Welcome to part two of a two-part series I am doing on high-functioning codependency.
In part one, I talked about the high price we pay for over-giving, over-doing, and over-functioning. I also share my personal and professional experiences with it. If you missed it, read it here.
In this part, I break down the 6 archetypes of high-functioning codependency and give you tools and strategies you can use to free yourself from it.
When you raise your awareness of these disordered behaviors, you can change them. You do not have to live in the endless exhaustion of high-functioning codependency.
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
The 6 Archetypes of High-Functioning Codependency
I coined the phrase “high-functioning” codependency because many of my therapy clients did not see themselves as codependent. (Everyone relied on them– how could they be dependent on anyone?)
I created these archetypes for the same reason: to help you see yourself with greater clarity because not all high-functioning codependents present the same way. We are all different people with different behaviors.
1. The Director
Highly capable, this archetype finds the best place to go on vacation, frequently gives auto-advice, is a great problem solver, and is kind of bossy.
They see everything as black or white and deem themselves the judge of right and wrong.
This person is a loyal and amazing friend, but they would sooner ghost you or withdraw in anger than tell you that you hurt their feelings.
The Director is inflexible and has rigid boundaries. They might come off as controlling in their efforts to influence outcomes to reduce their own anxiety and fear of uncertainty.
The shadow side of this archetype: they can be judgmental and get annoyed or angry if their directives or advice is not followed.
2. The Entertainer
This is the funny friend who uses humor, flattery, or expert storytelling to manage the feeling states of others to keep everything ‘light.’
They may ask questions while simultaneously providing their preferred hyper-positive answer: “Are you loving your new job? It sounds amazing, right?” rather than, “How is your new job?”
(Years ago, I had a friend who would ask, “How is your sister? She is doing good, right?” Uh…why are you asking? You clearly do not want to know because she isn’t doing “good”!)
The Entertainer is highly capable, but conflict-avoidant, which can negatively impact their relationships.
They are adept at going along to get along and often confuse compliance with compatibility in relationships.
Their boundaries tend to be too porous.
Even though people may find them charming and funny, inside, they are tired from self-sacrificing and managing others to keep the peace.
The shadow side of this archetype: becoming a chameleon helps them avoid conflict, but erodes their ability to be deeply known by others, which can be painful.
Their need to find the silver lining in all situations can also be frustrating and off-putting to others.
3. The Hyper-Helper
This is the friend who cannot stop helping others. They are an equal-opportunity helper: friends, family, and strangers alike.
They are dialed into any need in their vicinity and may be in a helping profession like therapy, nursing, coaching, or teaching.
They will do things asked of them as well as things not asked of them because they are always doing.
They will lend you their vehicle, throw a retirement party for the random colleague they just met because no one else was, or lend you money even if they cannot afford it.
The Hyper-Helper also has porous boundaries because they unintentionally step over the boundaries of others in their “hyper-helping mania” (as I call it). Helping others is a compulsion; they can’t not do it because it causes them too much anxiety.
The shadow side of this archetype: their personal relationships and health may suffer from the non-stop helping. They may also get annoyed and feel used even if no one asked for help in the first place. They often secretly feel like people are not grateful enough for all they do.
4. The Auto-Accommodator
This is the person who, in the 15-items-or-less line at the grocery store, automatically waves the person with two items ahead, despite only having 10 items themselves.
They will move to let a couple on a packed train sit together or cancel weekend plans to comfort a broken-hearted pal.
The Auto-accommodator is efficient and capable, always scanning for trouble brewing to ward it off.
Their boundaries are porous because they often solve problems no one else notices.
The shadow side of this archetype: their ability to see exactly what is needed in any situation can make them judgmental of those who don’t see it.
5. The Perfectionist
This is the person who does it all: sends flowers for birthdays, is extremely thoughtful, goes the extra mile to create extraordinary experiences, and optimizes every aspect of their lives.
There is no room for error, for themselves or anyone else. They have an unrelenting expectation of saying and doing the perfect thing and achieving their many goals.
They have impeccable taste, but despite looking pulled together, they are physically and emotionally exhausted.
The Perfectionist is also a harsh critic of others and their flaws, which can be painful to experience.
The shadow side of this archetype: they apply their impossible standards to others (even kids) and become easily frustrated and angry if things do not go as planned. They lack flexibility and spontaneity.
6. The Fixer/Savior
This is the person who is there for you the moment you say you need them. They are 100% all-in until the crisis is over and the mission is accomplished.
They are highly capable and make it their business to know the right people. They will dive into their extensive virtual Rolodex to find the right resources and will happily cash in favors owed to them on your behalf.
(Think Olivia Pope from Scandal.)
Similar to The Hyper-Helper, the Savior/Fixer is fueled by helping others and is a great problem solver. They cannot hold themselves back from fixing or making suggestions for how things could be done better, even when nothing is broken.
The shadow side of this archetype: it may feel like they are trying to manage you and your feelings, which can be frustrating.
Download the guide for a shortened list of these archetypes as a reference. You can highlight the different behaviors any time you notice yourself doing them and get a sense of which one you might be.
Do You See Yourself In These Archetypes?
