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Why You’re Probably Not Co-Dependent (And You’ve Got Super-Powers Instead!)

by | Mar 9, 2020 | Emotional Abuse, Learning, Survivor Identity | 21 comments

Society often labels abuse survivors as co-dependent. They already feel unseen and unheard, and when society confirms that the victim isn’t known or understood, it serves as another smoke screen that keeps the victim confused about who she is. Not the best environment for healing.

According to Everyday Health, a codependent person may have problems in the following areas:

  • Having difficulty making decisions in a relationship
  • Having difficulty identifying your feelings
  • Having difficulty communicating in a relationship
  • Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself
  • Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem
  • Having fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval
  • Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships, even at your own cost
  • Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others

How many of you would read that list and say, “Well – maaaaaaaybe. But I wasn’t anything like that before I had been married to an abuser for three decades…” Or maybe you’re thinking, “No way. I’m none of those things. But in my relationship, I need to behave in those ways in order to cope. Outside of my dysfunctional relationship I’m nothing like that.”

Enter Sandra L. Brown, MA, CEO of the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and author of several books, including Women Who Love Psychopaths, and How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved.

With the help of Purdue University, she conducted the first of its kind research study on over 600 survivors of domestic abuse to find out what, if anything, in their personalities contributed to their being drawn into an abusive relationship. And what, if anything, caused them to stay in that relationship for so long. All the participants had to take three different personality tests, and they were also tested for adversive childhood experiences.

What they discovered was fascinating.

She has three rough recordings on her website HERE where she explains the results of this research study. Wouldn’t you like to know what made you susceptible to becoming an abuse victim? That’s what she found out. But it’s over three hours of listening, so I decided to write up a summary here using many of her own words as I took notes. If you want to hear her more complete telling, I encourage you to go listen HERE.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

What the study found is that over 60% of these women did not have adversive childhoods, which is common in people who have co-dependent characteristics, but they did have elevated levels of two personality traits in particular. Basically, abuse survivors are often targeted because of two super-powers:

  1. Agreeableness
  2. Conscientiousness

These are the kinds of personality traits that top academic colleges and corporations hiring for upper management positions look for, because these particular traits are found in highly successful people. They are amazing personality traits to have! And yet, these very traits were what also made these women susceptible to getting into and staying in an abusive relationship.

Sandra Brown breaks down each of these traits into their different facets to give us a better understanding of how each one shows up in a person’s life and how they are exploited by disordered individuals. I took good notes on her lectures, and I’m sharing those notes. But again, to hear the full lecture please go HERE.

Agreeableness – the “Relationship Investment” trait that hooks a woman into an abusive relationship

  1. Trust – This woman is trustworthy and trusting of others. She is optimistic about human nature and believes in the ability for people to change and grow. She projects her own trustworthiness onto others even if they haven’t earned it.
  2. Straightforward – she is up-front and honest, not because she is needy, but because it’s part of her nature. She errs on the side of over-disclosing and making herself vulnerable. This ties into her propensity to trust others wholeheartedly.
  3. Giving Nature – she is sacrificial in her relationships, willing to compromise for the good of the other person. She’s generous, considerate, and altruistic. Outsiders may see this and think she is co-dependent, but this is her nature with everyone. Not just her intimate partner.
  4. Cooperative – She is sociable and reciprocal in relationships. She’s motivated by helping, sharing, donating, and volunteering. She values getting along with others and assisting them rather than attacking them. Again, others may be tempted to view her as a doormat, but in reality, she is wired to deeply care about creating safe spaces for others.
  5. Humble – she is modest in her portrayal of herself. She’s warm and likeable. She is not guarded or stand-offish but rather open and approachable.
  6. Empathy – this woman is compassionate and forgives easily. She enjoys peace and strives to make that possible.
  7. Loyal – she is committed to her obligations, faithful, and has high allegiance to those in her circles. This is the superglue that keeps her stuck in dysfunctional relationships. Her loyalty to herself will eventually help her break free.
  8. Tolerance – she has a high tolerance level for different opinions and behaviors. Her line in the sand of what she will and will not tolerate is drawn pretty far out there. This is what helps her find success in her relationships and her career if she is not being exploited.

