Codependency Treatment

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Originally the concept of codependence came out of the twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, based on the realization that the problem was not solely that of the addict, but also of those intimately involved with the addict.  It was believed that the codependent (usually the spouse) “enabled” the addict to stay in his or her addiction by continually trying to minimize, control or manage the situation rather than detach from it.  Now codependency is seen in a much broader light, as a personality style much more prevalent in the general population than had previously been imagined, and defined by a particular set of characteristics and behaviors that may include:

  • an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • a tendency to do more than their share most of the time
  • a tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • a tendency to confuse love with a desire to rescue; to ‘love’ the people they can feel sorry for and want to make better
  • a fear of abandonment often resulting in holding on to unhealthy relationships
  • chronic feeling of boredom and emptiness when not in a relationship
  • intense and unstable interpersonal relationships
  • focusing on others’ needs at one’s own expense
  • a sense of self based largely on being a “helper” or “fixer”
  • need to control others through people-pleasing or caretaking
  • difficulty expressing true thoughts and feelings
  • poor boundary setting (either weak or overly rigid)
  • guilt when asserting oneself
  • lack of trust in others

Codependency is a behavior learned early in life, whereby a person comes to believe that self worth can only come from external sources.  Often, this is because of some dysfunction in the family-of-origin, such as:

  • having a family member who was addicted to drugs, alcohol, work, food, sex or gambling
  • having a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness
  • having experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse

Attention and energy became focused on the family member who was ill, abusive or addicted.  The family likely did not acknowledge that a problem existed, never talking about it or confronting it.  The codependent learned to sacrifice self in order to care for the person who was “in need”, and in that process to disregard their own needs, and to develop compensatory behaviors that helped them to avoid their own difficult emotions.

Thus, in adulthood, a relationship can literally become more important to you than you are to yourself.  This obviously affects the ability to have healthy, authentic, mutually satisfying connection.

Since codependency is rooted in a person’s childhood, codependency treatment is predicated upon the importance of exploring childhood issues, with an understanding of the need to change irrational core beliefs that resulted from early neglect or violation, and a focus on developing a fully integrated and authentic sense of self.  Therapeutic interventions such as EMDR and art therapy are effective ways to transform negative core beliefs and resolve early trauma.  Psychodrama can provide the opportunity to heal old wounds and to create a stronger core identity, whereby old unproductive roles can be discarded, healthy existing roles can be expanded, and empowering new roles can be practiced and developed.