codependency

Codependency: How are you thinking? The Role of “Blaming”

In my last blog I spoke about codependency and three unrealistic patterns of thinking – or cognitive distortions – that are common in codependent relationships. To recap: I defined “codependency” as a bond between someone addicted to a substance, or who engages in dysfunctional behavior(s), and their counterpart, or codependent, who enables their dysfunctional or addictive behavior.

The codependent, sometimes called the giver, will do all sorts of things that aggravate or perpetuate the taker’s behavior. And the codependent will often make great sacrifices in the name of “caring”. These include trying to fix their counterpart, care-take them, compensate for their irresponsible behaviors, protect them from the negative consequences of their actions, etc. The giver is fueled to do this because their sense of self: their mood, self-esteem, feelings of well-being, and subsequently their actions, are often contingent on the taker’s current emotional state, words, or behaviors.

The term cognitive distortion is an important element in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. The theory behind CBT is that our thoughts, or cognitions, determine our feelings and behaviors. CBT posits that we all possess, and repeat to ourselves, a default set of automatic thoughts, which can cause problems for us when they are not appropriate to the situation at hand. CBT identifies irrational or exaggerated patterns of thinking – or cognitive distortions  -- which go hand-in-hand with these problematic thoughts. They are ways of thinking that that cause people to perceive reality inaccurately. Today, I will highlight one cognitive distortion frequently seen in codependent relationships: Blaming.

Blaming can operate in both members of the relationship, though not always in the same way. A person engages in “blaming” when they hold the other person responsible for their emotional well-being, emotional pain, or even the actions they take. All sorts of interpersonal and intrapersonal problems stem from blaming.

The codependent might say: “He made me feel terrible about myself.” 

This kind of blaming is a distortion: no one can make you feel a certain way. Feeling badly about yourself is a feeling stemming from the belief that the negative comments the taker throws at you must be true. After all, your well-being is contingent upon them (or so your believe) and thus you don’t have to take responsibility for your own feelings or your own welfare.

The partner, or taker, might say: “I drink because you nag me all the time.” 

This kind of blaming absolves the partner from taking responsibility for their actions. If someone else is to blame for their drinking, for example, they are justified in not putting in the effort and feeling the discomfort associated with changing, or in this case, getting sober.

Because they also believe in the legitimacy of blaming, the codependent might corroborate the taker’s belief that they, the giver, is to blame –in this case for their partner’s drinking. The codependent thus assumes responsibility for the taker’s dysfunctional behavior: they blame themselves for it. The result: the codependent might feel tremendous guilt and work themselves into a pretzel to stop “causing” the taker’s problem. 

Here, the blaming is clearly a distortion. It is not realistic to blame yourself for someone else’s dysfunctional behavior. That’s the other person’s responsibility and choice. Taking on the blame again absolves the taker from the responsibility for their own behaviors, and it encourages them to unload their feelings of guilt onto the codependent.

Blaming is not exclusive to codependent relationships either. People have a natural tendency to occasionally blame others for negative situations of their own making to avoid painful feelings like guilt, embarrassment and shame. In a codependent relationship, blaming is the default setting and is corroborated by both parties to distract them from difficult feelings and painful realities. Do you recognize a pattern of blaming in your relationship? If so, the first step to healing is awareness. 

Practicing mindfulness moves you towards awareness by helping you see your current reality – your current situation -- more objectively. Difficult as that awareness can feel, psychotherapy supports you in moving towards acceptance of the reality of your situation, which is a necessary step in the healing process. Psychotherapy offers the tools to facilitate change by teaching you to correct your faulty thought patterns. Mindfulness-based psychotherapy provides you the tools and the support to sit with the difficult feelings surrounding your situation without needing to divert attention from them by engaging in faulty thought patterns such a blaming. 

According to CBT, when thoughts change, feelings and behaviors change. So when even one partner starts to recognize and sit with the reality of their relationship and the difficult feelings associated with it, they can begin to alter their distorted ways of thinking. They can start to change their behaviors in the relationship, which is bound to disrupt unhealthy dynamics, leaving room to develop healthier patterns and a healthier relationship.

Join me in my next blog where we’ll take a closer look at another cognitive distortion you see in codependent relationships: The Control Fallacy. 

Until then!

Codependency: How Are You Thinking?


I work with several clients who say they are codependent or in a codependent relationship. Codependency is defined in a variety of ways by different experts, and plays out differently for different people. Many speak of codependency in close relationships between someone addicted to a substance or behavior and their counterpart (the codependent) who “enables” their addictive behavior. However, a parallel dynamic can also operate in relationships between a codependent person, "the giver" and a non-substance-abusing partner, "the taker", who might possess such qualities as neediness, immaturity, or entitlement or be under-functioning or emotionally troubled.

The codependent, sometimes labeled the giver might try to fix their counterpart, care-take them, compensate for their irresponsible behaviors, protect them from the negative consequences of their actions, etc. These acts of  “caring”, often involve making extreme sacrifices for the taker. The codependent enables their partner, rather than allow them to learn to take responsibility for themselves. The codependent’s sense of self: their mood, self-esteem, feelings of well-being, and subsequently their actions, are often contingent on the taker’s current emotional state, words, or behaviors. The codependent believes that their brand of loving and caring is a good thing, even though others can see how unhealthy it is for both parties. 

What’s going on for the codependent that keeps them in this dysfunctional pattern? Here are some ideas to consider:

What they are thinking: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is based on the premise that our thoughts, or cognitions, determine our feelings and behaviors. CBT posits that we all possess, and repeat to ourselves, a default set of automatic thoughts, which can cause problems for us when they are not appropriate to the situation at hand. CBT identifies irrational or exaggerated patterns of thinking – or cognitive distortions. These are not the thoughts themselves, but ways of thinking that that cause people to perceive reality inaccurately. There are at least three cognitive distortions common in codependent relationships:

1. Blaming

2. Control Fallacy  

3. Fallacy of Change

I’ll explain these distortions in depth in subsequent blogs, but here’s an overview to get you thinking:

  1. Blaming: When people engage in Blaming, they either blame the other person for their emotional distress and any subsequent actions, or they blame themselves for their partner’s dysfunctional behavior and emotional upset.

  2. Control Fallacy: There are two sides to the Control Fallacy:

    A. External Control Fallacy operates when either party believes their problematic behaviors are caused entirely by external forces beyond their control. 

    B. Internal Control Fallacy, is when a codependent might think they are responsible for and can even control their partner’s negative feelings.

    3. Fallacy of Change: A codependent who believes in the Fallacy of Change thinks they are able to change their partner to be who they want them to be and act how they want them to act if they just figure out how to do it. They employ all sorts of indirect and aggressive strategies to change their partner and because their attempts are based on a fallacy, they fail.

In Summary, if you can relate to any of these thought patterns -- if you see codependency in your relationship with someone --  know that this can be a painful situation and at times can feel beyond repair. The good news is that it is not a done deal. You can start by slowing down and increasing awareness of the dynamic you’re entangled in. An example of a practice that helps to increase awareness of your thoughts is mindfulness.

Mindfulness practice and psychotherapy combined can be a way to get in touch with difficult, uncomfortable feelings and make space to accept things as they are rather than viewing reality with a skewed perspective of what’s going on. t’s important to first understand and become more aware of our problematic thought patterns. Once aware, we have the potential to correct those thought patterns, so that feelings and behaviors can change. When one partner’s behaviors change, the other partner can’t help but adjust, and the potential for a new kind of relationship is born.

Stay tuned for my next blog where we’ll take a closer look at Blaming. Until then!