By Ross Rosenberg
THE CONTINUUM OF SELF THEORY
The Continuum of Self relies on a simple, 11-point scale that illustrates a person’s “self-orientation,” which, according to Rosenberg, captures whether someone is more oriented toward giving versus taking in relationship. On Rosenberg’s continuum, the extreme form of a giving self-orientation is Codependency. Conversely, the extreme form of a taking personality is an Emotional Manipulator.
I developed the Continuum of Self theory to illustrate, describe and even quantify the ever-present attraction that compels opposite personality types, such as codependents and emotional manipulators, to come together in a lasting but dysfunctional romantic relationship. The reader will learn that all potential romantic partners, healthy or dysfunctional, are “magnetically” attracted to each other and are emotionally compatible as a direct result of their perfectly matched opposite self-orientations (personalities). This theory accounts for the full range of relationship possibilities – from healthy to dysfunctional. I suggest that we all fit somewhere on the Continuum of Self.
This continuum measures a specific personality trait – a self-orientation. A self-orientation is defined as the manner in which we love, care for and respect ourselves and others while in a relationship. If we have an “others” self-orientation, we are more concerned with the needs of others, while placing less importance on having our own needs fulfilled. If we have a “self” self-orientation, we tend to be more preoccupied with our own needs, while ignoring the wants and desires of our loved ones.”
The Continuum of Self theory … accounts for the habitual and dysfunctional nature of the codependent/emotional manipulator relationship. It is a universal theory, as it applies to all individuals, ranging from those who are psychologically unhealthy to those who are completely balanced and psychologically healthy. Moreover, the theory accounts for the malleable nature of the human condition, as we all are inherently capable of growing and learning from our mistakes, overcoming difficult personal conditions, and with professional help, overcoming the powerful and seemingly indelible forces of our unconscious mind.
The Continuum of Self theory… became a road map of sorts; it has helped my clients to conceptualize their current relational health, identify their progress (or lack of progress), and have a clearer idea of their ultimate relationship “destination.”
THE CODEPENDENT PERSON
The layman and professionals alike began to use the term “codependency” to describe a person who could not or would not adequately care for or fulfill their own emotional and personal needs, while hyper-focusing on the needs, desires and requests of others.
… codependents habitually demonstrate people-pleasing or sacrificial interpersonal behaviors while feeling powerless to resist relationships with addicted, controlling and/or narcissistic individuals. … codependents habitually find themselves in relationships with egotistic, self-centered, selfish, and/or addicted individuals. Codependents are habitually and magnetically attracted to people who neither seem interested nor motivated to participate in mutual or reciprocal relationship.’
‘…By habitually choosing narcissistic or addicted friends or romantic partners, codependents consistently feel unfulfilled, disrespected and undervalued. As much as they resent and complain about the inequity in their relationships, codependents feel powerless to change them.
Codependents believe if they are just patient, loving and forgiving enough, eventually their emotionally manipulative or addicted partner will come to their senses, and realize and regret their selfishness and harmful ways. The problem with this belief system is that it is based on flawed logic and distorted thinking. Just as “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip,” it is impossible for the codependent to force the emotional manipulator to be that which they are not: unconditionally generous, supportive and empathic.
THE EMOTIONAL MANIPULATOR
An emotional manipulator is someone who is diagnosed with narcissistic, borderline or antisocial personality disorder. An emotional manipulator is also a person who is addicted to drugs/alcohol or a behavior/process; whose addiction has driven them to behave narcissistically and harmfully in their relationships. Although the three personality disorders and an addiction disorder are demonstrably different from each other, all four share similar narcissistic personality traits.
