Do you think that you may be in an unhealthy relationship with an alcoholic or addict? You’re in the right spot. Learn here the difference between actions that HELP vs. HURT the situation….and learn more about how you can change YOURSELF in order to thrive. More on the signs of codependency here, with a section at the end for your questions.
Codependency fuels addiction
First, a question: Who can be codependent? A codependent can be an addicted person’s spouse, lover, child, parent, sibling, coworker, or friend. Most codependents do not realize they have a problem. They think they are helping the troubled person, but they are not. In fact, a codependent person can fuel addiction, allowing a person safety or immunity from the natural consequences of their own choices.
In fact, codependency has been described as a significant health risk behavior, because codependents are often involved in abusive and harmful relationships. So how can you understand and STOP codependency?
Q&A with an expert Marriage and Family Therapist
Today, we speak with Darlene Lancer, about these very issues. Darlene is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. Over the course of 25+ years, she’s helped men and women recover from trauma. Her goal is for people to become effective communicators with greater autonomy and capacity for intimacy, and experience more success and well-being in their personally and professional lives. Today, she’ll help us answer questions like:
– What are the main signs of codependence?
– What is the goal of treatment for codependence?
– What does treatment look like?
– How long does therapy last?
More here on getting out of the cycle of co-addiction and codependence. Then, if you still have questions about how to stop being codependent, we invite you to send us a question in the comments form at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all questions personally and promptly.
ADDICTION BLOG: In your experience as a mental health professional, are men and women often aware that they are codependent? Or does it come as a surprise?
DARLENE LANCER: It’s said that denial is the hallmark of addiction, and that goes for codependency as well. So, the answer is No, and Yes.
People are quick to point out others’ codependency, but are blind to their own. In fact, they may hand out advice and even exhort a friend not to be so codependent, while they’re in the midst of behaving codependently themselves.
ADDICTION BLOG: Around how many (what percentage) of close partner relationships can benefit from treatment for codependency?
DARLENE LANCER: I don’t know percentages, but if there is:
- lack of connection
- problems with intimacy or communication
- persistent conflict
- any type of abuse (including emotional or verbal)
ADDICTION BLOG: What would you say are the three (3) main signs of codependency?
DARLENE LANCER: It’s hard to limit it to just three (3). Some of the signs of dependency can include:
- Shame (which may be unconscious) that leads to impaired self-esteem, meaning that it’s unrealistically high or low
- Need for control (including over oneself)
- Dysfunctional boundaries
- Dysfunctional communication (usually either passive or aggressive)
ADDICTION BLOG: How can we be tested or assessed or diagnosed as codependent? What measures or assessments are used?
DARLENE LANCER: My book, Codependency for Dummies, has some quizzes in it, but there are no standardized tests. In fact, there isn’t one consensus definition.
Mine is: “Someone who can’t function from his or her innate self and instead organizes thinking and behavior around another substance, process, or person(s).” Readers can also look at the patterns listed on the www.coda.org website.
ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the common repetitive patterns that couples get into that lead to unhealthy relationships?
DARLENE LANCER: A common pattern is: Partner #1 criticizes Partner #2, who withdraws or attacks back. This can create irresolvable, escalating patterns of conflict. Partner #1 may complain that #2 won’t communicate, but doesn’t realize that he or she makes it unsafe for #2 to be open. Both end up shaming and blaming each other.
Another pattern is: One person pursues the other or invests more in the relationship in an attempt to get emotional needs met and partner #2 creates distance in any number of ways. Partner #1 then increases demands and the pursuit, which pushes partner #2 away further.
Another pattern is: One partner tries to help the other by taking on responsibilities for partner #2 that he or she should be handling for him or herself. In an extreme situation, this is enabling.
Another pattern is: One partner controls or abuses the other, and the Partner #2 accommodates but becomes resentful and loses more and more of him or herself.
ADDICTION BLOG: How do you address codependency in couples counseling? In other words, what are some of the main treatment modalities used?
DARLENE LANCER: I work on communication and building empathic bridges to one another. I’m informed by Self-Psychology and Systems and Attachment theory. I may work with one partner on prior trauma in view of the other when it’s affecting the current relationship. I use various modalities when working with trauma.
There’s a video on my website describing my approach to couples counseling. On my Services page I describe what to expect.
ADDICTION BLOG: What is the goal of treatment? And how long can it take to achieve that goal?
DARLENE LANCER: It depends if you’re asking about couples therapy or individual therapy.
For individuals, I often say that people come to therapy wanting to change themselves, but what they need to do – and this is rarely stated - is to accept themselves. Codependents generally deny and don’t honor their feelings and needs. They must learn to identify them; then be able to express their feelings assertively; and meet their needs or ask others for help meet them, as appropriate, such as a need to be listened to. Other goals are to:
- learn to self-soothe emotions
- heal past trauma
- pursue goals
- communicate effectively
Couples need to create safety for one another, learn to communicate authentically and assertively, and connect to one another empathically. They may love each other, but have poor relationship skills due to their codependency. They need to heal individually as described above, and then develop the courage to be authentic, assertive, and vulnerable with each other. They also must have enough autonomy and separateness to be less reactive.
Length of time varies depending upon an individual’s past, self-awareness, degree of autonomy and shame, and amount of effort they’re willing to put in.
ADDICTION BLOG: How long should a man or woman expect to be “in therapy” before seeing positive developments in relationship?
DARLENE LANCER: Some people see immediate, positive developments. In fact, many people write and tell me how much they or their relationship has improved just from reading my books and ebooks and doing the exercises. It’s not unusual for people to report that even the first therapy session made a difference.
I tell clients that they will see ongoing incremental change. It’s not like fixing a car. You ask the mechanic how long will the repair take, and he tells you. It’s not like replacing a broken part. It depends on what the client is looking for in their life. They should gradually feel more empowered, feel more comfortable with themselves, be more expansive in their feelings and life activities, and be enjoying life to a greater degree.
ADDICTION BLOG: If a partner is economically dependent on the other, how can s/he break co-addictive patterns, when reasonable fear for survival exists?
DARLENE LANCER: I don’t quite understand the question. Economics has nothing to do with it. Codependency is emotional dependence and that may be driving economic dependence.
Often when one spouse isn’t working, by talking about the pros and cons and motives and consequences of that, they begin working and feel much better. However, economic dependence doesn’t necessarily mean that the relationship is codependent or in jeopardy. They still may have reciprocity, equality, and mutual respect.
ADDICTION BLOG: What is the final result of codependency treatment? Do many/most people change their behaviors or stop a relationship with the addict?
DARLENE LANCER: The final result of recovery is to be a fully functioning person, who is:
- Capable of intimacy
- Congruent in expression of values, feelings, and needs
- Flexible without rigid thinking or behavior
Whether a person stays or leaves a relationship is up to them and not part of a goal from my point of view. Sometimes, people have the false belief that they must choose between being themselves or staying in unhappy relationships. Some people leave and take their codependence with them. Without changing our behavior, we’re likely to end up in another unhappy relationship, even if not with an addict.
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
DARLENE LANCER: Please add that it’s impossible to make these changes on your own and that it takes time. Codependency is mostly really learned bad habits and beliefs. It takes time to learn and practice new ones.
I encourage people to join 12-Step meetings at CoDA.org or Al-Anon Family Groups. There are also phone meetings for people who can’t attend in person, which of course is preferable.
Seek counseling in your area. I also do phone coaching for individuals and couples outside of the Los Angeles area. There’s also lots of free information on my website, and readers can subscribe to my monthly blog and YouTube channel. Doing the exercises in my books and ebooks are a great way to speed change as an adjunct to meetings and therapy.