What is Codependency?


What is Codependency and does it matter

Codependency is a word that has lost some of its original meaning from overuse. Codependency originated in the recovery movement and was used to describe the behaviors of people who were in a relationship with an alcoholic or substance abuser. Codependency has come to mean addiction to relationships, relationships that do not have healthy boundaries and relationships where the codependent has not been able to protect themselves.

Over the years, however, codependency has expanded into a definition that describes a dysfunctional pattern of living and problem solving, developed during childhood by dysfunctional family rules. These families suffer from poor boundaries (to understand these boundaries and definitions of abuse) and produce adults who have been abused as children. This abuse may come in the form of neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse and/or emotional abuse. Abuse will be have found in families who suffer from mental health issues, problems with addictions and compulsivity, in families where for whatever reason parents don’t have time for children, and in families where the parents were abused as children.

Pia Melody in her book, Facing Codependency, defines the Five Core Symptoms of Codependence:

• Having low self-esteem
• Difficulty setting boundaries
• Knowing yourself, knowing what you want
• Taking care of adult needs and wants
• Difficulty experiencing and expressing reality moderately.

In any family there are elements of accommodation that we have to make, for some these accommodations are little for others it can be a form of abuse. We adapt so we can survive. You couldn’t wake up each day and say “This is hell”; you have to go into some type of denial to survive. Those tools we used to adapt were the tools available to children and as adults we may find that we still rely upon them and they don’t work as well as they did before. Remember: as a child your choices are limited. They are pretty much limited to your thoughts and fantasy, these are the tools of children. “How can I think about what is happening to me in a way that I don’t feel like a victim?” Children blame themselves for the problem: “If I were better, maybe my parents wouldn’t fight or I wouldn’t be hurt.” “If I brought more joy to my family than they wouldn’t be so unhappy.” As children we don’t even usually think things this clearly its not until we are far removed from the situation that we can really allow ourselves to think about it. As a child to feel the problem might be in  our parents often makes us feel helpless and hopeless — we do not have the power to change how others respond and as children we don’t have the power to leave or protect ourselves.  So to feel a sense of mastery in the world, we become the problem. “This is something I can work on and fix. I can change me and I can’t change them.” But we constantly fail because we are not the problem.

Psychotherapy has been a good setting for learning that you are not the problem. It can be a good environment for learning how you accommodated and how to put yourself first. How to grow, develop insight and understanding so you will have more options and choices in your life.

As we grow our tools for protecting ourselves should grow, but remember we must be taught coping and problem solving skills. Without this education we still use the tools our child’s mind came up with and often continue to blame ourselves for other peoples behaviors. As adults we need to expand our resources, we have not been taught good problem solving skills or good self care.

Recovery from codependency is learning how to meet and identify our own needs, to learn that putting ourselves first is not always selfish. When we set boundaries and factor in our needs we become a better friend, spouse/partner in any type of relationship. I always use the example when you are on an airplane and the flight crew is giving you the instructions most of us ignore they always tell you if the oxygen mask comes down first place it over your mouth and then if someone needs assistance help them. If you can’t breath you are little help to the next person. This isn’t a hall pass to always have it your way it is an opportunity to start looking at your relationships and consider how they can become collaborative. It is an opportunity to challenge some of the beliefs you have learned about yourself and find that some of them may not be accurate or maybe were but no longer fit.  We learn ways of communicating,we learn to honor and respect our needs and wants and the needs and wants of others. We learn what a reciprocal relationship is and how we deserve to be in them. We learn how to problem-solve and look for the win-win solutions. How to set health boundaries, how to compromise and accept others limitations and not take it personally. We learn to tolerate differences and know there is not always one way to do something. We learn we are not damaged and doomed to repeat the same mistakes. We discover our self-worth and self-esteem. We learn that we are loveable.

By Licia Ginne, MFT

What is Addiction?

If you are taking medications, street drugs or alcohol and you want to stop using them you must first check with your medical doctor. It may not be safe for you to stop immediately.Addiction-Cycle

How can I tell if I have addiction problems?
By Licia Ginne, LMFT

I met Rod Allison when we both worked at the Recovery Center of Monterey. I asked him once how he defined addiction as an “enslavement to habit”. A medical definition of addiction is a state where the body relies on a substance to maintain normal function and when removed will experience a physical withdrawal.

In more common usage addiction has come to mean and include psychological and physical dependence and abuse. It has come to include more then alcohol and drugs, but gambling, sexual activity, food and eating disorders, computer activity, relationships, and many other substances and processes.

Addiction is doing something over and over to the point where you have regrets (shame), or until it causes harm in your life. It’s a good chance it is addiction or abuse if your behavior includes any of the following: shame, remorse, denial, minimizing and / or secretive behavior. The problem drinker will claim to have had fewer drinks than actually consumed or claim not to have even been drinking. The drug abuser will downplay the amount or type of drugs taken. The gambler will lower the amount lost and increase the amount won. Shame is such a crucial part of the addictive pattern that you can assume the person is underestimating or overestimating their story.

After more than 30 years working in the mental health and recovery field I do tend to view addiction differently than I have in the past. I can’t explain why some people can have one drink and others one drink is never enough. I know there are many physical and psychological elements at work. What I have come to learn is that living with an addiction, abuse or without the use or abuse of substances or processes requires a change in how you view the world. How you view yourself in the world and how you conduct yourself in the world. For many people learning how to cope and relate starts when they are able to stop the addictive behavior and tolerate their own emotions. As I have stated many times on this website addiction has many components and needs to be addressed from a whole person perspective.