Conscientiousness – The “Integrity Driven Life” trait that keeps the woman in the relationship for far too long

  1. Efficient – this woman is competent, resourceful, and slightly perfectionistic. She is a problem solver and naturally resourceful about whatever problems she faces. In a job she is successful and an asset to a company. In an abusive relationship she works relentlessly to solve the behavioral and relational issues her partner has.
  2. Organized – she is the opposite of the Cluster B personality types which tend toward chaotic. She has the personality most likely to be able to tolerate the disposition of a Cluster B individual. She can bring order out of chaos. After she has been in an abusive relationship for a while, she may suffer trauma that causes her to lose this focus and ability, but it is something that she was wired with from birth.
  3. Dependable/Reliable – she takes her obligations and commitments seriously.
  4. Achievement Oriented – she is hard wired to achieve and often expends effort to reach one goal at the detriment of her other goals. We see this as a problem when her abusive partner continuously raises the bar and keeps her hooked into this impossible goal of satisfying him.
  5. Self-disciplined – she is less likely than most people to give up on her relationships and projects. She is not a quitter. (Sadly, when she finally does get to the place of taking care of herself, she is often labeled as a “quitter” even though it is the opposite of her true character.)
  6. Deliberateness – She is cautious, reflective, careful, persevering, and diligent. Sandra points out that survivors are often confused about how they ended up in a pathological relationship when they were cautious and careful about who they dated and married. The reason is because the abusive individual wore a mask and mirrored the target’s qualities.

These character traits are found in leaders who are especially interested in social justice and innovation. People like Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, and a Martin Luther King Jr. had these traits. Nobody would label these people as co-dependent. Instead, they were world-transformers.

It’s tragic that millions of women today and throughout history have had the potential to rock their worlds in profound ways, but instead their character was hijacked, exploited, and neutralized by cultures and people who seek to power-over other human beings. This happens on a global scale, and it happens on a micro-scale in the home.

Jesus came to set women free from this yoke of slavery. He wants to use your gifts and your character – your Super-Powers – to bring love, and light, and healing to this planet and the human lives who live on it. That starts with you.

If you want to learn more about how you can be set free to be the woman God created you to be, I encourage you to join the Flying Free Sisterhood education and support community. You can learn more at joinflyingfree.com.

Fly Free,

Natalie Hoffman

21 Comments

  1. Brittany

    Thank you for writing this! I left an abusive marriage in February. Your words have helped me sift through questions I’ve had about how I ended up with an abusive husband I met in church. “Mirroring” was used throughout our marriage but I couldn’t see that until I began to seek help and educate myself about what God says about love and marriage as well as learning what abusive behavior looks like. You are another blessing from God that has helped me learn more and be reminded that He is El-Roi “The God Who Sees Me.” Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Al

    I am assuming that this may also work in reverse. There are men married to abusive women and suffer much the same as has been described here and elsewhere. The church in particular won’t hear these men, preferring to believe that the woman is the one deserving of sympathy in all cases, and the man deserving of blame.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      While it’s true that there are abusive women, what’s been found in conservative religious environments is that the balance of power puts women at risk due to the misogynistic theology found in those environments.

      This website is for conservative women of faith dealing with abusive men and religious cultures. If you are male and feel emotionally triggered by this website, I encourage you to get similar information from websites like shrink4men.com geared toward a male audience.

      Reply
  3. Leonie

    Thank you so much Natalie, it is so helpful to be reminded if our strengths and ‘super powers’ and reminded if who we were before we met our abusers. I see myself in all of those and I got hooked in just the ways you outlined!! It helps us so much to not write ourselves off and to give us our power back!!

    Reply
  4. Lynne

    Thank you! I’m so tired of the co-dependent label. This list resonated with me. I’m going to listen to her audio. Again, thank you! This really helped me sort through the confusion, like I had something wrong with me.

    Reply
  5. Katie W

    There are so many ways that the uninformed and poorly educated “helping” community reinforces the toxic messages of an original abuser. By labeling the survivor of abuse co-dependent, the victim of abuse, is considered pathological and engaging in a dance she gets something out of. It invalidates her suffering as it makes her somehow responsible for it.

    While recovery from many conditions in life involve self-responsibility, recovering from a narcissistic abuser is not one of them. In fact, all along the perpetrator made her responsible for his reprehensible behavior “if you weren’t so_____I wouldn’t have to _______” . We generally have more sense then telling a crime victim they are to blame for the crime.

