Sometimes we experience ourselves in situations with other people that seem hopeless. If we are a practitioner of psychotherapy or related disciplines, we can meet clients who feel trapped in miserable relationships and have lost hope.
Realistic hope is never more important than when we are working with patterns of codependency. The word “codependency” comes to mind whenever we may be working with persistent patterns of relating that, no matter how destructive, seem mysteriously compulsive, even “fated”, to repeat the pain over and over.
That’s why I created “Healing Codependency”, a much requested training for professionals. I am also posting “Healing Relationships”, a series of articles and exercises for people to help themselves.
We All Need Somebody
We first thought that codependency was mainly connected with past dysfunctional family experience and limited to romantic relationships. We can now understand these patterns, in more or less severe states, wherever we perceive we are controlled and dissatisfied by a relationship yet feel unable to separate from it or improve it. The accompanying feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness and unlovable-ness can manifest in experiences of resentment, anxiety and low self esteem, fuelling the pattern to repeat again. At its worst, codependency is at the core of many abusive relationships, including those that escalate to domestic violence.
Codependency takes on many names and descriptions in the psychotherapy world, from adaptive “attachment styles”, to “relationship addiction”, to “identity fusion”. So why are the symptoms of codependency so widely observed and why can they become so damaging?
The drive to relate, attach and depend on each other is wired deep within the human brain and our species relies on these strong compulsions to connect with others in order to survive. As infants we depend on other people to get our needs met, so we owe our survival as a species to the strong biological drive to seek connection with others.
Enjoying Who I Am
We are also just as compelled to “individualise” or “self-actualise”. This means establishing a sense of ourself as a unique and whole person, able to independently enjoy who we are and build a life where our material, emotional and spiritual needs are met.
These two apparently conflicting drives can land us in insolvable paradoxes if we do not learn to identify and respond to different relating states that we move in and out of, no matter who we are and with whom we are relating, lovers, friends, family, colleagues – even the government!
What are YOUR Relating States?
We are constantly changing, adapting, responding, from situation to situation, from relationship to different relationship. But we have habits of how we relate, repetitive patterns that can become familiar relating states. Take a look at three different relating states, Independence, Interdependence and Codependence. You probably have sufficient awareness to identify an experience of your own in each of these relating states. See how these might feel familiar to you in different relationships and contexts.
Consider these 5 questions
- Does one of these states feel more familiar to me than the others?
- Do I spend more time being independent, interdependent or codependent?
- Which of my relationships are more often interdependent? Which relationship(s) feel more codependent?
- Do I get as much time as I would like feeling independent? Or am I unhappy when I am alone?
- Is there a type of relationship where I am more often codependent, such as with partner, children, parents, boss, friends, siblings?
All of us will experience codependency in our lives, whether it takes the severity of mild irritation we feel with some people or of a life-defining pattern that blights our pursuit of love and happiness.
I’ve tried everything. What else can I do???
So if experiences of codependency go with the territory of being human, to a greater or less extent, what can we do about it? One of the common features of a codependent state is when we feel we’ve tried everything to make the situation change and nothing has worked.
A first step to bringing real change is to begin to notice how and when you move in and out of different states of relating with yourself and others. Try this over the next week or so. Make notes if this helps you. It is possible to bring change to your life when you learn how, when and what will help you. Developing your awareness begins this journey. Try it.
We Are Not Alone
There is so much more help available than ever before to find effective ways to generate new patterns of relating so that people no longer need to spend a lifetime repeating the patterns of misery developed in their earliest years.
Something exciting is happening in the world of contemporary psychotherapy and it could help to improve your experience of being human – and that of your clients.
After centuries of isolated strands of competing theories, contemporary psychotherapists have now gained in knowledge and understanding to bring diverse approaches of effective psychotherapy together. We are able to draw on a wealth of inter-connecting theory and practice, from Attachment Theory, Recovery Models and Brain Plasticity, to be more responsive according to the needs and stage of healing of each person. This convergence supports more powerful and effective practice that can meet each individual with a grounded understanding of how humans develop, relate and find love and happiness together and as individuals.
And it means this knowledge is more easily understood and applicable, so that people can begin straight away to make improvements in their day, their relationships and their life, even while they are attending to the very source of ongoing problems they have experienced.
Healing is not just POSSIBLE. It is PROBABLE
While it is true that our early experiences have played a huge part in determining patterns of thinking, feeling, behaving and relating, we now know that there is far greater possibility to overcome, heal and grow from these past challenges. This is what we call “clinical optimism” – or realistic hope. Because of a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of past pain and current challenges, we can address these patterns directly as they occur in our contemporary life and learn to bring effective skills and possibilities to these opportunities for growth and greater fulfilment.
We now know that the adult brain continues to restructure itself when given the right conditions that psychotherapy can provide. New awareness and behaviours bring new experiences, learning and revised meaning to old patterns that seemed to have us in their grip. This is good news as it means we can grow beyond the automatic reactions that have held us in repetitive and painful patterns and begin to have choice, peace and connectedness in healthier ways.
Over the coming weeks I’ll be sharing a series of posts on these subjects to facilitate a structured pathway, adaptable by each person, to follow a journey of recovery towards improving existing relationships and generating new ones.
If you are a psychotherapy or counselling practitioner, a recovery coach or trainee in these fields you can take part in our highly praised training “Healing Codependency”, a certificated training to integrate knowledge and practical tools with your existing practice, offered by BeeLeaf Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, a UKCP Accredited Training Organisation.
By Pamela Gawler-Wright, Registered Psychotherapist, Clinical Trainer, Author, Speaker
I’ll be blogging more from my 20 year journey in learning about and working with healing codependency in the coming weeks.