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Borderline Codependent: Clinging Child, Punitive Parent

Uploaded 10/11/2018, approx. 10 minute read

Hello, everyone, and here is the sentence you will be waiting for.

My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

You don't see it.

Today, I am going to discuss the codependency in a child and in a mother, or in a parent, more precisely.

Now, everyone knows about in a child, but in a parent is a bit of an innovative concept in terms of codependency.

Parents of codependents teach their offspring to expect only conditional transactional love. The child of such parents is supposed to render some kind of service, meet some performance criteria, fulfill the parent's wishes or unrealized dreams. The child is treated more or less as an instrument, is objectified, is an extension of the parent.

Now, when the child meets this performance criteria, when he is successful, when he is accomplished, he gets loved. He is loved. But when he does not, he is not loved. So this is a kind of love that is on and off. It's like a spigot. It's unstable.

And in many respects, it's capricious and arbitrary and unpredictable because the goalposts keep being shifted. It's all up to the parent. The parent is a godlike figure, and the parent can establish new priorities or declare new agendas or set new performance criteria. And the child is at the mercy of this parent.

And so the child learns that to obtain affection, compassion, attention and any kind of positive emotion, she must perform.

But this means that the child in herself is not lovable and is not loved because had she been loved and had she been lovable, there would have been no need for all these external tests which lead to being loved.

So the fact that she has to perform shows that it is her performance that is loved, not she.

And so the child is very painful. And this hurt child, this damaged child reacts with rage to this mistreatment which is perceived unconsciously and properly, appropriately as unjust. The child reacts with rage to the underlying injustice of not being loved for what she is.

But the child cannot attack the parent because the child is dependent on the parent in the most basic sense. The child is dependent on the parent for care, shelter, food. The child cannot attack the parent. The child has no recourse to the offending parent.

So this cumulative fury is directed either outwardly at other people who stand in for the bad parent or it is directed inwardly. It is internalized.

This rage, this anger is internalized. The former solution directing the anger outside at other people yields a psychopath. A psychopath is full of rage and this rage is directed outwardly at other people.

But it can also yield someone with a passive-aggressive personality disorder, a negativistic personality disorder. Someone who sabotages, someone who sneers, someone who undermines, someone whose aggression is expressed covertly and passively, but it is still with insidious, pernicious and very strong impact.

And the second solution, internalizing the aggression, not daring to express it towards the parents or towards any other person outside, internalizing the aggression, this, when the child grows up, yields a masochistic adult or an adult with depressive disorders because depression is internalized aggression.

Similarly, when the parent is not available, the child has a lot of love to give to the parent.

But what happens when the parent is simply not there? It is absent, either physically or emotionally absent. Remote, distant, detached, aloof, puts extreme boundaries, etc.

Child has no access to such a parent, but still wants to love. He has a lot of love to give.

What happens to this love?

Well, again, this love can be directed outwards at other people or inwards. And this phase is called object relations.

So when the love is directed inwards, when the child sort of swallows his love, digests it, integrates it, we end up having a narcissist.

But when the child takes this love and directs it outwards at other people, we end up having a codependent.

But what's common to all these choices, psychopathy, passive aggression, narcissism and codependence, is common to all of them, is that they retard personal growth. They result in arrested development. And ultimately, they're self-defeating and self-destructing.

In all four trajectories, in all four solutions, the adult plays a double dual role. He plays the role of a punitive, withholding narcissistic parent and a vulnerable, eternal child. So the child in such an adult is unable and unwilling to grow up because the child is afraid to incur the love to make the parent angry. And the parent is not outside. The parent is inside. Remember, these people have a duality. They have a parent imago, parent introject, parent internal element, and a child internal element. And these two are in constant dialogue. And the child element is terrified to make the parent element angry. How can the child make the parent angry by becoming independent and autonomous, making decisions, ignoring the parent? So the child doesn't care to grow up because the child has merged with the parent to form the dysfunctional adult.

When the codependent finds a love object, in other words, when the codependent falls in love, she immediately wishes to merge, to fuse with her newfound love. Why?

Because that's what she had done before. She merged the parent introject, the parent representation, the parent avatar with the child avatar. The only way she can relate to the world, the only way she knows how to relate to the world is by merging and fusing.

So when she finds someone she loves, the whole experience is recreated and she wants to merge with him as she had merged with her parents via internalizing them. By internalizing her parents, she merged with them. And by internalizing her intimate partner, she wants to merge with him.

But remember, the codependent has inside her a parent image, an internalized parent. Now, she's supposed to love the parent and only the parent. If she loves someone else, she is betraying the parent.

So immediately when she falls in love, the codependent feels that she had betrayed the internalized parent. She interprets her newfound attachment, her newfound bond, her newfound reflation, remembrance, love, as a betrayal of the internalized parent. And remember, the parent she had internalized is not a pleasant spectrum. It's a parent who is punitive, threatening, judgmental, kind of inner critic, or what Freud used to call supereagle. It's a parent who punishes for transgressions immediately.

