Codependency: Don’t Dance!
by Ross Rosenberg
The “Codependency Dance” requires two people: the pleaser/fixer and the taker/controller. This inherently dysfunctional dance occurs when one partner is a Codependent and the other a Narcissist or Addict. Codependents usually do not know how to emotionally disconnect or avoid significant relationships with individuals who are selfish, controlling, and harmful to them. They habitually enter into relationships with a partner who perfectly matches with their relationship pattern or “dance style.”
Codependents are naturally the followers in their relationship dance. When their passive style is paired up with a partner whose dance style is controlling and self-confident, the dance sizzles with excitement – at least, in the beginning. After many “songs,” what was once mesmerizing and exciting usually will transform into a dance that is defined more by drama, conflict, and feelings of being trapped. Whether the two are mesmerized or infuriated with each other, the compulsion to dance with their partner continues; neither wants to sit the dance out.
When a codependent and narcissist come together in a relationship, their “dance” unfolds flawlessly: the narcissistic partner maintains the lead and the codependent follows. Because the codependent gives up their power, the dance is perfectly coordinated. No one gets their toes stepped on.
Typically, codependents give of themselves much more than their partners. As a “generous” but bitter partner, they seem to be stuck on the dance floor, always waiting for the “next song,” at which time their partner will finally understand their needs. The codependent confuses care-taking and sacrifice with love and responsibility. Although they are proud of their self-described strengths – unselfishness and endless compassion – they end up feeling deflated, used and yearning to be loved, but angry that they are not.
Codependents are essentially stuck in a pattern of giving and sacrificing, without the possibility of receiving the same from their partner. When they dance, the Codependent fulfills the “dance role” by allowing their self to be led in any direction that their Narcissistic partner may lead. The Codependent pretends to enjoy the dance, but really feels anger, bitterness, sadness and loneliness for not taking an active role in the dancing experience. The Codependent is often pessimistic and doubtful that they are good enough to find a dance partner who will love them for who they are as opposed to what they can do for them. Their self-doubt and pessimism turns into a form of learned helplessness that keeps them dancing with their Narcissistic partner.
Naturally, the Narcissist is attracted to a significant other OR companion who matches up with his self-absorbed, selfish, and entitled dance style. They are naturally attracted to dancers who lack self-worth and have low self-esteem – Codependents. They intuitively know that they will be able to control their dance partner and, therefore, also be able to control the entire experience.
All Codependents want balance in their relationships, but seem to consistently choose a partner who leads them to chaos and resentment. When given a chance to stop, dancing with their Narcissistic partner, or comfortably sit out the dance until someone healthy comes around, they typically choose to continue their dysfunctional dance. The Codependent dares not leave their Narcissistic (…) dance partner for they lack the self-esteem and sense of self-worth to sit the dance out. Being alone is the equivalent of feeling lonely, and loneliness is too painful of a feeling to bear.
Without self-esteem or feelings of personal power, the Codependent does not know how to choose healthy and mutually giving partners. Their inability to be in a relationship with a balanced and healthy partner is usually related to an unconscious motivation to find a person who is familiar…someone who reminds them of their powerless childhood. Many codependents were children of parents who also danced the dysfunctional dance flawlessly. Their fear of being alone, compulsion to control and fix at any cost, and comfort in their role as the martyr who is endlessly loving, devoted, and patient, is often connected to the parent role they observed early on in their childhood.
No matter how often the Codependent tries to avoid “unhealthy” partners, they find themselves consistently on the dance floor mesmerized by different songs, but with the same partner. Through psychotherapy and, perhaps, a 12-step recovery program, the Codependent begins to recognize that their dream – to dance the grand dance of love, reciprocity and mutuality – is indeed possible. Through therapy and a change of lifestyle, they build self-esteem, personal power, and motivation to finally find dance partners who are willing and capable to share the lead, communicate their movements, and pursue a shared rhythm.