Women Are Socialized to be Codependent

| 06/08/2010 | Comments (2)

I’ve often wondered why so many women entered into (and stayed in) one-sided, emotionally unfulfilling, and/or emotionally and physically abusive relationships.  Then it came to me – it’s because women have been socialized and trained to behave in self-destructive ways that benefit men and children – at the woman’s expense.

Codependency is a complex issue, but I think its one we should open the door to because few women understand how deeply the belief that men are more important than they are is ingrained.

And the socialization starts early, almost at birth!  As a young girl grows up she watches, listens and learns that she is expected to be a certain way to be in a relationship with a man… she has to be pleasing, quiet, adopt certain behaviors, let him lead, allow him to feel that he is superior to her.  Co-dependency is a learned behavior passed down from one generation to another in families, shored up by societal and religious teachings.

Socialization of Females and How it Correlates to the Codependent Person

The term “codependent” was originally used in reference to a partner or family member that was an enabler of someone addicted to drugs or alcohol – some dependency of that type. Anyone in the addicts life that provided food, shelter, comfort, money or friendship was considered codependent. Starting in the mid-1990s the definition of codependency was expanded to include boundary-damaged behavior in interpersonal relationships.

Codependency seems to apply particularly to females and how women are expected to behave in relationships with men.

A loose definition of codependency is that it is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. My own personal working definition of codependency in a relationship is: anyone involved with someone else that worries more in a role where they take care of that person and worry more about that person’s needs, wants, feelings and actions than they do their own.

Loving someone that pretty much ignores your needs is codependent behavior.

My contention is that women are socialized to be codependent. As a matter of fact, what men are looking for in a “good woman” and “good wife” are straight out of the codependent handbook! Her needs are rarely if ever being met while the man and his needs are put first. His thoughts, opinions, desires are always put ahead of her own just because he is a man, as it should be according to the social and religious teachings mentioned above.

Feminine Socialization and the Disease Process Called Codependency

Looking closer at some of the codependent behaviors that women exhibit in relationships, we’ll see:

  • A codependent will develop positive feelings from being liked and accepted by other people. That means they have little to no SELF esteem. They get their definition of who they are based on their relationship with other. Many women feel they are nothing if they don’t have a man. This is a common belief system and a widespread pattern. One of the #1 ways men will try to insult a woman is to say to her “that’s why you’re single!”  A woman feeling like she is nothing without a man and a man telling her you’re nothing because you don’t have a man and you’re single!” These two things work together to influence and control a woman’s behavior.
  • A codependent’s attention is focused on solving the problems of other people. In a relationship a codependent woman is focused on relieving the pain, confusion, problems and boredom of other people. When she solves their problems her self-esteem rises because she has done something for someone else. Does this also not apply to women socialization and the expectations that people have of females? Women are told that their role is to solve the problems of her man and family… to make sure they are okay even if she sacrifices herself to do it. By that she is supposed to feel that she is a better woman, a better mother, a better wife or girlfriend or perhaps even all of the above.
  • Codependents tend to personalize everything that happens around them… they see everything that happens as being directly related to them. The relationships a woman has with a man … if he cheats, somehow that is going to internalize that as being her fault. Instead of seeing him as being a jerk and an asshole, she is going to put the blame for his failure to honor his relationship on her shoulders. Other dumb women that have bought into the nonsense brainwashing will cosign and point the finger of blame as well by saying “yeah, she ain’t doing something right… she don’t even know how to keep a man!” The insistence that women not stand up for themselves is reinforced by society, religion and even her own family. Instead of her family members saying “what is wrong with his ass?” they say “well you need to be more of a freak, get new lingerie, you must not be giving him none!” There is a mentality that makes women attempt to live up to some unreasonable standard of Superwoman.
  • The clothing, appearance and behavior of the mate are dictated by the codependent who feels that the mate is a reflection of him or her. A reflection is a mirror image…what is staring back at you looks and exactly as you do. Anyone that tells you that your dress look or behavior or what you drive, your job, how you speak, how much money you make, etc. if they look for those things in you to increase your self-worth, that is a danger signal. If you believe that you become more because of the perceived status of your partner, you are codependent.
  • Codependents tend to view themselves as a failure if can’t control everything or meet everyone’s expectations. Women often expect to work 12 hours at a demanding job, make cookies and homework and the home spotless and sex their husband down like a $2 hooker every night. The failure aspect is a big one for women… my house should be clean, my children should be better behaved… I should I should. Lots of berating for not meeting some imaginary standard of perfection. Codependent women have little to no expectation of their men to pitch in and help.
  • Codependents fear rejection and abandonment.  Codependents go out of their way to structure their lives to be needed, so they become involved in every aspect of the lives of others.  Not to be needed equates to abandonment in their eyes.  Have you observed this yourself? I’ve seen it with women and their children and spouses. Now there is a natural letting go of children that should be taking place. Teaching your child responsibility and independent as your child heads into high school and college, he or she is fully prepared for adulthood. Should know how to balance a checkbook, clean a house, file a tax return, do laundry, cook, sew on a button, pay bills online, etc.  By the age of 16 a child should know how to do those things independent of you. There seems to be a lot of need to hang onto children by mothers to keep children dependent so she continues to feel needed as these children grow up. Many women behave in similar ways towards neglectful, abusive men as well.
  • Codependents do too damn much!  The desire to be needed also plays out in the marriage… Husband yells from other room: “I can’t find my socks!”  Instead of telling him they are wherever you left them, she will drop what she is doing and run around and help him find his socks.  She packs his lunch, irons his clothes, etc. She does all this caretaking for a grown man that needs to be doing those things for himself.  It’s fine if she chooses to do these things occasionally to be thoughtful, but she should not expect to do them because if she doesn’t he is going to leave her. There is a big difference in motivation here.How often do women hear “If you don’t do it, some other woman will!” If you don’t do this freaky act, he’ll get it somewhere else!” There is a lot of fear mongering going on, and the use in our society of fear to intimidate and control women and make them do what men want them to do. This is very common and I don’t think a lot of women realize what is going on.