And loving another person is the ultimate transgression against this parent because she's supposed to love only the parent. So she fully anticipates the internalized parent's disapproval and she drains the destructive, disciplinarian pleasures that the internalized parent is going to take against her. She knows she is going to be punished for diverting her love from the parent to another parent, to another person. She should have never known that. It was a mistake.

Now she had awakened the parent inside her. That parent, mother, father, will discipline her, will put her back in her place, will restore her unequivocal, undivided loyalty by punishment.

But so the internalized parent is a kind of Old Testament God. It's a Godlike figure.

So how to placate this implacable divinity? What to do?

The codependent turns on her partner. She mistreats her partner. She abuses the partner.

And this we are talking mainly about the borderline codependent. She abuses the partner. She mistreats the partner. And she says to the internal parent, you see, you see, I don't love you. I mistreat him. I'm abusing him. It's okay. I love only you. Dear parent, please don't punish me. Please don't discipline me. I love only you. Look how badly I'm treating my so-called intimate partner.

And this is, as I said, most commonly spoken.

She turns on her partner. She lashes out at him. And this way she establishes where her true loyalties and affiliation rests with her internalized error, with no one else. She is theirs. The parent owns her. She belongs to no one else and can never ever belong to anyone else.

At the same time, she punishes herself for having transgressed. She tries to preempt the merciless onslaught of her sadistic parental introjects and superego.

So it's kind of an internal monologue. It says, I know that by falling in love with another person, I was disloyal. I betrayed my parent who is inside me. And I know this parent is going to punish me severely.

But maybe if I punish myself severely, my parent will forgive me. My parent will see how badly suffering I am, what a torture I'm inflicting on myself, how I'm sacrificing and torturing and humiliating them, in agony I am. I am punishing myself to avoid my internalized parent's punishment. I am preempting the punishment.

And so the borderline codependent engages in numerous self-destructive, self-defeating and reckless behaviors in order to preempt inner punishment.

Acutely aware of the risk of losing her partner owing to her abusive misconduct, the codependent experiences extreme abandonment anxiety.

So look what's happening here. It's a case of divided loyalties. She is like a double spy. She, on the one hand, wants to belong to her intimate partner. She loves him. She's addicted to him. She depends on him. He helps her regulate her dysregulated emotions and moods. And then she needs him.

But on the other hand, any hint and sign of this neediness, of this emotional dependence on, is severely, immediately punished by a punitive internalized parent. And she loves the parent too. There is a lot of emotional investment in this parent. We call this process cathexis. The parent is cathected. She loves the parent. She loves the parent. She loves the partner, but she cannot love both at the same time. Because if she loves the partner, she betrays the parent. If she loves the parent, she has to abuse the partner. And this creates enormous abandonment anxiety. She knows that she is pushing the partner away, that she is driving them away.

So what happens is that she swings wider and inexplicably between self-effacing and clinking behaviors, being the doorman, on the one hand, an explosive vituperative invective on the other hand, sometimes physical violence. When she is a doormat, it is a manifestation of her child. The child wants to lock the intimate partner. The child wants to be healed by the intimate partner, wants to be cared for, wants to be the subject of compassion, craves the warmth of intimacy with the partner. So the child plays the doorman. Yes, I am abusing you, but I am also very submissive. I am abusing you, but I am giving you everything you need. I am abusing you, but I am at your complete service. I am abusing you, but I am asleep. So please forgive me. I am compensating you for my abusive behavior. That is the doorman. That is the child.

And the abusive behavior itself caters to the needs of the parent, the punitive parent, the narcissistic parent and withholding, the absent, the cruel, the capricious, the arbitrary parent that is now inside her. She is telling this parent, listen, look how I am abusing my partner. Don't tell me that I love him. I don't love him. Look how I am treating him or actually dis-treating him. It is okay. I am with you. I am loyal to you. I am going to dump him. I am going to destroy him. I am going to destroy the relationship. I care only about you.

And this of course results in extreme approach, avoidance, repetition, compulsion. The partner is thunderstruck. The intimate partner of such a borderline co-dependent doesn't know what hit him.

In the approach phase, he is so engulfed by the rawest, deepest felt emotions. It is so intensive that it is an utterly addictive experience.

And in the avoidance phase, he feels not only rejected, but he feels enmity, hostility, even hatred.

And the transitions between these phases can sometimes happen within the day, a matter of hours.

It is utterly disorienting, dislocating. It is mind-boggling. Such abrupt shifts in affect and conduct, signaling abrupt shifts in emotions.

These are often misdiagnosed as the hallmarks of a mood disorder, the opponent disorder for example.

But actually, these pendular tectonic upheavals are indicative of an underlying personality structure rather than any biochemically-induced perturbations.

They are the borderline's inner landscape, an ongoing unrelenting torture by figures often long dead. But they are gone living like the zombies that they are, inside the borderline, tearing her to shreds, rendering her personality chaotic, and her behavior utterly irreconcilable.

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