Can you see yourself in any of these six archetypes of high-functioning codependency? Can you see the things they have in common?
High-functioning codependents often over-give, over-function, over-do, and try to manage others. (Controlling with a capital C or small c.)
Ultimately, high-functioning codependency is based on two things: disordered boundaries and an overt or covert bid to control other people’s outcomes.
These behaviors are often unconscious, which is why I am writing a whole book about it and talking about it here. These are not things we necessarily want to do.
When I was a high-functioning codependent in my twenties, I thought I was being loving. My heart was in the right place.
I did not realize how averse I was to other people’s suffering. Someone else having a messy problem created an unbelievable amount of discomfort in me. To avoid feeling uncomfortable, I went into action. I figured out the problem.
I got really hooked on feeling overly responsible for the feeling states, the outcomes, the circumstances, the relationships, and the problems in other people’s lives. Even if they were strangers. Their problems became my problems.
A good friend who is healthy does not take on your problem like it is their own, per se. Instead, they are with you in the foxhole, saying, “Want to brainstorm? We can figure this out together. I got you.”
When you are a high-functioning codependent, you have a desire to take over the problem and cannot stop making suggestions.
Often, people just want to vent. But as high-functioning codependents, we don’t want them to. We want to solve the problem. Why are you complaining about this when you can fix it? Just take action with my solution! Sound familiar?
A Compulsion to Fix
I liken high-functioning codependency to any other kind of compulsive behavior, like addiction, because until we figure out why we are doing it, we can’t not do it. I couldn’t, at least, and I’ve had thousands of clients over my 25 years as a psychotherapist who also shared this compulsive behavior.
There was no room for thought between my reaction to the person’s stressful situation and my actions.
Instead of responding, I reacted. Everything felt like a five-alarm fire for me. I needed to fix whatever their problem was.
Maybe you identify with this as well. If so, you know it is exhausting, and it has a real cost to your relationships as well as your health (think autoimmune disorders, TMJ, and lack of sleep).
High-Functioning Codependency Is Real
If you see yourself in any of these descriptions, you are not alone. This is so real I am writing a book about it. I saw high-functioning codependency in my therapy practice so often, I knew the information needed to be accessible to those in pain. That’s how my forthcoming book, Too Much came into being. (I am finishing it up now!)
I am not here to debate codependency. This is what I saw as a psychotherapist and experienced myself.
All I care about is alerting you to this collection of unhealthy, exhausting behaviors you might be engaging in, and giving you ways to change it.
The codependencies high-functioning codependents have is not limited to the people they are in relationships with, either. It is almost like high-functioning codependents can become codependent with the world.
I often felt overly responsible for complete strangers, and you will hear more of those stories in my book when it comes out in October!
What You Can Do Instead
I won’t make you wait until October. Here are four strategies you can begin using today to start freeing yourself from these disordered behaviors.
1. Ask Expansive Questions
When people come to you with a problem, instead of immediately telling them your opinion, learn to ask expansive questions:
- What do you think you should do?
- What does your gut instinct say?
- If you did know the answer, what would it be?
Have faith that the other person is more masterful at their own life than you are. Know it is for them to figure out. You can be there and be loving, and after you ask expansive questions, you can give your opinion.
When you stop automatically giving advice, you get to know what your person thinks, which is a gift.
You can even ask your children what they think they should do, rather than telling them. This is a great way to teach them critical thinking skills.
2. Up Your Mindfulness Game
As a high-functioning codependent, upping your mindfulness game can help you create space between your feelings and your reaction.
You may still have an initial feeling of fear or anxiety, but you do not have to act on it.
A dedicated mindfulness practice gives you the ability to choose to ask a question instead of giving advice. 10-20 minutes per day is all it takes.
3. Resentment Inventory
When you are in the beginning process of understanding high-functioning codependency, it also helps to get clarity around what is not working for you in your life.
This can look like doing a resentment inventory. Are you happy with your career? With your friendships? With your relationship? With your living situation? With your family?
Or do you feel resentful toward someone in particular who doesn’t appreciate the things you do, even though they do not ask you to do them?
Part of the resentment inventory is getting honest with ourselves about how we interact with the people in our lives. Are we stripping them of their sovereignty and their autonomy by bossing them around? Perhaps you need to set some boundaries, or consequences for repeat boundary offenders.
4. Allow and Accept
One of the hardest, but most important things you can do, is to allow. Accept. Surrender. To say “yes” when people ask if you need help. To begin asking for help yourself.
When the way it is is not how we want it to be, it can be difficult to surrender or ask for help, which is where meditation and mindfulness come into play.
We have to learn to let the chips fall where they may, especially when they are not our friggin’ chips.
Loving people looks like allowing them to have their experiences, witnessing them with compassion, and trying not to overtly or covertly control them.
I will talk more about high-functioning codependency in the coming months, but I hope this raises your awareness around these disordered behaviors and serves as a starting point for recovery.
Remember to download the guide for a shortened list of all the archetypes and their characteristics.
Let me know your thoughts over on Instagram (@terricole) or in the comments. Did you identify with any of the archetypes in particular? Do you know anyone who fits their descriptions? Which disordered behaviors do you have the most difficulty with?
I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.