The Role of Codependency in Abuse

NOTE: The following post is written by my friend Kathy Pooler who wrote a guest post last year. Since her book, Ever Faithful to His Lead, is available, I wanted her to share not only an excerpt from the book, but share about co-dependency–a topic she explores in her memoir. As someone who struggled with co-dependency, I was encouraged reading her book because I realized I wasn’t the only one. Her transparency helps disarm the shame and dark secrets that an rescuer and enabler walks in. She demonstrates that through God’s grace and leading, you can break free of co-dependency’s crippling grip. 

Photo Credit: iamrubenjr (Creative Commons)

Photo Credit: iamrubenjr (Creative Commons)

The statistics are alarming. According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence (NCADV) “one out of every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and most cases are never reported to the police.” (2000).

With odds like that, it is hard to deny that violence against women is an epidemic in our society, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality, or educational background.

I was a masters-prepared nurse from a loving family, and I ended up getting into and out of two emotionally abusive marriages.

The question I’ve had to ask myself, and the one that drives the narrative of my memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, is:

How does a young woman from a stable, loving Catholic family, make so many wise choices about her career but so many poor choices about love that she ends up escaping in broad daylight with her two children from her second husband for fear of physical abuse?

It is against this backdrop that I’d like to explore, how my role as a caretaker influenced my choices to get into two abusive marriages.

I did not suffer bruises or broken bones, but I did fall into an abyss of self-defeating behaviors searching for Prince Charming to make my life complete. The realities of my life continually clashed with the fantasy of living happily ever after. For years, I denied the obvious emotional abuse and held onto the hope that things would get better. Some people call that magical thinking. 

I was fulfilling my own need to be in a relationship without knowing myself well enough to discern if they were a good match beyond the initial attraction. Looking back, I seemed to gravitate toward men who were flawed in some way. That way, I could save them with my love. I could fulfill my care-taking needs. I became “co-dependent”, deriving my sense of worth from helping others.

My role as the oldest in the family set me up to be a caretaker of younger siblings. Praised for my maturity and reliable nature, I grew up feeling like I had to be responsible for others– the wise, older sister. I then chose nursing, a caregiving, helping profession that fit my need to take care of others.

My Catholic faith instilled in me a need to be selfless and to dedicate myself to the sacrament of marriage, despite glaring evidence of its damage to me.

When I was in the midst of an abusive situation, I reacted to it with my own unrealistic frame of reference—all parents are loving, all marriages endure challenges, and love will triumph all. Despite my advanced nursing education, I neither recognized my children and I were in an abusive situation, or felt I had any options.

I became a victim to my own care-taking needs, expecting a man to bring me happiness.

Memoir Excerpt: from Chapter 36

Second Chance Marriage, 1985

In July 1985, Dan flew back east and we loaded my possessions into a Ryder rental truck. That trip was when I first experienced the full force of his depressed, agitated moods. Maybe he did have the bipolar disorder he claimed was ruled out? It occurred to me that, other than my trip to visit him for the weekend in Wisconsin and a few trips to see his kids in Kentucky, we hadn’t been in each other’s company for more than a few hours at a time over the past eighteen months due to our work circumstances. Before this, I had never witnessed any unusual mood changes.

“It was a bunch of hooey,” he had said, referring to what he believed was a wrongful and inaccurate diagnosis. “I refused medication and I’m doing just fine.”

But that conversation was on my mind when he barely spoke to my sister, Paula, and her friends who had driven two hours from Buffalo to help me pack and load my belongings. He barely spoke to me during the entire twenty-two-hour journey. It was so strange.

“Dan, what’s wrong?” I asked, looking over at him as he squinted into the brilliant sunrise. It was a beautiful, quiet morning, but his silence left me uneasy.

“I’m fine,” he said in a dismissive tone, “just a little tired.” 

“Are you sure?” I said, not convinced.

“You really are a worrywart,” he snapped. He continued to look straight ahead and added, “It would help if you wouldn’t nag me.”

I sensed his agitation from his abruptness and turned to look out the window, hoping that silence would improve his mood.


It’s OK to care about someone else’s needs as long as it isn’t at the expense of your own needs. 

I explore these issues in Ever Faithful to His Lead and share my hard-earned lessons.

If one woman is able to connect with my story and find the strength within to break away from abuse, my mission will be fulfilled.

I learned the hard way that, as a woman, until I took responsibility for my choices, my happiness and the safety of my children would be compromised. I had to make a conscious decision—repeat the self-defeating behaviors or change my care-taking behaviors into life-affirming behaviors.

Pooler Final Cover


Good girl travels a rocky road to become a strong woman. Kathleen Pooler’s experience and insights capture the essence of an era, and this crisply written volume will inspire any reader.” ~ Sharon Lippincott, author of The Heart and Craft of Lifestory Writing

“…provides us with a deep well of wisdom-and a cautionary tale that will resonate with every woman.” ~ Lynne M. Spreen, author of Dakota Blues

Nothing can rescue her until she decides to rescue herself. How does a young woman from a stable, loving family make so many wise choices when it comes to career, but so many poor choices when it comes to love? Kathy must face her self-defeating patterns before she and her children become a statistic. Her life and the lives of her two children depend upon the choices she makes, and the chances she takes. Join Kathy on her roller coaster ride of self-discovery, from shame and guilt to inner strength in her tears to triumph story.

“If you have ever despaired as a parent or partner, knowing you have made a wrong choice but not knowing how to move forward, you will find courage, hope, and strength in these pages.” ~ Shirley Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World

How about you? Have your caretaking needs ever made you vulnerable to abuse?

You can order the book here:


Kathleen Pooler Bio, 2014:

Kathleen Pooler is an author and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, published on July 28, 2014 and work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal, and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments from domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer, and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters, and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. 

She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.

         She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog: 

 You can connect with Kathy through:

Twitter @kathypooler

LinkedIn: Kathleen Pooler:

Google+:Kathleen Pooler:



Personal page, Kathy Pooler :

Author page:  Kathleen Pooler/Memoir Writer’s Journey:

Pinterest  (

            One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.

            Another story: “Choices and Chances” is published in the  “My Gutsy Story Anthology” by Sonia Marsh, September, 2013.

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About the Author


Friend of God. Writer. Resting in His grace daily.


  1. Dear Sarah, thank you for being such gracious hostess for week #2 of my Virtual Book Tour. I appreciate the opportunity to be your guest and look forward to answering any questions your community may have about domestic abuse awareness.

    • You’re welcome, Kathy. It’s definitely a topic that many women can relate to, but may not want to come out of the dark. Glad you’re willing to share so people can understand that they have to take a stand.


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