Narcissistic personality disorder, the first subtype, describes a person who has an inflated sense of superiority and importance while being preoccupied with thoughts and feelings of success and power. The second subtype, borderline personality disorder, loves others with great intensity and passion. However, if they perceive the possibility of judgment, disapproval, criticism or abandonment, they will often strike back with a fury of hateful and vindictive aggression. The third, antisocial personality disorder, describes an individual who is deceitful, cunning, covertly manipulative and purposefully exploitative. The last subtype, an addiction disorder, describes an addict who, because of his addiction, behaves in a dishonest, manipulative, selfish, and self-centered manner. Addicts are typically physically and psychologically dependent on a substance or mood-altering behavior pattern, e.g., sex, gambling, spending.
According to the Continuum of Self theory, emotional manipulators have a self-orientation that is almost completely focused on their own needs and desires at the exclusion of the needs and desires of their significant others. Not only do they require a disproportionate amount of love, respect and care from their partners, they are unable and unwilling to reciprocate. When they do demonstrate positive regard, affection or generosity, strings are usually attached.
CODEPENDENTS AND EMOTIONAL MANIPULATORS ARE “MAGNETICALLY” ATTRACTED
According to the Human Magnet explanation, codependents are “magnetically” attracted to emotional manipulators because of their opposite “magnetic polarity.” … Conversely, human magnets are always repelled by their own personality type.
… codependents and emotional manipulators are naturally attracted to each other because of their perfectly compatible dysfunctional inverse personalities. In relationships, codependents are pathologically-oriented toward the needs of others while downplaying or ignoring the importance of their own needs. Emotional manipulators are pathologically-oriented toward their own needs while dismissing or ignoring the needs of others.
As a direct result of their well-matched relationship orientations, codependents and emotional manipulators are irresistibly drawn to one another by what seems like an invisible, magnetic force. When they first meet, they are enveloped in a magnetic and seductive energy force that initially fulfills their fantasy for true love, but later devolves into a painful seesaw of love/pain and hope/disappointment.
Because codependents and emotional manipulators are dysfunctionally compatible, they experience intense excitement in the beginning phase of their relationship – almost like winning the lottery. The emotional manipulator’s confidence, charm and need to be the center of attention will create a barrage of emotional fireworks for the codependent. The great listening skills, patience and accommodating nature of the codependent, as well as her unconditional acceptance, endless support and empathy will stoke the fire of the emotional manipulator’s romantic fantasies. … Love will bloom as these two lovers experience their new relationship as a perfect fit.
The same magnetic attraction force that brought them together also bonds them into a long-term and persistent relationship. Despite their history of unhappiness, resentment, conflict and repeated breakups, the two remain together. Consequences, such as hurtful and protracted divorces, emotional harm to their children, spousal abuse, or restraining orders are often not enough to permanently separate these two. Paradoxically, their dysfunctional relationship provides them both with a distorted sense of security and safety. For the codependent and the emotional manipulator, pain and safety are often fused together.
THE CODEPENDENT/EMOTIONAL MANIPULATOR RELATIONSHIP
The unconscious feelings of familiarity compel both individuals to repeat the catch-22 relationship pattern of their childhood – needing to be loved by a person who is characteristically unable to love them or anyone else. More specifically, they will be compelled to repeat a version of their childhood relationship with their emotional manipulator parent. The codependent will do anything to get their partner to love them while the emotional manipulator will do anything to ensure their own safety and needs.
The soul mate dream quickly devolves into the “cell-mate” reality. In the beginning, they can’t live without each other and later… they can’t live with each other. The honeymoon phase never lasts very long. It is inevitable that shortly after the two dysfunctional lovers meet, the feelings of limerence will be replaced by conflict, chaos and misery (more so for the codependent).
These relationships resist change mostly because of the emotional manipulator’s inability to acknowledge their role in the relationship’s problems, while also being resistant to seeking help. The… codependent is correspondingly resistant to change, as it would result in potential emotional, psychological and even physical harm while also risking the long-term viability of the relationship. Examples include an… emotional manipulator partner who is unable and unwilling to understand, admit to, or seek help for their destructive role in their relationships. The… codependent could be a severely enabling wife who has threatened to leave her alcoholic husband for 30 years, but never followed through.
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