts in alienation and playing on people fears. They identify a weakness in a rival and makes a crack looks like a canyon while they state how different they are. Sometimes they just make things up and hope they will get away with it. A friend of mine did not know anything about finances so her business manager puts doubts in her mind that her husband was embezzling money to create a rift in their relationship as the manager was in love with her. He also showed her how her husband was a liability to her career while at the very same time he kept complementing the husband on his contribution to her business. The wife fell for it and divorced the husband while she was away from the husband on a business trip while the manager took on the savior role. The manger continued to ensure there would be no contact between them so that she would never figure out the manipulation that had taken place. “Divide and conquer” is the favorite power dynamic of the codependent.
I knew a lady that lived with her best friend and his girlfriend. Both girls used to get along very well. He was very codependent and made his girlfriend feel he cannot fully present to her because of the commitment he has towards his best friend that was also his employer. He made his friend/employer insecure that telling her that he cannot be really there for her because of his relationship to his girlfriend, which he claimed was the most important thing in his life. As a result, the two ladies that really adored each other started feeling threatened with one another.
When we did not receive enough nurturing or had your feelings respected, we may attempt to fill this void with an addiction. Addictive relationships or substances serve as a substitute for real connection. Some people are caretakers who hope to receive love in return but are unable to be vulnerable about their own feelings, which is necessary to maintain an intimate relationship.
Many who don’t recognize their needs for support and comfort isolate — especially when they’re hurting. Even with awareness of their needs, asking someone to meet them can feel humiliating.
As a result, many people turn to some addiction. Many of my clients had a codependent father or mother that was alcoholic. I had an uncle that was a gambler to compensate for the lack of intimacy in his marriage. I became a workaholic and the high intensity of running a Silicon Valley business was my own way of compensating. Some men escape in following sports on TV while many women do the same with their soap operas. The options of escape are endless to avoid feeling the lack of intimacy and connection that we are experiencing.
The goal of the addiction is to prevent us from experiencing painful feelings, often originating from childhood traumas. It is critical we allow ourselves to sit with these painful emotions and do shadow work when they come up instead of falling for an addiction to escape. As we experience consciously these difficult feelings, we will start healing and eventually generate the desires to make the necessary changes in our life to create a life that genuinely feels good.
Replaying trauma from childhood
Codependency is often associated with abusive, addictive, or controlling home environments. Or it may be the product of emotional neglect and absence. Any painful experience from childhood has the potential to become a trauma that can affect our present actions. Fortunately, there are many modalities today that can support soul retrieval so that you do not need to manifest into your life the original trauma. I knew a woman who suffered incest from her brutal father all of her childhood. As a child and teenager, she kept fantasizing that mum would leave dad to save her. Unfortunately, mum was very codependent and an enabler to the abuse so the rapes continued into adulthood. She brought that intense desire into her adult self and she became a close confidante to a married woman. The wife had suffered a lot of abuse too in her childhood in the hands of a psychopath. They both replayed their drama and made the husband the bad guy they had to escape from. The husband was ostracized overnight and completely cut from his family. Even months after the separation had taken place, they were still making lists to demonize the poor fellow. The husband was abandoned by his mum when he was a child so this is why he was a match to this experience as well. There are no bad people only people who have been traumatized. If their childhood traumas are not healed, people will have a tendency to replay them in their adult lives. If they are unable to heal, their traums will unfortunately repeat into the next generation, the lives of their children. This is why soul retrieval and trauma healing are the most important thing we will ever do.
