Are domestic violence victims codependent?

TextingMy therapist friend just texted me to ask: are domestic violence victims codependent? Here’s my crazy-long text back (ok, maybe it was a rant).


An abusive relationship is not a codependent relationship, and therapists should not treat them the same way. In fact, telling survivors of abuse that they are codependent implies they share responsibility for the abusive dynamics in the relationship, which is unfair. I think it’s better for therapists to help survivors tease apart what’s abusive/one-sided power and control in the relationship, and what’s just crappy behavior on both people’s parts. And also to recognize/acknowledge that many survivors act against their own values (e.g., lying, manipulating, being mean) *in response to* and *in order to survive* the abuser’s violence and coercive control. Therapists can help survivors figure out what they want in a relationship, and what type of person they want to be, and then figure out whether those dreams seem achievable in the current relationship. And if those dreams aren’t achievable, it doesn’t necessarily mean the couple will break up – for so many reasons – and in that case, therapists can support survivors to be their best and safest selves even as they endure and cope with an abusive partner. That’s my forty cents!

Also: even if she *is* codependent, knowing that doesn’t actually help her deal with a partner who is more interested in maintaining power and control AT ANY COST than the health of the relationship. Even if she stops being codependent, he will still be an abusive a-hole who may hurt her worse if she stands up to him or tries to leave. The whole point is that domestic violence relationships are fundamentally different from crappy/unhealthy relationships.

And finally, many survivors aren’t codependent; they are dependent! Financially and otherwise – that is a big way the abuser maintains control.

Yes, I really wrote all of that in a text. I guess the question hit a nerve for me. How would you have answered?

10 thoughts on “Are domestic violence victims codependent?”

  1. I would have answered in much the same way. Victims aren’t codependent. They have been psychologically, physically, financially manipulated into dependence for survival – which is ironic in that we must depend on the very people who can take our lives to save our lives.

  2. Hey, yeah! It’s so important to clarify that being a victim of domestic violence is not a mental health condition. The National Center on Domestic Violence Trauma and Mental Health ( has a lot to say about this!

  3. Thanks for your comments. I can get a little carried away with my rants when I’m really passionate about something, but I hope this will help some folks have a clearer understanding of the difference between being co-dependent and being abused.

  4. Victims aren’t codependent. They have been psychologically, physically, financially manipulated into dependence for survival – which is ironic in that we must depend on the very people who can take our lives to save our lives.

  5. Mette, I very likely, given that the therapist is a friend, would have been more graphic in my response than merely saying “a-hole.” I also find that many mental-health professionals run into this dilemma of realities and don’t go straight for a “batterer is a batterer who chooses to do what he/she does and that nothing the survivor can do, say or think is justification for the DV.” Very true, many DV survivors are dealing with multiple issues that often include co-dependency/but that’s just a complication and not the true reason, as you stated so greatly.

  6. Yes! Thank you for this! Love the distinction you make. DV survivors need emotional and practical support, help finding options – not misdiagnoses and further blame. They already get that from their abuser.

  7. In your attempt to paint survivors of domestic abuse as a “victim” there is a clear avoidance of the basic truth that healthy people (male or female) do not choose frightened and unstable people as partners, nor do they stay with them. Survivors of abuse are not only females (check the statistics of reportage by male on the increase and the prosecution of females is rising) but unhealthy males who are looking for the same dysfunctional ways of relating, based on their childhood experiences – does anyone think that females are the only gender that suffers from angry, controlling parents? (of both genders) or are the only gender that experiences sexual and other abuse at an early age. It is time for those who cling to the fantasy that females are always victims and males always abusive to stop making excuses for the basic fact that healthy people, regardless of gender do gravitate toward unhealthy partners – they aren’t healthy and then suddenly are “taken advantage of” by a monster laying in wait. This gender bias is unhealthy and has set the mental health field back decades. Let’s start being honest and treat the couple who is unhealthy, not just blame one person, and wash our clinical hands of things because it makes us feel good – perhaps some of our colleagues need to take a look at why they can’s see the obvious – maybe they are too busy being rescuers and justifying their own problems instead of confronting their own baggage Mike M. MSW

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