It is important to ask yourself does your indulgence affect your work, play, relationships, emotional or physical health?

Compulsivity is the behavior underlying addiction and we can become compulsive about most anything. In the early days of treatment this was referred to as cross-addiction. Current research on brain activity supports the theory of compulsivity as brain patterns are similar whether it is from cocaine use, alcohol or even eating disorders, it seems to be the pattern of any addiction in the brain. It is important when addressing addiction to consider the addictive nature and how it can move across the board from substances into processes and back again.

Substances can include:

  • Alcohol
  • Drugs: amphetamines, caffeine, cannabis, cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, nicotine, opiates (street drugs or prescription drugs)
  • Food

Processes can be:

  • Food; restrictive eating, compulsive eating, binging and purging.
  • Gambling
  • Internet use
  • Money & Finances
  • Sexual activity; anonymous sex, pornography, strip clubs, compulsive masturbation, multiple partners, prostitutes
  • Love addiction; infidelity, obsession with partner (stalking type behavior), relationship after relationship, being in love with love
  • Work
  • Exercise
  • Religion

Relationships can be:

  • Co-dependency
  • Co-sex addict
  • Traumatic bonding relationships
  • Love
  • Romance

What may start out as casual use or activity soon becomes compulsive and a demand. You tend to schedule your activities around the behavior or the planning for the behavior. Many report the preoccupation with planning is more stimulating and exciting than actually completing the event. You may become so preoccupied with your desire that it is hard to focus on anything else; you find your mind wandering back to the compulsive behavior. You attempt to control your behavior with rules; limiting use or abstaining without a support group.

Once you remove yourself from the self-defeating addiction pattern you can reassess your life and see what really needs to change; maybe you are lonely, insecure or feel you lack confidence and alcohol helps you feel confident and makes it easier to meet people. Addictions will always have a major downside; hangovers, health issues, financial problems,legal problems, loss of relationships, loss of employment or careers just to name a few.

If you are not certain if you have an addiction stop the behavior for 6 months (or even 3 months) and see how you feel, see if there is a difference in the quality of your life. If you cannot stop the alcohol, drugs, gambling or whatever your compulsive behavior than it’s a good guess it is at least a problem if not an addiction. People who don’t have issues with compulsivity can stop the behaviors for 6 months, they may have cravings at times but do not struggle with urges.

If you want to know more about your behaviors: contact me, contact an expert in addiction in your area, talk with a psychotherapist, M.D., social worker or psychologist who specializes in addiction or attend a 12-step meeting and see if you find people talking about situations and experiences that you have had.

12-step programs offer support and assistance for free or a small donation.

Support for Friends & Family Members

  • Al anon –support for family members and friends of problem drinkers.
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) – support for those who grew up in alcoholic or dysfunctional homes.
  • Codependents Anonymous – 12-step program for women and men seeking support to learn how to have healthy relationships.

New Year, New Private Practice

psychoanalysisHappy New Year to everyone. It’s a New Year and soon it will be a new private practice. I gave myself a deadline of the new year before putting a lot of  focus on rebuilding a private practice. Here I am in a new town and realize how little I know about the world of psychotherapy in this area. I spent over 25 years building a private practice in Los Angeles and now need to start building here in Santa Cruz. I laugh to myself when I find a trail to follow and find out its not what I thought it was. Thinking I found a center of therapists that work from an attachment theory model only to find they are using the word literally to describe the service of helping people to make attachments in their world. So as with any business you need to find your market and need to know your resources. At least I have a community in Los Angeles that once practiced here or is practicing now, so I get leads and thoughts about the community. Every community is different in the same way that we as humans have different needs and wants. Forming relationships is about understanding the expectations, needs and wants of individuals. I may want to have a friendship with you where we meet weekly and it may turn out that you have more commitments than I do and can only offer me a monthly get together. It is up to me at that point to see if that works for me or how that fits in my world view. I might be disappointed but trying to get you to free up time and meet my needs won’t work in the long run nor is it fair to the other person. It’s the same with marketing my private practice I may want my practice to look a particular way but it doesn’t mean it will, I do have to understand the environment I am working in. It would be like living in the desert and wanting to grow orchids outside, they would not survive the desert environment. I can keep trying but the chances are high I will not succeed. Now if I want to build a greenhouse that regulates moisture and temperature, it increases my odds of successfully growing orchids. Yet this is a self contained environment and does not rely upon others. Growing a private practice I need to know the desires of the community and how they mesh with my ways of working.

From years of working and teaching marketing I do have a business and marketing plan from which I work. I remind myself it is a slow process and take one step at a time. I am now looking for office space to rent. So if anyone out there knows of any therapy space for rent I would be grateful for any referral. I also know that having a community is an important part of a private practice. I keep my community in Los Angeles and my membership in the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis helps me connect with other local members as well as have a support system as I make this transition. For anyone interested many of the CE programs offered by ICP are done live online so you can learn about contemporary psychoanalysis and gain continuing education units all in the privacy of your own home.  I also look to local groups for membership and involvement to build on my community here in Santa Cruz. These are the first steps of my journey and if I don’t declare them it’s easy to let them slip by and it has always been my plan to have a small private practice. Another commitment is to bring this blog back to life and focus time on writing on it. So I will keep you posted as my journey takes form.
Licia Ginne, MFT