Unhealthy dependency instead of autonomy
Human beings are a social species so we need each other to live a good life. There are healthy dependencies and unhealthy ones too. The codependent has the later form of dependency. Their fear of loneliness would keep them in abusive and dysfunctional relationships instead of looking for better options for partners. In a codependent relationship, the codependent’s sense of purpose is based on making extreme sacrifices to satisfy their partner’s needs. Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy “clinginess”, where one person does not have self-sufficiency or autonomy. One or both parties depend on their loved one for fulfillment. In romantic relationships that do not involve children, we need to remember that the individual in the relationship is more important than the relationship. There should be no coercion in such relationships. The codependents need to be committed to put themselves first and accept that it is better to be alone than being with people that are not ready to accept and love their authentic selves. Of course, they first need to figure out what this authentic self is all about. Once they make this step, they will be on their way to create a life that feels good. Thich Naht Hanh said “You must love in a way that the person you love feels free”. To become autonomous is to able to share a life with a loved one without trying to possess or control him/her. We do not need to possess him/her because they live within us. It is not anymore a relationship where two become one, but two become three: the two partners and the relationship. They create a conscious relationship instead of being consumed by it.
How bad can codependency get?
The Selena story
Selena Quintanilla-Perez was an American singer that achieved international fame. Her story was immortalized in the Selena movie starring Jennifer Lopez. As Selena’s singing schedule became more demanding, she came to rely on Yolanda Saldivar, a San Antonio nurse who had founded her fan club in 1991 and was a devoted follower of the band. The family did not realize how much of a sycophant she was. Shy, plain-looking, and eleven years Selena’s senior, Saldivar made herself indispensable, taking on the job of managing the boutiques and eventually becoming Selena’s confidante. Selena had a caring but narcissistic father that was ruling the whole family. As a result, Selena desperately needed a confidante outside her family circle. That’s when Yolanda stepped into her life and made it seem like she was taking care of everything. Yolanda appeared to everyone like someone sweet, like a mother figure. She used to mother people around her and ask, “Do you need anything, m’ijo/a?”. Yolanda managed to gain a lot of importance in Selena’s life. Whether Selena realized it or not, Yolanda became her filter and gatekeeper. Selena had lots of friends working for her at the beginning of her career. Once Yolanda came on board, she got rid of Selena’s friends one by one. Anyone who captured Selena’s attention, she eliminated. After the family found out that Yolanda was taking advantage of her position to steal money, she felt her life was over and shot Selena to death as her life felt meaningless without Selena. By killing her, Yolanda assured that her name would be associated with Selena for eternity.
Wild Wild Country: Osho and Sheela
A recent documentary Wild Wild Country narrates the rise and fall of Osho Rajneesh, a gifted and controversial spiritual leader that set-up a community in the US state of Oregon. Osho’s passion was teaching spirituality and waking up his followers through various healing modalities. He trusted a young and a very ambitious early disciple of his: Ma Anand Sheela to deal with all the material and organizational aspects in creating the community. Osho liked reclusion and long periods of time for meditation and contemplation so he let naively Sheela take more and more power. For a very long time, she was the only one meeting with Osho and through communication triangulation, she was able to dictate all important decisions in the community. People started to fear her. Power went to her head, as she obviously did not have the experience, integrity and wisdom to handle this level of responsibility and decision-making. She created her own group of devotees and instructed some of them to perform unethical actions. For example, he convinced one of her close follower to kill a doctor that she felt was getting too close to Osho. Unbeknownst to Osho, she built a multi million dollar center to spy on all community members. She armed the community, brought thousands of homeless people from all over the country to win county elections and poisoned the water of the nearby town. During this time, Osho was doing a 3 years’ silent. The whole state of Oregon that had been antagonized by Sheela’s actions was on high alert to bring the community down. Sheela was finally arrested but US officials felt it was safer to bring Osho down too. He was arrested too, and suffered such bad treatment in custody that he died a few months later.
These are some of the most extreme forms of codependency and everyone can see how dangerous it can be. Idolatry can flatter the ego but everything is a transaction for the codependent. It is just a matter of time that they will come for their due once the dependency is complete. Every relationship is a mirror and one cannot be controlling in a relationship without being controlled oneself. We eventually receive what we give in a relationship. How do you recognize a dysfunctional relationship from a healthy one? The dysfunctional one puts you down while the healthy one will make you a better human being.
