Codependency Is Not A Love Addiction

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.

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.

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

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.

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