How Codependency Can Lead You Into Dangerous Situations

I remember how in the early days of the internet I came across a blog that collected the stories of hundreds of rape survivors.

Curious as I am I emerged myself into these stories and very soon noticed a pattern: People who have been raped in their early childhood very often got raped in their teens and their adulthood, too.

The perpetrators changed, sometimes it was a relative, a friend, a teacher or a stranger, the situations changed, sometimes it was at home, at a friends house, at school or in a park. But one thing didn’t change: At the end, they got raped.

This discovery very much confused, saddened and angered me.

Why did these poor people become victims again and again?

Was there no God? Why this terrible injustice? Why them??

At the end, I came to the unsettling conclusion that it was somehow their destiny to experience multiple rapes during their lifetime.

It took many years until I finally connected the dots. The negative things that happen to us are in many cases not a coincidence.

Just like getting lung cancer is not a coincidence if you have chain smoked for 40 years there is a correlation between the codependency you have learned as a child and the likelihood of getting abused as an adult.

What is codependency?

People who are codependent have grown up in dysfunctional families, where they have learned to display behaviour that helps an addicted, immature, irresponsible or underachieving family member to maintain their dysfunction.

The codependent child has been trained to ignore or deny that there is a problem in the family, to not confront people about their bad behaviour, to be self-sacrificial, to care for others and to focus on them instead of itself and to ignore its own feelings, needs and wants.

When these children grow up, they usually have low self-esteem, deficient boundaries, they can’t say “no”, they feel responsible for other peoples feelings and problems and they become people pleasers who need the approval of others.

They have a very strong fear of being judged by others, a fear of rejection and abandonment, they have difficulties to develop a sense of identity and they find it difficult to identify and communicate their thoughts, feelings and needs. Due to those characteristics, they tend to attract abusive relationships.

When I learned about the concept of codependency, I was reminded of two cases where I saw symptoms of this dysfunctional behaviour and how it can lead women into dangerous situations:

Case #1: Nearly kidnapped

In highschool, I went on a two week trip to Italy with my biology class. There was a girl in our group whom I knew since fifth grade.

Her name was *Sophia (*name changed to protect privacy), and just like me she was a child of divorce and raised by a single mum.

Sophia has always been extremely shy and quiet during all these years. Under normal circumstances we weren’t exactly close, but during this trip we joined forces because the other girls in our group were displaying such strange behaviour since we were in Italy, that we couldn’t relate at all and decided that we were the “sane“ ones.

One day we walked the streets of Rome together. We were standing at a street corner, trying to find our way and I had my head buried into the street map.

Suddenly a scruffy looking man who was probably in his mid-twenties, approached Sophia and started talking to her in a language we both didn’t understand.

I think he was complementing her looks and then he grabbed her arm and started to pull her away from me. I was speechless and looked into Sophias eyes, waiting for a reaction from her.

But besides a sheepish laughter, she didn’t react at all and this guy disappeared with her around the corner!

I wasn’t sure what to do but I followed the two and yelled: “Sophia, do you know this guy? You can’t just go with him!“ Sophia continued laughing in an embarrassed way and I was completely puzzled. What was going on here?

The guy proceeded to pull her behind him, and I was still waiting for some kind of resistance from her, but to no avail.

Now I started getting angry. This whole situation seemed to be so wrong. There was this stranger who was basically abducting my classmate right before my eyes and she didn’t fight back the least bit.

I ran to her and asked again: “Sophia, do you know this guy?“

She shook her head.

“So why are you going with him?“

Embarrassed laughter again.

I lost my patience, grabbed her hand and started pulling her arm into my direction. The guy noticed the resistance and started to increase his pull on her other arm. This was like tug of war!

Fortunately, the stranger was shorter than I and pretty thin, so after a short time of pulling Sophias arm like crazy, I won the fight. He let go of her and disappeared.

After this whole incident, I tried to cross-examine her to find out what had just happened, but she kept quiet.

I had always known that Sophia was shy, unassertive and never said „no“ to anyone, but I had no idea that this would go to such extremes. She had zero boundaries and couldn’t protect herself at all!