My mother was raised in the French foster system. My father was a product of the Second World War and only reconnected with his mum when he was 10. As a result, they suffered from severe attachment trauma and shame. She was a discouraged borderline struggling with depression and he was a codependent that lost his ability to feel. Because my father was mostly absent, I was parentified and developed a fusional relationship with my mother. Both my sister and I could not receive in this family environment the emotional nurturing we needed to develop secure attachment. I coped by being the best at school and in general the best boy possible so I became the Golden Child and started building strong codependent tendencies. My sister struggled to cope in this family environment and became the Scapegoat and started developing borderline tendencies. When I was 9, our parents divorced. Mum could not cope anymore with the emotional unavailability of dad, and left overnight leaving both my sister and me behind to live with her new companion. She was clumsy in explaining to us her departure. At that point in my life, my mum was everything. She was a stay-at-home, we spent a lot of time together and I was meant to fill the emotional void my dad had left. We had a fusional relationship. While it is natural for a 9 year old to be dependent upon his mother, my dependency was even more pronounced, as she was so afraid of being alone. To make it worse, when she ran away, I was left with an emotionally unavailable father. My new stepmother was a petulant borderline. As a codependent, my dad needed to appear as the good guy so played sides instead of fighting for inclusion. As a result, she saw us as a clear threat to her relationship to our dad. This led to a second abandonment where my dad gave us away back to my mum and we hardly saw him after that. This second abandonment was very hard on me as I asked my dad to stay with him. Though he was an absent father, I had developed an intense fear around my mum unpredictability so felt safer to stay with him at the time instead of going back to mum. But he just gave me back to mum without even giving to us an explanation. As a result, my child self developed the core belief of being “bad”, in fact “very bad” for parents not wanting to be with me. And shortly after being reunited with mum, both sets of parents had a baby son. This reinforced how bad we had to be that we needed to be replaced. My goal in sharing this story is not to throw my parents under the bus as I have repeated myself many of their mistakes but to share with the readers how attachment traumas are created.
I coped with the deep core belief of being so bad by becoming a hyper-achiever. I had a bright mind and used it to my advantage to bury my core shame of being unlovable so that my achievements could give me the positive attention I was desperately craving for. To cope with my attachment trauma, all my focus turned into the goal of being admitted to Ecole Polytechnique, the most prestigious engineering school of France. To reach that goal, I worked insanely for the 2 years after high school. I would study until 12:30 AM every night and only give myself Saturday afternoon to bike in the Cote d’Azur countryside. As it was a national exam, I was competing with the brightest and most hard-working students in my age category in France. I became interested in the occult as a short cut to become super smart as I felt being the best was the only way I could be loved. Actually many kids today that are fascinated by the Marvel super hero movies and comics feel very powerless and out of control as they feel unlovable in their present state. I ended up not making it to Ecole Polytechnique but to the second best engineering school of France Ecole Centrale Paris, which was an excellent achievement. While I thought reaching my goal would bring me happiness, the opposite happened. I had lost the goal that was distracting me from my misery. I felt distressed and I could not explain why. I did not feel I belonged anywhere. I started drinking heavily and my connection with women was limited to meaningless one-night stands. I started developing a profound disgust to myself. I had read lots of books from Osho Rajneesh (see documentary Wild Wild West on Netflix) and I enjoyed very much his provocative insights, vast knowledge and wisdom. One day, when I felt particularly miserable and was looking for an answer, I drew a card from his tarot deck. It was the Master card, the 79th card in Osho’s tarot deck. I interpreted the meaning of this card that I had to find a master because I felt so stuck. Awakening felt like the answer to my suffering. An occult group in Paris was leaving bookmarks in Osho Rajneesh books. It was called The Fellowship of Friends that proclaimed to be a fourth way school following the teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, two famous Russian mystics. Osho spoke frequently of Gurdjieff in his books. I contacted them and after three prospective meetings, I was determined to join to put an end to my misery and isolation.
