When you recognise and become aware that you are indeed a codependent, the hard work really starts. Even codependents who have a good handle on their triggers and situations that could cause a relapse have to fight hard to keep them in check. As one of my recovering patients said quite rightly “You are only one thought away from relapse”.
I know from my own experience and that of others that even the smallest relapse back into codependency can be a devastating feeling associated with doubt, guilt and shame. The very emotions that helped to create the codependent in the first instance. To some, the hard productive work done in recovery is overshadowed by this perceived “failure”.
Often, the relapse is down to contact with a former “object” or someone or something that triggers similar feelings. Once that happens (and depending on the state of recovery), it might take some time to get back on track. I have seen some clients completely thrown off course. Much of this is down to expectations set at the start of recovery and of course boundaries previously set around “toxic” people. The setting of boundaries is an essential process of the road to recovery even if there might be some people who might attempt to storm through any boundaries set.
Why do codependents allow this to happen? We can again look at a client’s history for the answer. Somewhere in childhood, they felt abandoned, insecure or generally unloved. As children, we find it hard to separate ourselves from our family and even the smallest indication that we are to be left alone will, over time develop feelings that we are unlovable and not good enough. When these concepts are not dealt with, they become part of our adult “psyche”. Unresolved issues that really never go away. It generally leads to a fear of emotional and physical intimacy.
Only we when truly reframe those early experiences and learn that we can make a choice to change our conditioning, will we have the insight to deal with the issue. However, it is wrong to assume that if codependency is identified as an issue, the person concerned is codependent with everyone in his or her life. There is usually only one or a number of people (or thing, e.g work, substances) but the typical behaviour associated with codependents does not necessarily get projected on everybody. The “object” of codependency is usually a very strong (mostly negative) influence on their lives and all focus is placed there. They are very resistant to realising this as it often defines them as people. Their struggle is them. Their “object” is their whole life and only by fixating on this, will they get what they need. Until a point of real awareness occurs, they will defend their object with all they have and even though they will incessantly complain about the “object”, on one else can. It once heard it described as a form of Stockholm Syndrome, which I would not argue with.
It is mostly only after the inevitable happens and things breakdown, that the light is seen. This can take a while considering the fact that codependents often need to “fix”.
Once such case I remember well is an elderly woman who only wanted to talk in therapy about how badly she was treated by her husband and son who were “taking advantage of me”. Her 35-year-old son who lived with them never had the chance to become independent because his mother did everything for him, including making his bed as soon as he eventually got up. When I suggested that maybe she might want to allow the family to do some more for themselves, she took me to task “but they won’t love me then!”: an extreme case but a glaring example.
In therapy, this attitude can cause problems. However, most therapists who are experienced with treating codependency will see this resistance as part of the solution, not the problem. The total sacrifice to the object is a pattern that has probably repeated itself since childhood. Relationships are seen by codependents as a way of resolving old issues broken and dysfunctional early bonding with caregivers. They are on a continual mission to resolve these early relationships.
In therapy, it is extremely important to work with a therapist who understands codependency and has worked through any such issues he or she may have had. Codependency, essentially, in relationships, is often misunderstood. According to many articles that I have read, some therapists and observers still doubt that it even exists. They put down to the “fad of the moment”. However, I have seen enough in my practice to recognize it as a disorder that affects many people. How can it be said that our adult relationships can in any way be functional when as children, we felt insecure and abandoned? By questioning this, the theory of attachment styles can be also questioned.
The bottom line is that codependents are often very resistant to being shown that their relationship with their “object” is dysfunctional and the attention they are giving “it” needs to go to them. For all the time they are fixated on someone else, they are fulfilling an old need to seek validation, resolve issues and be loved. The problem is…. they are looking in the wrong place.