Case #2: Pressured into having sex

I came across this video on Youtube, where a young girl talks about how she has been pressured into having unprotected sex with a much older guy whom she wasn’t even attracted to in the first place.

To give you the background: Josi is a vegan from Germany, who at the time of the incident was 18 years old and spent time away from her family with a vegan cyclist community in Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand.

Harley, the Australian man who manipulated her into having sex with him, is the leader of this community.

Here is an excerpt from her report:

“I met Harley at his cycling festival last year in June and I was a huge fan of his, I watched all of his Youtube videos. At the time I really looked up to him and yeah we talked a few times at the festival, not much.

But then in September, I came back to Chiang Mai and pretty much as soon as I got back here, he sent me messages like: “Are you back in Chiang Mai? Where are you staying? When are you coming out the door?”

To be honest, at the time I was quite pleasantly surprised that he noticed me, that he even knew my name. […]

The day after he wanted me to come to his room and I was like “Okay, we’ll just hang out again we’re friends now.” and as soon as I got there, he wanted to go to the rooftop and we started talking.

But it was a bit different because he started making a lot of sexual comments and he really tried to direct the conversation towards  sex, which I felt a bit uncomfortable with because he was so much older than me and I hardly knew him as well […]

He then tried to kiss me and I kind of stepped back and I was like “I don’t think we should do this, I don’t think I want to do this”.

What was strange about that situation is, that he was so taken aback and almost confused or angry that I said “no” to him. That he wouldn’t expect any girl to ever say “no” to anything that he wants to do with them […]

Then started asking me continuously why I didn’t want to kiss him and why I wasn’t attracted to him and “Why why why why why?” and the thing about that is, he kept asking those questions and obviously my answer in my head was “You know you’re like 40 and I’m 18 and I don’t think that we should be doing this because you’re so much older than me and I don’t think this is right”.

But because I respect him so much, I looked up to him so much, […] I didn’t want to hurt him so I just didn’t say anything and I kind of said: “Oh, I don’t know, I just don’t feel good about this kind of thing”.

He just kept asking until I felt almost really stupid about saying “no” to him because I felt if he was questioning my decision so much, surely there must be something wrong with me to say no to him. […]

I wasn’t really confident anymore in that situation, so I kind of let him do it and ended up having sex that night.  […]

What was then happening, was, he would just come over to my room at nighttime, he would message me late at night for sex basically and then come over and then just leave again.

It’s really weird I guess, looking back, that I let him do that but I think at the same time it’s important to remember that I was looking up to him so much that I didn’t want my perfect image of him to fade off, to be distorted.

So if there was something that he was doing, that I didn’t feel comfortable with, every time I  just blamed myself and in a way that was like “Maybe I’m being the stupid one here, maybe I shouldn’t worry about this. Maybe this is just me and I’m just being weird”, such as when he refused to use condoms and kind of just made a joke out of it like “Oh it’s too late now anyway!”

It wasn’t too late at all but at the time I went along with everything that he was saying […] I felt the obligation to […] do whatever he wanted me to do so he would like me […]

The things he was saying to me was, I quote: “10 out of 10 girlfriend material” and he was saying nice things to me, so at the time I was like “Oh, he’s treating me well, but his actions really didn’t align” […]

I remember telling a friend that I felt like I was being treated like a prostitute, because towards the end, after about a week, he kind of stopped talking to me altogether, he would just come over to have sex and then pretty much just leave.”

I think Josi shows all symptoms of codependency. She doesn’t trust her own feelings, she has low self-esteem and she depends on Harleys opinion of her so much, that she allows him to treat her like a prostitute and even risks to contract an STD (= sexually transmitted disease) through unprotected sex with him.

So what is the solution here? Well, I believe that both Sophia and Josi would have greatly benefited from learning how to establish boundaries with other people. Without the ability to set proper boundaries they will be victimized again and again in the future.

Question: Are you struggling with codependency? Did you ever get into dangerous situations because of it? Please tell me in the comments!

Until next time,

P.S.: If you, too, think that you have a codependent personality, I have created a cheat sheet that will show you how to start building boundaries in your own life. You can download it here.

[Photo by Victor Jakovlev on Unsplash.com]