Ever had a victim-blamer claim you were “codependent?” That you in some way deserved the abuse, or that it was your fault? Let them know: Codependency was a term historically used to describe interactions between addicts and their loved ones, not victims and abusers. Dr. Clare Murphy asserts that abuse victims can actually exhibit codependent traits as a result of trauma, not because they are, in fact, codependent.
Contrary to popular myth, anyone can be victimized by an abuser – even one with strong boundaries initially, because covert abuse is insidious and unbelievably traumatic, resulting in symptoms of PTSD, Complex PTSD or, if they were abused by a malignant narcissist, what is known as Narcissistic Victim Syndrome. Remember that abuse involves a slow erosion of boundaries over time. The abuser first idealizes the victim, then begins to test and push the boundaries of the victim once he or she has already been conned into the sham of a relationship. Meanwhile, the survivor of abuse is like a frog in slowly boiling water, gaslit into believing that it is all their fault, not knowing the danger they’re in until it’s too late.
What if you believe you are truly codependent in some way? It’s important to keep in mind that the the lines can be blurred between our own traits versus the psychological reliance that arises from having to survive an abusive, unpredictable and tumultuous environment. I don’t think it’s a problem for a survivor of their own accord to say, “I have codependent traits” and work on healing those – especially if they had them before the abusive relationship, but for society to see codependency as the sole reason why abuse has occurred, and use it to blame the abuse victim when there are plenty of victims who were never codependent prior to the experience, is where the harm comes in.
We need to stop stereotyping all abuse victims as codependent and start refocusing on the traumatic bond that forms between abuser and survivor, regardless of the victim’s traits. In some contexts, it may be helpful to pinpoint codependent traits and behaviors during the healing journey, but when the label codependent is used to shame, stigmatize or blame abuse survivors, it becomes very problematic and harmful. We need to be able to take into account the idea that emotional and psychological abuse, much like assault or any other form of physical violence, is not our fault. We can own our agency and heal without having to blame ourselves in the process. The fault lies with the perpetrator, not with the victim.