When long-awaited sobriety finally arrives, partners expect their past relationship problems will disappear. Often, there is a “honeymoon” period when they’re on their best behavior and reaffirm their love and commitment. After all that they’ve been through together, they have high hopes for a rosy future and easier times ahead. Yet, sobriety destabilizes the status quo, and the longer partners are together, the more their patterns become entrenched. It’s an unsettling time. Both partners feel vulnerable. In new sobriety, couples don’t really know how to talk to one another. It’s a rocky transition in the marriage or relationship that presents many challenges. more
Codependency has been referred to as “relationship addiction” or “love addiction.” Our focus on others helps alleviate our pain and inner emptiness, but by ignoring ourselves, it only grows. This habit becomes a circular, self-perpetuating system that takes on a life of its own. Our thinking becomes obsessive, and our behavior compulsive, despite adverse consequences. Examples might be calling a partner or ex we know we shouldn’t, sacrificing ourselves, finances, or values to accommodate someone, or snooping out of jealousy or fear. This is why codependency has been referred to as an addiction. more
Forgiveness can sometimes feel impossible or even undesirable. Other times, we forgive only to be hurt again and conclude that forgiving was foolish. Both situations arise from confusion about what forgiveness really means. Forgiveness doesn’t require that we forget or condone another’s actions or the harm caused. In fact, for self-protection rather than anger, we may decide to never see the person again. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we justify or play down the hurt caused. Often, codependents forgive AND forget, and continue to put themselves in harms’ way. They forgive and then rationalize or minimize their loved one’s abuse or addiction. This is their denial. They may even contribute to it by enabling. more
Emptiness is a common feeling, and there are distinct types of emptiness, but it’s psychological emptiness that underlies codependency and addiction. Whereas existential emptiness is concerned with your relationship to life, psychological emptiness deals with your relationship to yourself. It’s correlated with depression[i] and deeply related to shame. Depression may be accompanied by a variety of symptoms, including sadness and crying, anxiety or restlessness, shame or guilt, apathy, fatigue, change in appetite or sleep habits, poor concentration, suicidal thoughts, and feeling empty. more
Conventional belief is that we can never love too much, but that isn’t always true. Sometimes, love can blind us so that we deny painful truths. We might believe broken promises and continue to excuse someone’s abuse or rejection. We may empathize with them but not enough with ourselves. If we grew up in a troubled environment, we might confuse our pain with love. Although relationships have disappointments and conflicts, love isn’t supposed to be painful and hurt so much. By not having boundaries, we harm ourselves and the relationship. We might also confuse love with being someone’s caretaker. more
When shame becomes toxic, it can ruin our lives. Everyone experiences shame at one time another. It’s an emotion with physical symptoms like any other that comes and goes, but when it’s severe, it can be extremely painful. Strong feelings of shame stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, causing a fight/flight/freeze reaction. We feel exposed and want to hide or react with rage, while feeling profoundly alienated from others and good parts of ourselves. We may not be able to think or talk clearly and be consumed with self-loathing, which is made worse because we’re unable to be rid of ourselves. more
Living with an addict can be a living hell. Unpredictable and dangerous, yet sometimes exciting and romantic. Never knowing when we’ll be blamed or accused. Not being able to dependably plan social events. As the addict becomes more irresponsible, we pick up the slack and do more, often becoming the sole functioning parent or even the sole provider; yet we’re unable to lean on our partner for comfort or support. Meanwhile, we rescue him or her from disasters, medical emergencies, accidents, or jail, make excuses for no-shows at work and family gatherings, and patch up damaged property, relationships, and self-inflicted mishaps. We may also endure financial hardship, criminality, domestic violence, or infidelity due to the addict’s behavior.
