I was talking to a friend the other day, a woman who is accomplished, well-educated, and personally generous. People love talking to her because she has the gifts of communication and empathy and a breadth of interests to engage you with. Within the first 3 minutes of our conversation, she had told me how lovely it was that we were able to talk, and she hoped I wouldn’t be too disappointed because she was feeling quite scattered. She then went on to say that she had an interesting article to share with me, but she couldn’t find it because of how messy and chaotic her desk was. She had meant to find it before our call, but she couldn’t figure out what she had done with her morning because she was so disorganized. I resisted the pull of her Devaluing Codependent Strategy, ignoring how she was putting herself down and simply said, “Great to talk to you too. I’m sure you’ll find the article at some point. How was your Christmas?

This disarming strategy has a way of triggering a desire to protect those who use it from themselves. As we contradict their negative descriptions of themselves, we find ourselves arguing for them while they disparage themselves. Friends or family members who use this tactic cause us to stop expecting much from them and cause us to do things to make them feel better about themselves. Like the eternal child, they resist taking responsibility for their gifts, letting others run their lives for them and submitting their will to a dominant partner and friends. We have many work and personal stories to share, so stay tuned as we talk about and offer tips on how to deal with the Devaluing Codependent Strategy.

Devaluing Codependents are constantly comparing themselves and coming up short. As a result, they let others dominate in the relationship allowing themselves to be taken care of because they aren’t good enough to be an equal partner. They’re acutely self-conscious and on a perpetual quest to discover what’s wrong with them to explain why they think so little of themselves. Exploring their faults in minute detail seems more compelling to them than building self-awareness and confidence. They’re more likely to get down on themselves for not being confident than to use affirmations to build confidence.

Devaluing Codependents often spend a lot of time in therapy or trying to heal as though by talking about having low self-esteem and trying to figure out where it comes from will somehow magically cause them to become confident. They’re prone to rehearsing conversations in their minds that they will never have with people. By doing this, they bypass talking to anyone else and checking in with the reality of a situation. The search for their fatal flaw absorbs them, as do all their perceived imperfections and inadequacies.

Devaluing Strategy #1: Negative Self-talk

When we use a devaluing / self-victimizing strategy, we believe that because we are flawed and inadequate, others don’t like us or that they want to hurt, shame, or devalue us. We tend to see and interpret the behavior of others through this lens. We also allow others to mistreat us because we are such losers that we deserve it. We keep our self-esteem low by using self-judgment, criticism, and negative self-talk. With others, we draw attention to our shortcomings and deficiencies. A friend of mine used to start a conversation by saying, “You won’t believe how stupid I am.” They would then go on to report on some trivial thing he had done. It is the need to control the behavior of others wrapped up in an expression of helplessness. We openly admit to being scattered, incompetent, or hopeless and talk about how anxious we are about things that have never happened and probably never will.

Devaluing Strategy #2: Manipulation

Devaluing Codependents have a way of selling others on the idea that they are so busy and too overwhelmed to do anything but relax at the end of the day. Their version of reality is that any expectation of them is too much. They have the energy to spend time studying and talking to friends about their fatal flaws and why they can’t stop feeling so inadequate or anxious, but when it comes to going out and having fun, they are too tired. Their passivity and inability to come out of their self-absorbed state causes their dominant counterparts to push them, sometimes with anger and frustration. They withdraw from their partner when this happens, seeming deeply wounded and causing others to feel guilty. They instill a fear in others that you somehow, by not taking care of them, are a horrible person. You might even feel responsible for them or side with them without considering that they might be manipulating you.

Devaluing Strategy #3: Intolerance for Conflict

Devaluing Codependents have little tolerance for anxiety and interpersonal tension and avoid situations that are likely to cause it. They feel victimized by the demands of others, believing that others expect too much of them when they perceive themselves as always doing for and giving to others. They complain to others, but when given advice, they are likely to turn it around and say, “well, they are probably right. I should be doing more,” leaving those who are trying to help feeling powerless to do anything about it.

