Relationship Codependency: The White Knight Syndrome

Man and woman kissing in codependent relationship with colorful hearts.

Relationship Codependency

The White Knight Syndrome

Written by Randi Fine

Narcissistic Abuse Awareness and Guidance with Randi Fine

Relationship codependency is often referred to as the “White Knight” syndrome, because codependent people tend to be rescuers. Roughly 100 million Americans suffer from this emotional disorder.

In general terms, codependency is the relationship that exists between everyone and everything. In order to live emotionally healthy lives, we all must have relationships. 

But unhealthy relationship codependency can be and usually is a debilitating addiction. It is a psychological dependence on painful, frustrating, and unequal relationships.

There are three types of codependents; the enablers, the persecutors, and the victims. Throughout a codependent’s relationship with his or her love addiction all three parts will be played, whether simultaneously or separately.

Relationship codependents are primarily concerned with the needs of others. Their own feelings, desires, and needs are rarely prioritized. Rescuers with a compulsive need to help, nurture and/or control others, relationship codependents are typically drawn to those lacking stability and/or those who act irresponsibly in a particular area of their life.

Always looking for the potential in others rather than accepting others as they are, they become addicted to hope that the other person will change, beyond all evidence or rationale. Focusing on these types of relationships distracts them from their own issues.

The emotional disorder of codependency begins in childhood and develops over a period of several years. As children they may have been subjected to dysfunctional family dynamics such as repeated anger, extreme rigidity, violence, manipulation, and/or abuse in the home. The child may have assumed an inappropriate care-taking role of a substance abusing or over-dependent parent.

Children in these scenarios quickly learn that compliant, over-pleasing behavior brings them some semblance of emotional safety. In time their self-esteem becomes entirely dependent on the unpredictable and ever changing moods of their parents/guardians. These distorted survival strategies are then carried into adulthood.

Children in these situations never develop a clear sense of self or a healthy emotional boundary system; the appropriate and protective emotional borders that should exist between us and others.

Codependency forms in childhood, but it does not reveal itself until a person starts having adult relationships. As adults, in order to feel good about themselves, they believe they must be in a love relationship.

The codependent mantra is, “Love Conquers All.” Denying and rationalizing away the obvious, relationship codependents believe that if they love their partner enough, the person will change. They go from relationship to relationship thinking, “If he or she would only change, this would be the perfect relationship, the one I’ve always dreamed of.” But it never is because the problem lies not in the relationship but within themselves.

Over time, codependents become emotionally dependent on their significant other and obsessed with the person’s needs and problems. Overly empathetic over the pain and suffering of their partner they feel compelled to sacrifice their own needs. After all efforts to make their partner happy or change the person’s self-defeating behaviors fail, they blame themselves for not trying hard enough or loving the person enough. Then they try even harder to fix the problem. It is a downward spiral.

This is a mental health issue, an emotional addiction. Until codependents become aware of their problem and acknowledge the part they play in the all their painful, failed relationships, they will repeat the destructive behavior over and over.

In order to change their debilitating behavior pattern, codependents must learn how to define themselves as separate from others, learn how to discriminate between what feels right and what feels wrong, and learn how to allow others to take responsibility for their own lives.

Complete recovery requires exploration into childhood issues and their relationship to present patterns, but current patterns should always be addressed and managed first. The fellowship and support of groups such as CODA, Nar Anon, and Al Anon are invaluable to this process.

The important thing to remember is that recovery takes time, support, and patience. Those who choose to embark on this healing journey must be kind, gentle, and forgiving with themselves. They will stumble, but the end result makes all the effort worthwhile—freedom, happiness, serenity, and fulfillment are the rewards.

Randi Fine is the author of the groundbreaking book Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: The Narcissistic Abuse Survivor’s Guide to Healing, the most comprehensive, most well researched, and most up-to-date book on this subject. In addition to helping survivors recognize their abuse and heal from it, this book teaches mental health professionals how to recognize and properly treat the associated abuse syndrome. She is also the author of Cliffedge Road: A Memoir, the first and only book to characterize the life-long progression of complications caused by narcissistic child abuse.

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