    I remember a cop telling women to not engage in risky behavior so they don’t get attacked in an area where the assault rate was really high. The city fathers had a deal with the prison system to release sex offenders in that area. He didn’t mention that. He listed the risky behavior as this “going to an ATM, walking in the park alone, walking on a side walk without a male, listening to an ipod, going anywhere after dark,”. By calling that risky behavior he wasn’t addressing the real problem that the male leaders got lucrative contract to but level 3 offenders in our neighborhoods. Oh but lets blame the women walking on a sidewalk for their assault.

    In fact, the policies set in place by those with power made the town the highest level of assault outside of Detroit. The women didn’t have a chance but if they got assaulted it was there “risky” behavior that brought it on them.

    Abuse survivors are daily brainwashed that the perpetrator in their life behaving badly is their fault. Victims are daily bombarded with a message they are defective. Then along comes a therapist, pastor, counselor, helper, with the same message “you take responsibility for this male mess” after she is brave enough to leave, usually impoverished, without support, broken physically, spiritually and financially by her life with a domestic terrorist.

    She is not believed in the religious circles that contribute to the inequalities in her marriage by their strange doctrines that support abuse. She is ostracized quite often by family, the same person able to hide his true character does it with the people in her life, so leaving makes her a pariah. And then….. it all happened because just as her original abuser said she is defective.

    The best help I ever got was when a wise woman told me there is nothing wrong with the way you give your whole heart when you love, you are a loving person, that is not pathological. that is good. You want to give grace to a someone that could not receive grace. This just means you are Christ like….

    Stop ascribing blame to the victims of a crime, and women that were crime victims, walk away from the counselors that expect you too… you don’t need an extension of your original abuser in your life creating a defective view of your self.

    Reply
  6. Rosalinda

    This rings SO TRUE! Literally the entire list sounds just like me… Thank you thank you thank you!

    Reply
    • Dawnelle

      Wow. When my fabulous counsellor talked to me about co-dependency, I had a hard time with it. It didn’t ring true. But what you just wrote, or most of it, rings true in a huge way. What I also find interesting is that many of these qualities you list are also part of my Myers Briggs personality type, INFJ. I believe the famous people you listed are also that personality type. I am now curious about how many of “us” have a similar Myers Briggs. Hmmm

      Reply
        • Dawnelle

          Well now I wish we could take a poll…lol

          Reply
          • Anzella

            INFJ here too.

            Reply
  7. Emily Smith

    Oh my goodness thank you so much for sharing this summary. I will for sure be listening to the full recordings. I have long hated the codependent label and in fact find that it perpetuates abuse!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Yes – it’s a stereotype that we need to dispel in the culture.

      Reply
  8. Amy

    This was so good, and helped me understand that I’m not actually codependent. Thank you Natalie!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I hope that understanding empowers you to be all that YOU are!

      Reply
  9. Amber Zona

    This is so true! I get so tired of being told I’m an “empath” or “codependent”. I may be empathetic, but I’m not honestly as nice as I picture an empath being! I don’t feel everyone’s pain, sometimes I don’t care. Sometimes I didn’t care about my spouse’s and that kept me feeling guilty and as if I was a bad wife. I do know I’m exceedingly loyal, and that I thought I was on his “team” and it was my job to stand by him, to see the good in him. I just think we should all be kind to each other and try to get along.

    This article reminds me of a book that I found very helpful, it labeled women like us as “caretakers” and I do think that describes me. I always enjoyed babysitting, dreamed of being a mom, and had a mess of kittens to take care of! The book that talked about codependent vs. caretaker is “Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist in Your Life.” It was very helpful, as is your article. I plan to go listen to the entire audio later!

    Thanks so much!!!!!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Interesting – thank you for sharing. I definitely think there is less of a stigma around being a caretaker (people think of a nurse) than a co-dependent (where people think of someone who is weak.)

      Reply
      • Amber Zona

        Yes, a codependent does sound weak….not necessarily true, but you’re right. I think it feels like blaming the victim of the abuse too…”Well, she IS codependent so that’s why she put up with him”.

        Reply
  10. Christina

    Oh, wow. This is the best, most affirming article I have EVER read. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m so glad it was affirming to you, Christina! It’s nice to see ourselves in a positive light for a change.

      Reply

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