September 21, 2012

Several years ago I was presenting my Disentangle material at a conference on addiction and recovery. My session was full with around 30 participants. As we started the session, I asked the participants to give me some comments about why they had chosen to attend my session. Several hands went up right away. The first man I called on said, “I am here, because the primary reason for relapse is codependence.” A number of people nodded and agreed.

This man worked in a treatment center for substance addictions. And though much of the treatment offered to patients in such a setting is directed at education about and treatment for specific substances, this counselor knew that the treatment of this process addiction of losing our self in someone else is essential to sobriety from those substances.

Then within the past month, I ran into an article also saying this same thing. In a blog appearing in Sober Living Outpatient David Kolker, therapist at Sober Living Outpatient, states, “The number one cause of relapse is codependency.”

These statements are emphasizing the importance of understanding and treating codependency for solid recovery. As you know, I speak of codependence as loss of self in someone else. If I am not able to listen to, to attend to, and to cultivate my self, I am very likely to fill those needs through things outside of my self. This external meeting of my needs can range from tangled relationships to return to substance addictions.

It is completely normal for me to have my needs for love, connection, attention, safety, security, and encouragement – to name just a few of these human needs. It is just important for me to be learning how to offer these things to my self as a cornerstone of my own health and recovery. My potential to be in a healthy relationship and substance free is greatly increased by this loving work on my own behalf first.
Here is my third blog in this series supporting the work laid out by Dan Griffin and Rick Dauer in their article Rethinking Men and Codependency in the Addiction Professional. In that article, they name nine relational skills they believe are essential to healthy codependency recovery for men including conflict resolution, emotional expression, healthy boundaries, and self-care. As in my past blogs, my comments which follow are offered for both men and women.
I agree with all of their nine identified relational skills. And I believe there are many skills within those skills that have to be learned. In my book, Disentangle: When You’ve Lost Your Self in Someone Else I present more than 50 of those skills divided into four areas of work for our Self: Facing Illusions, Detaching, Setting Healthy Boundaries, and Developing Spirituality.
For example, learning how to detach and gain some emotional distance involves learning that I am a separate individual from the other person and to differentiate what is theirs and what is mine, learning to observe my self and the other so as to act not react, and paying attention to my motivations as I interact.
Learning to set healthy boundaries involves learning how to quiet our self, how to listen to our self, how to know what is true for our self in a given situation, being able to assert our boundary, being able to stick with our boundary, and learning how to manage our self as we feel the various feelings that come from stating and standing firm with our boundary.
The skills are numerous and important. Why don’t we already know these things? Well, it is likely that the roles we have taken on over our lifetime and the related socialization influences discussed previously have limited the skills we needed. We have operated in our prescriptive ways over and over. The good news is that you are reading this and are interested in change. New relational skills will definitely help with those changes.
This is the second in three blogs responding to the article in Addiction Professional on Rethinking Men and Codependency. In my previous blog, I cited three points with which I resonate. The second point here is the role of socialization in the origins of codependent behaviors.
In their article, Griffin and Dauer focus on codependency in men as an expression of their socialization based on gender. They look specifically at relational cultural theory emphasizing how men are raised to be separate, independent individuals who are taught the use of power and control on their way to manhood. In these ways, they do not learn ways to interact and form emotionally honest, healthily connected relationships. In their article they list important ways in which these effects of socialization are expressed in male codependent behaviors.
I, too, believe that our socializations are very important to understand as we look to make changes away from codependent behaviors. As I have written and presented on this topic of codependency over the past ten years, I have come to think of the influences contributing to codependency in the form of three concentric circles:
In the center circle is the individual, our core self who we are always attending to and cultivating. This self includes at least four areas: physical, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual
The second layer around the center circle is the family system which includes our family-of-origin as well as whatever constitutes our current family. This layer is emphasizing the influences of our family systems on the roles and rules we have developed over our lifetime.
The third layer around the center circle includes the social/cultural/political worlds in which the individual and their family systems live.
As I say in My Life as a Border Collie: Freedom from Codependency, “Each of these outer layers has profound effects on the individual it surrounds. To understand codependence in the individual without seeing these layers of influence on them is incomplete” (p. 28).