At first, my experience in the cult was exhilarating. I felt an intense sense of belonging, I was given a new meaning for my life, I was surrounded with many smart, mature and wise people, my mind was stimulated by new and fascinating esoteric knowledge, my ego was gratified by feeling among the chosen ones and having a direct connection to God (called Influence C in that group), I was developing deeper connections with people and my life became full of new exciting experiences and adventures. Being in a cult at that time was actually an improvement to my state compared to the powerlessness, isolation, addiction and depression that I had been struggling with. Actually, a lot of people go from substance or sexual addiction to becoming fundamentalist newborn Christians, this is actually an improvement too. There is a reason why the 12-step program is so religious.
If you want to better understand the type of cult I joined, you may be interested to watch the documentary Holy Hell on Netflix. Both my cult leader Robert Earl Burton and Michel Rostand in Holy Hell are megalomaniac and homosexual predators. They believe they are fully awakened. They are highly manipulative and believe that it is an honor to be used by them. They are very authoritative and exercise full control over the life of their members. Robert’s group the fellowship of friends was a bit larger than Michel’s as it reached over 3,000 members at its prime time. Robert demanded 10% of every member income, sex from any male member he found attractive (most of them being heterosexual and having no interest to have sex with a man) and compliance to his instructions as he saw himself more evolved than Christ himself.
In most cases unfortunately, a guru/disciple relationship is nothing else than a narcissist/co-dependent relationship. It is a dysfunctional relationship where needs are met in ways that are destructive, manipulative and covert. What is the dynamic of this dysfunctional relationship? Because of their attachment traumas, the co-dependents have developed core shame and believe they are bad and as a result, there are unable to see their own light. They have disown their light and their guru has disowned his shadow. The relationship that they are developing with a narcissistic guru will then reflect their unworthiness and they are therefore a perfect match to their cult leader because of their core belief of being bad. The codependents are attracted to the charm, boldness, confidence and domineering personality of the narcissist. The codependents reflexively give up their power; since the narcissist thrives on control and power, there is an intense attraction between them. The narcissist guru find recruits who lack self-worth, confidence and who have low self-esteem — codependents. Through smart manipulation the narcissist leader is able to conceal his lower motives and maintain an unsullied reputation—at least in the beginning. They are often highly intelligent, possess esoteric information that is very attractive to their followers, and are well aware of mind control techniques. Most use the technique of undermining the follower’s sense of self by subtle criticism or exposing personally embarrassing situations to trigger their core shame—all this in the name assisting the person to transcend ego. They establish their superiority over their followers by claiming super powers that cannot be verified. For example, Robert would claim “I have fully developed higher centers”, “I live in a pure state of presence & being”, “I am omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent”. Anyone questioning the claims of the guru is shamed for lacking faith, devotion or is seen as disruptive for the group cohesion. Because co-dependents have such fear of abandonment, they typically err on the safe side by unconditionally siding with the guru’s views with the rest of the followers. Over time, even as the disciples become aware of the guru abuse, they look the other way, as they understand that the cult leader owns the relationships in the group and any opposition would mean ex-communication, which is perceived as the worst possible punishment for people with abandonment traumas. Once we have accepted the cult as our family, we are stuck. There is another important reason why it is so difficult to leave these dangerous cults. We have disowned our relationship to our Creator, God or Source and believed we are dependent on the group and the cult leader to access it. Leaving the group is then associated with cutting our connection to the divine, which is a deeply entrenched fear in humans. We have been controlled for millenniums by the fear of rotting in hell for eternity. When I announced my departure of the cult to Robert in 1996, he warned me that I would lose my connection to “Influence C” (i.e. God). At the end, I only lost my connection to a demon 😉
I had made the Fellowship of Friends my family, I was part of the cult inner circle, I had adopted the cult beliefs and language, I had very little connection with my blood family. So how was I able to leave it when I was only 23 confronting the cult leader Robert Earl Burton on my last day while so many other more mature, smarter and experienced members stayed stuck there for so many years?
