Codependency is Love Management not Love Addiction

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What precisely is a love addiction? Does it exist? If it does, it is my firm belief that it has nothing to do with codependency. In this article, I will explain why many who see codependency as an addiction or an escape are wide of the mark. Even addiction itself is looked at in a different way these days. We are moving away from the ‘sick mind’ disease model to a more holistic way of looking at what drives it.

Codependents are not escaping or addicts of some sort. They are using relationships to function and bring stability in the only way they know. This is done by managing and controlling the environment around them.

I see it on websites and articles everywhere. Clients describe their codependency as an addiction. I have pontificated about it in previous articles and due to very prominent authors associating codependency with addiction, we might have come to accept that it should be viewed that way. The problem is that just the term ‘love addiction’ might be construed as something romantic and dream-like, something to aspire to. Nothing could be further from the truth. Codependency is an obsessive, compulsive, needy type of attachment that is more control than love. It is also not true that the addiction process that drives issues like alcohol and substance abuse are present in the codependency process. Codependency is a tool that helps people to function, not escape. If you agree, you may start to look at codependency in a whole new light.

The concept of codependency being a form of “Love management” can be seen as an attempt to understand the emotional and relational dynamics involved in codependent relationships. However, it is important to note that this term is not widely recognized within psychological literature, so it may have been coined informally. Let’s unpack this:

  1. Codependency: Traditionally, codependency is understood as a behavioral condition in a relationship where one person enables another person’s addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement. In more general terms, it refers to relationships where the boundaries are such that there is an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. This often entails a need for approval and a sense of identity that is heavily tied to the other person.
  2. Love management: If we take this term at face value, it could imply the concept of managing or regulating love within a relationship. This might involve a conscious effort to balance emotional investment, attention, and support to ensure that the relationship remains healthy.

Now, if we combine these two terms – “Codependency” and “Love management”, it can be interpreted as managing love in a way that codependency is a central component. This can have several connotations:

  • Misguided attempt at nurturing: Someone might perceive their codependent behaviors as a form of love, believing that by being excessively involved in their partner’s life, they are showing care and affection. This is a common misunderstanding of codependency, where the excessive involvement is mistaken for love.
  • Control: Codependency might be seen as a form of love management in the sense that one person may feel they are taking care of the other by controlling aspects of their life. This control, while potentially well-intentioned, can be detrimental to the autonomy and well-being of the person being ‘managed’.
  • Emotional Regulation: The concept might also imply that in codependent relationships, individuals may use the relationship to manage their emotions and sense of self-worth. They might rely on their partner to an unhealthy degree for validation, support, and identity.

In a healthy relationship, love management would ideally involve setting appropriate boundaries, ensuring mutual support, maintaining individual identities, and fostering growth for both individuals involved. However, when codependency is misinterpreted as a form of love management, it can result in an imbalanced, unhealthy dynamic that can be harmful to both parties involved.

In summary, while some might use the term “Love management” to describe the strategies used in codependency, it’s important to recognize that true love in relationships is founded on respect, healthy boundaries, and mutual support and growth. Codependency can often be a distortion of these values and can be detrimental to the individuals involved in the relationship.

I am a therapist that practices a lot of Internal Family Systems Therapy. I love its depth, common sense and the clarity it can bring. IFS as a basic theory looks at the idea of a ‘plural’ mind made up of parts. Most therapies believe in the ‘unitary’ mind, meaning essentially that the whole mind is troubled or sick at the time of diagnosis. This is the basis of the DSM which describes symptoms and labels individuals. IFS has an interesting take on the DSM and the disorders it describes in that most disorders can be seen as extreme parts protecting the Self from overwhelm. My own view is that while the DSM is a useful tool, it is too tied to therapists getting paid, leading to many people having a false diagnosis (and medication).

The parts described above, are with us at birth and are our birthright. They are not developed but are pushed into extreme positions to protect the Self. IFS believes that the Self can never be damaged or fragmented (as many therapies believe) but is protected by the parts forced into extreme positions by trauma. The Self is always there and needs to be rediscovered by working with the parts, accepting them (however extreme) and finding new roles for them. To do this, we have to find them, flesh them out by hearing their stories and freeing them. This helps to bring balance and harmony to the system. When we can do this, we will automatically return to Self mode, as described by the 8 C’s.

Most children up to a certain age will be in Self mode by default. They naturally know how to be creative, curious, connected and playful until they find that threatening to express and then the parts step in to protect the Self from being overwhelmed. There are various parts that can be described:

Exiles: These are parts that have been repressed, and they make their presence known through our sentiments, core beliefs, sensations, and behaviors. These parts were humiliated, ignored, abused, or neglected when they were children, and as a result, they are cast out of the system by other parts (described below) in order to prevent the emotional suffering they cause from becoming overwhelming for the system as a whole. In order to accomplish this goal, we put forth a significant amount of psychic energy.

Proactive protectors or Managers: These proactive parts focus on learning, functioning, being prepared and stable. Managers use hyper-vigilance to prevent exiles from being triggered and flooding the system with emotion. They are hard working and determinedly use various tactics to keep us task-oriented and impervious to feelings. They do this with criticism, shaming, workaholism and perfectionism. People who see the Self through Managers display rigid thinking and a need for control. They rarely take risks and will see change as dangerous.

Reactive protectors or Firefighters: These parts share the same purpose as Managers but do it in a different way. Firefighters are like First Responders and react after the Exiles have broken through the Manager’s firm grip to exhibit emotion and triggering. Firefighters are the ultimate escape from this pain and can be fierce and use extreme measures like alcoholism and drug taking, binge-eating, excessive shopping, promiscuity, cutting and ultimately suicidal thoughts. We must also be aware that the Managers and Firefighters can be in conflict with each other in extreme ways which can be extremely negative for the psyche.

So where does my theory come in? If you look at the descriptions above, codependency is more of a means to function rather than escape. Managers shame and criticise the codependent and tell them that they need to forego their needs in order to feel safe in a relationship. Managers shame codependents when they think about their needs and subsequently protect the Self from feelings of abandonment and ‘not being good enough’ experienced in childhood. It is not an escape but as means to function. The Managers also drive the Drama Triangle, the means of codependent control. Managers tell codependents that they are not capable of being alone and also drive ‘fixing’, anger and victimhood. Codependents are not escaping or addicts of some sort. They are using relationships to function and bring stability in the only way they know by controlling their codependent object.

Codependents can only heal by accessing the Self, the core of psychic balance and harmony, the seat of consciousness and the inner source of olive. The Self can show up in the energy of positive feeling states such as calmness, connectedness, curiosity, courage, compassion, playfulness and love or with an individual sense of being present.

Once codependents can find this sense of Self, self-energy and self compassion, the world looks very different.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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