As a therapist, I have had my shares of clients who have codependency issues in the past few years. One thing that I have realized about these clients is that they have similar characteristics in common which sometimes makes it challenging to work with them in therapy. So what are these characteristics that make therapy challenging, when working for this population?

Well first of all, when you see people have codependency issues you will see that they are some of the nicest people that you will ever meet. They are often HSB’s or highly sensitive people. They are often empaths who take on other people’s emotions and in sometimes these emotions manifest in physical illnesses. What creates issues in their relationship is that they often get into relationships with narcissist partners. These relationships often benefit the narcissists since most of their needs are met in the relationship and they don’t have to do anything for it.  However, these relationships have no benefits for the codependence.  Where does codependency come from?  It often comes from a wounded inner child. The codependent is often the most sensitive child in the family that if often in turmoil. Many codependents are parentified as a child and are born into in families who are very chaotic and dysfunctional. As a child the Highly sensitive person in these families subconsciously feels that they are responsible for fixing the who family dynamics. Unfortunately, they continue to do the same thing in their relationships thinking that their love can change the narcissists. I have seen the codependent dragging their partner to therapy for their alcohol abuse issues, make therapy appointment for them that they can not keep and go to any lengths to save a dysfunctional relationship not knowing that no one would be there to help them when they are in need and need help.  A relationship based between a codependent and a narcissist is not based on love but need.

So why is it difficult to work with these clients? Well, I have to say that this has not been my experience with all of my clients. I have had client who were able to heal their inner child and start to have good relationship in their lives.  However, these are clients who often have good self-esteem but this is not the case for all codependent clients.

Self-care often lacks for client with these clients.  In fact, these clients have learned to take care of everyone else, but themselves and no matter how much self-care is emphasized in therapy they spend most of their time taking care of others. Sometimes they even designed their life in a way when they become the caregivers for others.   I remember a client who had issues with sleep and decided to adopt a dog that was sick so that she had to spend most of the night taking care of the dog, even though she had severe issues with insomnia.

other issue that I have seen with client with these clients is that when they come to therapy, they are often exhausted from having to take care of everyone else.

taking care of self is often not a priority for these clients.  These clients sometimes have tendencies to not be consistent in therapy. This issues directly relates to lack of self-worth and self -love which is often their life lesson.

One thing I have realized is that these clients often have a wounded inner child that needs healing and until this inner child is not healed little progress is made in therapy. In fact, it is the inner child that makes decisions for them regarding their relationships. Younger parts often get stuck at an age when they are wounded. If you go and ask a 6 year about what to do
regarding a broken relationship the 6-year-old often does not give the right answer since it feels that it will be abandoned again and is often operating out of fear and not love. Issue that I often run into is that codependents are often in a bad state when they come to therapy and as a therapist, I often ask client first if they are ready to go to their childhood and process some of the things that have happened to them but they are often so exhausted and in such as bad state that sometimes makes therapy challenging.  As a result, a good amount of time needs to be spent with stabilizing the client during the session. I also had clients ask “Is there another way for me to get over this co-dependency beside processing the past and the parts that have been hurt as a child”? My answer is that there are several ways to process the past whether it’s through IFS
or EMDR but when the past is not processed it operates in the present.

Having said all of this, I need to say that I have seen clients who have done great after healing their inner child and move on to loving relationships. In these clients the inner child is not making the decisions any more but the higher self is since their consciousness have expanded. Yes, the inner child work is not easy but those who have done have benefits tremendously from it. I have seen client who have totally transformed their life from this kind of work. Even after a few sessions of process therapy, they tell me that a weight has been lifted off their shoulder, they can think clearly and think about themselves first without sacrificing their life for others.

Bobby Farhat is a licensed marriage family therapist in San Jose, CA