The codependent is not thinking about how SHE feels in the situation, she is thinking about how OTHER PEOPLE FEEL. So in a situation where some harm is being done to her, instead of being angry at the boyfriend for lying, cheating, being with some other woman and violating the terms of their relationship the codependent will be angry at the other woman or she will feel sorry for the other woman because she didn’t know.  But what does that have to do with what HE did? The codependent takes care of and worries about other people and their feelings vs. her own.

If you think you have to have a relationship and desperately hanging onto a man feeling threatened that they will abandon you, feeling insecure and not standing up for yourself, letting yourself be walked on because you believe that is the best way to keep this person around, then you are codependent.

Years spent in a codependent relationship will cause you to end up angry, bitter and used up, angry at the world… emotionally and psychologically depleted. Women have been socialized to behave in these self-killing ways.  Women need to put themselves first.  Husbands are second, kids are third. Women need to demand more respect, support and assistance from the people in their lives that claim to love them.

And any time you feel guilty or confused because you say “no” and you want to do something for yourself, have something for yourself that you don’t share with your family, do something just for you that you do alone for your sole enjoyment, then you are wresting with your codependent socialization.

If you recognized yourself in this article, please stop giving everything you have to give to others. Spend time every day doing self care and allow yourself to feel good about it, not guilty that you “should have” been doing something for someone else.

Click graphic below to listen to the May 22, 2010 Date Smarter Not Harder Relationships Talk Show podcast which discusses this issue.

Click to listen to the podcast

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Veteran social researcher, relationship advice columnist, author and radio host. Author of hundreds of articles on American and black culture, gender issues, singles, dating and relationships. Author of "Sucka Free Love!" , "The 24 Types of Suckas to Avoid," "The Black Church - Where Women Pray and Men Pray," and "Why Vegan is the New Black" all available on Amazon.Com. Her unique voice and insightful commentary have delighted fans and riled haters for 20 years. Read her stuff on SurvivingDating.Com and AskHeartBeat.Com.

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  1. […] is the conundrum that a lot of women (and sometimes men) face when we are the giving type, and we veer into co-dependency and  end […]

  2. Ally says:

    OMG!! I totally agree with this article. I have often expressed these same sentiments to girlfriends of mine and from them I get the, “that’s why you’re single” mantra. They do not see how it benefits the man for us to remain co-dependent. But was is even more interesting is women are so caught up in this way of thinking that if a man comes along to treat her as an equal; allowing her to make decisions, honoring her independence, seeking her advice or wisdom on an issue often times we label these guys as weak. Its sad that many women only see a man as strong if they have the ability to dominate them instead of cooperate with them.

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