- First, I stayed in contact with a French healer Jacques who I intuitively felt had many more spiritual abilities than my guru who claimed to be God on earth. He helped my deprogramming in smart and subtle ways.
- I was not completely dependent on the group as I just started a programmer job in Silicon Valley.
- I rented a room in a house with an individual that had his own teacher Elias De Mohan, a remarkably psychic man that was not cultish. This again challenged Robert’s claim that he was the most conscious being on earth.
- After attending so many Robert’s events, he looked like a parrot repeating the same thing over and over again so I did not feel I was learning anything new anymore.
- The cult organization destroyed my relationship with a woman I was deeply in love with and built resentment toward the cult as a result.
- I understood how wasteful Robert was with money and I did not want him to do this with 10% of my income now that I had a good job.
- However, I think the biggest factor came from my own attachment trauma. I had lost my family already when I was a kid and knew I could survive it. Or maybe subconsciously, I wanted to re-experience the pain of losing my family again for healing purpose. In any case, my own trauma benefited me in this situation.
Most of my friends in the cult ended up only leaving the cult 13 years later after all the abuse was made public through this public blog.
In summary, here is what the cult member gets from the transaction:
- The cult member gets his core belief of being unlovable, bad and unworthy validated, replaying childhood attachment trauma. Many co-dependents have learned that they only get loved by being down on themselves and making the other better than they are
- The cult member gets belonging & connection with like-minded individuals. He gets a new family (with conditional love)
- The cult members gets to experience the divine and higher part of them that they have disowned through the guru
- The cult member gets a sense of (false) security through the guru self-confidence, assertiveness, and views on the meaning of life that are simple to understand
- The cult member gets new goals and activities so that he does not have to face his own inner turmoil and demons anymore. He is given a new direction that prevents him to dwell more on his/her own misery so feels better as a result. Actually, many of these activities allow the individual to develop his creativity far more than what he was doing in the past. The caveat is that the guru is the one benefiting financially for the disciple newfound creativity, not the individual
These benefits provide enough value to the disciple that they will often surrender their free will, financial resources and even their own body to the leader. Disappointment with the leader, acknowledgement of the abuse will eventually force the follower to re-own his own power and needs, stand on his own feet to live his own life, a more authentic life. At this stage, the follower feels angry, betrayed and intense grief. What was heaven now seems hell. Eventually, they will need to digest this experience in more objective terms for true healing to take place. They feel like a victim but eventually needs to own how their own attachment traumas played a role to be a match to this experience. They will able to take responsibility for joining a cult and forgiving themselves for doing so. Actually, many people are able to create fulfilling and successful lives after a cult experience if they can learn all the lessons that came with it.
Paradoxically, cult leaders hold often even more core shame than their followers. Their shame is so repressed that they can only see it externally through their own disciples. We have to remember that cult leaders and followers, just like narcissists and co-dependents are simply the mirrored repressed aspects of each other. Many cult leaders are hyper achievers to cover up their own sense of inadequacy, and many have developed special abilities to maintain the illusion of personal greatness so that they would never have to face how bad they actually feel about themselves. Actually, both cult leaders and their members are in a state of dysfunctional and unhealthy dependency. The guru deals with his insecurity around that dependency by creating a large narcissistic supply of followers to ensure that his needs would always be met. It is actually harder for the guru to growth and heal as he has completely disowned his shame and buried his vulnerability. Actually, therapists see a lot of codependents but narcissists never come to their office. This is because narcissists can never admit there is something wrong with them while codependents are so good at finding fault within themselves as they have learned to get rewarded and receive love for showing their imperfection to the narcissist. All cult leaders suffered from severe trauma from their childhood that they never healed. Theo Dorpat wrote in his book “Wounded Monster” about the importance of Hitler’s (the most infamous cult leader of all times) childhood trauma to explain his destructive behaviors.
