The Role of Guilt and Shame in Codependency

By Megan Muñoz IMH:

There are many dead giveaways in the daily life and activity of someone engaging relationships in codependent ways. One of the necessary components that fuels codependency is a strong feeling of guilt combined with shame. Guilt is different from shame in that guilt is the feeling of having done something wrong, whereas shame is the feeling that there is something inherently wrong with who you are.

So how do guilt and shame drive codependency?
In codependency, guilt is the voice that tries to convince us that we are responsible for others in ways they are capable of being responsible for themselves. Shame slips in beside guilt and whispers the ways we fall short of the kind of person we are supposed to be in relationship with others.

Tiffany was raised from childhood to be responsible for her mother’s emotional needs. As Tiffany got older, she found herself taking more and more responsibility for caring for her mother in ways her mother should be caring for herself. Although Tiffany would become frustrated with this, she still continued to feel responsible for her mother’s well-being and daily life. She would schedule her doctor’s appointments, clean her house whenever she came to visit and worry about the social and financial decisions her mother made.  

What are the roles of guilt and shame in Tiffany’s story?
Because Tiffany believed her mother’s responsibilities were her own, she often felt guilty when she discovered her mother had not seen the dentist in the last year or was living in a messy house. This guilt moved Tiffany into action to make up for what she felt she had failed to do for her mother as a daughter.
Tiffany was constantly holding herself up to the image of what she had been taught a daughter should be to her mother. Because she had been raised to wrongly believe her identity was in being her mother’s caretaker, Tiffany would feel like a terrible daughter every time her mother was in need but failed to care for herself in ways she was capable of doing without Tiffany’s help.

Tiffany starting going to counseling, where she learned about codependency and how it had become the medium of relationship between her and her mother. Slowly, Tiffany began to recognize the ways she had been taking responsibility for her mother in unhealthy ways and began taking steps to create healthy boundaries and a new sense of identity.

One day, while Tiffany was over for a visit, her mother spilled her coffee at the dining table. Tiffany’s first impulse was to jump up and grab a towel to clean the mess. But because of her work in codependency, she stayed in her chair and waited to see what happened. To her surprise, her mother got up from the table, grabbed a towel and cleaned up the coffee on her own. This may not seem like a large accomplishment to some, but for those recovering from codependency like Tiffany, this was a significant step towards a healthy relationship with her mother.

If you can relate to parts of Tiffany’s story, take some time for your own mental health and explore how codependency may be playing a leading role in your life. It may be helpful to talk to a counselor to understand the impact that caretaking others has in your relationships and learn how to establish healthy boundaries and a renewed sense of self.  

To schedule an appointment with Megan Muñoz,
Please call our office at 407-647-7005.

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