Written by: Nick Bloodworth, MFTA, MA Psychology
The long-term effects of childhood abuse often accumulate later on in life and are difficult to connect back to the traumatic events of an abusive childhood. In addition, the increasing effects of emotional trauma may take years to reach its peak.
One of the costs of child abuse for some survivors is the tendency to move towards relationship addiction or codependency. Codependency is a term used to describe a relationship where one person holds the belief that her value derives solely from another person. A codependent individual often becomes obsessed with “controlling” the other person, often through enabling that other individuals’ addictive behaviors.
A person whose self-value has been damaged by childhood abuse may be vulnerable to deriving worth and validation through another person. Unfortunately, some people (predators) will take advantage of vulnerable survivors and seek to enter into a codependent relationship to exploit the survivor emotionally, physically, and sexually. The manipulative behavior from the predator is not to elevate the survivor’s self-esteem, but rather to depress it even further to gain the survivor’s participation in the predator’s addiction. The predators gain gratification from the power and control they exert over other people. These predators are the same individuals who, have done so, or would abuse a child, so the pattern can be very familiar to a survivor.
Codependency turns into relationship addiction when the item for self-validation is not a specific person but rather a codependent relationship. This leads to a person ending up in this addictive cycle:
Searching for a relationship.
Establishing the relationship.
Trying to control the relationship.
Choking the life out of the relationship
Being in fear of losing the relationship.
Losing the relationship.
The cycle starts all over again after finding another relationship. When “survivors” come to counseling for relationship concerns, I often times will hear these statements: “I always pick the wrong partner” or “why can’t I find someone that will truly make me happy.” I help people realize they will find the answers when they no longer look at the other person, but rather look at themselves. This is not to say that EVERY person that experienced childhood abuse will enter into a codependent relationship or become addicted to relationships. Many individuals, who survived, enter healthy relationships with healthy individuals. It is very possible for ANYONE to enter a relationship with someone with past baggage. Childhood abuse just happens to be heavy baggage to carry into a relationship.
If you have questions like these: what is the pattern of your relationship, are you afraid of what will happen if you object, are you afraid no one will love you, do you take more pride in whose you are then in who you are; then counseling can help you to become aware of how the damage from your childhood abuse is affecting your relationship, not only with yourself but the relationships you have with others.