For many people, the term “codependency” means negative behaviors like caretaking and enabling. These excessive attempts to take responsibility for and control others are common codependent patterns.
Codependency can also be disguised with what initially seems to be positive behavior. Albert, for example, enjoyed sports and was pushed at a young age to participate in baseball, football, and basketball. He was good at all these sports but excelled in baseball as a pitcher. Many people knew him because of the sports he was in, and he was widely expected to get a college baseball scholarship. He received a great deal of positive recognition for his athletic skills from others, including his parents.
From the outside, all this praise and recognition would certainly seem positive. Yet all through childhood, Albert was praised for what he did but not given any emotional connection and attention for who he was. No one recognized his inner loneliness and sense of rejection. He learned to hide his loneliness in the busyness and recognition of sports, and also by putting on an arrogant front for others to see.
Because Albert didn’t receive positive emotional attention and connection as a child, he developed codependency. He acted out his form of codependency in just the opposite way that a caretaking person would. Rather than trying harder and harder to connect in order to get crumbs of positive attention, he gave up on attempting to please others at all. All the positive attention he did get came from his athletic performance, so he learned not to care what others thought of him when he was not on the field. As he grew older, he started believing he could do whatever he wanted and that there would be no negative consequences for his behavior. Because of the status that came with his athletic skills, all too often there were no consequences.
Being praised only for his accomplishments taught Albert that his athletic ability was all people cared about. At a deep emotional level, he felt inadequate and like a failure. His outer achievements and apparent confidence were the ways he hid his true feelings of loneliness and vulnerability. Despite his apparent success, he was living with painful codependency.