What does the cult leader gets from the transaction?
It feels alone at the top so actually the cult leader in most case does not get belonging or connection. He feels often alone and disconnected from others. They are unable to develop equal authentic relationships with others as they see the world in a hierarchical way. This is why so many cult leaders, especially if they are men, turn into sex addicts. Sex is the only way they can get the connection they desperately need. In general, the cult leader will get his followers to talk his or her love language whether it is act of service, words of affirmation, gifts, time together or touch to fill the void of their pathological loneliness. The bigger the void, the bigger the need for external adoration. The same pattern can be observed with stars and their fans, or with any narcissistic leader and their subordinates.
The leader gets tremendous energy from their followers and it typically feeds their lower shakras because of lack of purity and integrity: financial security with the first shakra, sexual gratification with the second shakra or power with the third shakra. This energy rarely reached the higher shakras because their character has been perverted: the fourth to experience pure love for their followers through service (ex. burning heart of Christ), the fifth to express it creatively, the sixth to lead with vision and the seventh to stay aligned with the rest of creation.
Ego is nothing else than the illusion of separateness. As the ego gets gratified, the identification with the ego becomes stronger and stronger and the connection with the authentic self weaker and weaker. They become sociopathic then psychopathic as their disorder develops. This means that they are able to cut their own unpleasant feelings through rationalization. As a result, they repress their own emotional pain & suffering which now become externalized in the pain & suffering of their followers that have not completely cut the connection to their heart.
Gurus are often high-functioning psychopath that display superficial charm, a grandiose sense of self, lack of remorse or empathy, lack of introspection, cunning behavior, lying, egocentricity, parasitic lifestyle, and more often than not, sexual exploitation. While their followers admire them, their psychological condition is often worse than the people they abuse. Behind close doors, they are deeply tormented and often resort to diverse addictions to shut the door of their own conscience torturing them. Their mental health is plagued with anti-social disorders, paranoia and self-hatred.
What do they need to heal? A collapse of their universe with people turning against them and keeping them accountable for their own actions. In 1996, during the third year at my cult, I went to Russia. The Soviet block had collapsed and there was a lot of interest for spirituality. I start giving there teaching dinners and running large meetings about the group teaching. The women were beautiful and I was falling in love every day. My success went to my head and I was becoming a mini-guru. The cult leader Robert Burton heard from others that I was taking too much liberty and I was reprimanded and fined at my return to the US. They crushed me and this is the best thing they could have done to downsize my ego that had got too inflated. Of course, the fact that he punished me for actions he would do himself behind people’s back did not sit too well for me and acted as a catalyst for me to leave.
Of course, not all spiritual teachers are narcissist or have dysfunctional parasitic relationship with their followers. What is most important for those seeking spiritual guidance is to keep their critical thinking alive as they approach any spiritual teacher. The questions they must ask ourselves are:
- Does this teacher walk his/her talk? Does this teacher live by the precepts he/she teaches?
- Is the teacher respectful of you? Do they automatically assume you are below them?
- Do they have a grandiose sense of self?
- Do you feel manipulated in any way by this person?
- Do they require zealous, unquestioning commitment and subservience to the leader?
- Is questioning, doubt, and dissent discouraged or even punished?
- Is the group elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader and members?
- Does the leadership induce feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members?
- Do they encourage members to cut ties with family and friends outside the group? Are members encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members?
- Does the group use subtle maneuvers to make it difficult for you to leave? Do they punish you if you leave? Are you ostracized if you leave the group?
Once these question are answered to your satisfaction, this somewhat suspicious stance can be relinquished in order to assimilate the instruction you desire, and to create an open-hearted relationship with your spiritual teacher.