You may have recognized one of the above strategies as your own or your partner’s behavior. If so, here are a few tips for making sure you dismantle this codependent dysfunction in your relationships.

Tip #1: Know yourself and your codependent strategies

For every submissive codependent, there is a dominant counterpart. If you have the tendency to shift to rescue or compensate for a Devaluing Codependent because you feel guilty or sorry for them, you need to make a commitment to yourself to stop enabling them for the sake of the relationship or so you don’t show frustration or irritation at them when they constantly talk about their shortcomings. Being dominant and rescuing someone is a temporary fix and doesn’t work for either of you in the long run. There are so many other things that are interesting about the person who uses this strategy. When we don’t get pulled into their defensive devaluing tactics, discovering the person who resides behind the codependent persona is incredibly rewarding.

Tip #2: Resist the impulse to rescue them

Devaluing Codependents often appear timid and fearful even though they really aren’t. They don’t initiate or demonstrate curiosity about others because of their self-involvement. Remember that self-involvement is a form of self-protection, and allowing them to stay hidden means that you, as the dominant partner in the relationship, will have to take responsibility for managing their self-esteem and self-worth by constantly propping them up if you keep rescuing them. While they can make you feel like you are wounding them by expecting them to participate as a grown up rescuing them keeps them in child-like dependence. When they act as though they have been victimized or by self-victimizing, they are still using their power as it makes others jump to their defence. The Victim is one of the more powerful self-protective personas we adopt because it so easily gets others to rescue us.

Tip #3: Stay in reality

With a Devaluing Codependent, there is a distinct feeling that you are being pulled into something that isn’t real. And you are right. You are being pulled into their inner world where it is all about them, their flaws and their anxiety. While they may enjoy talking about what’s wrong with them and letting their anxieties take center stage, you aren’t their therapist. Most people don’t enjoy listening to the same complaints they have about themselves that, somehow, they never seem to do anything about despite the best efforts from friends and family. Because their defences come from a self-protective place, should you try to change the topic and they accuse you of not being supportive, challenge them. Let them know how much time you have spent listening to them, how painful it is to hear them devalue someone you care about, and why they are choosing to keep talking about themselves in such as hurtful fashion. Let them know you are always willing to talk to them about real issues they need support with, but draw the line on devaluing, self-critical, harmful comments about themselves.

You have the power to decide how to feel and how you will continue behaving in your romantic, personal, and work relationships. Becoming aware of the behaviors you need to shift from is the very first step that leads you on your way to becoming your authentic self and living the life you are meant to live.

Curious to Learn More?

We invite you to learn more about the Codependent Devaluing Strategy and how to overcome it on Episode 48 of our podcast, ‘Dismantling Dysfunction’: www.dismantlingdysfunction.com

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What Can I Do If I Am in a Codependent Relationship?

We specialize in helping clients identify codependent and other dysfunctional behaviors in relationships. We have several counseling approaches we take – individual, group, couples – to help individuals break free of the dysfunctional codependent behaviors that are destructive to relationships. Contact us for a consultation to find out how we can help.


Anne and Heather are organizational and leadership development experts at Caliber Leadership Systems, a boutique consulting firm specializing in dismantling of dysfunction in organizations.  They are dedicated to empowering individuals, leaders, and organizations to achieve their potential by leveraging their expertise in the neurobiology of human development combined with system thinking approach. They wear many hats – Consultants, Executive Coaches, Trainers, Speakers and Authors – adapting their expertise and solutions to meet the needs of their clients. They bring a unique depth and breadth of knowledge and experience that gives clients the benefit of all of our disciplines to help them achieve their goals

As experts in human development and behavioral change, leadership and organizational transformation, interpersonal dynamics and the achievement of potential, Anne and Heather have worked with thousands of leaders and individuals from around the world, been featured in dozens of publications, spoken at professional conferences, and written several series of books on personality type and the brain based on the Striving Styles® and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

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