We worry, feel angry, afraid, and alone. We hide our private lives from friends, co-workers, and even family to cover up the problems created by addiction or alcoholism. Our shame isn’t warranted; nonetheless, we feel responsible for the actions of the addict. Our self-esteem deteriorates from the addict’s lies, verbal abuse, and blame. Our sense of safety and trust erodes as our isolation and despair grow. My focus is on alcoholism, but many of the feelings partner’s experience are the same, regardless of the type of addiction. more
Wonder whether you’re in love or in lust? Whether your obsession about someone is a sign of love or addiction? Whether you’re staying in a troubled relationship because you’re addicted or in love? It’s complicated, and lust and love and addiction don’t always exclude one another. Endless analyzing doesn’t help or change our feelings, because we’re often driven by forces outside our conscious awareness.
Initial attraction stirs up neurotransmitters and hormones that create the excitement of infatuation and a strong desire to be close and sexual with the person. These chemicals and our emotional and psychological make-up can cause us to obfuscate reality and idealize the object of our attraction. Time spent in fantasy fuels our craving to be with him or her. This is normal when it doesn’t take over our lives.
Perfectionism is an addiction, meaning we’re repeatedly unable to stop our perfectionist behaviors. Like other addictions, perfectionism varies in severity, from positive or “adaptive” perfectionism that builds self-confidence to negative, “maladaptive” perfectionism, which and can have serious, negative consequences. It harms our self-esteem, make us unable to accept other people’s differences and their mistakes and flaws, and it can rob us of time with them. We require that things look or are done in a specific, “correct” way in accordance with our perfectionist standards. Some perfectionists attempt to perfect their bodies with repeated surgeries or pursue athleticism to the point of injury. Severe perfectionism has also been linked to anorexia, depression, and even suicide.
Perfectionism is an illusion existing only in the mind. Telling perfectionists they look fine or that their home or project is excellent is useless. Their image of how things should be bears little correlation to reality. They will continue to find flaws and have difficulty find pleasure in compliments or satisfaction from their efforts. more
People don’t understand the 12-Step recovery process, unless they have participated in a 12-Step program. Although they may encourage others to attend, they may feel perplexed or act patronizing. Often, therapists don’t realize that the 12-Steps are not merely an for addiction, but are guidelines for nothing less than a total personality transformation. Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics was influenced by Carl Jung, whom he wrote seeking a treatment for alcoholism. Jung replied that the cure would have to be a spiritual one – a power equal to the power of spiritus vini, or alcohol. He thought that addicts were “misguided ‘seekers for the spirit,’ …in the world of Dionysus, the god of renewal through the light from below, from the earth rather than from the heavens…” (Whitmont, 227)
The 12 Steps provide a spiritual remedy. They outline a process of surrender of the ego to the unconscious, God, or a higher power, and very much resemble the process of transformation in Jungian therapy. Jung believed that unity and wholeness of the personality, which generates a sense of acceptance and detachment, occurs when both the conscious and unconscious demands are taken into account – when not the ego, but the Self, is at the center of consciousness. (Storr, 19) He felt his life was “a story of the self-realization of the unconscious,” and rediscovered, as suggested by the 12 Steps, that God was “a guiding principle of unity.” (Storr, 24-25) more
We’re all in denial. We’d barely get through the day if we worried that we or people we love could die today. Life is unpredictable, and denial helps us cope and focus on what we must in order to survive. On the other hand, denial harms us when it causes us to ignore problems for which there are solutions or deny feelings and needs that if dealt with would enhance our lives. Unfortunately, if you’re in denial, you won’t know it. Read on to learn how to recognize denial in its many forms. more
When an obsession dominates us, it steals our will and saps all the pleasure out of life. We become numb to people and events, while our mind replays the same dialogue images, or words. In a conversation, we have little interest in what the other person is saying and soon talk about our obsession, oblivious to the impact on our listener.
Obsessions vary in their power. When they’re mild, we’re able to work and distract ourselves, but when intense, our thoughts are laser-focused on our obsession. As with compulsions, they operate outside our conscious control and are rarely abated with reasoning. Obsessions can possess our mind. Our thoughts race or run in circles, feeding incessant worry, fantasy, or a search for answers. They can take over our life, so that we lose hours, sleep, or even days or weeks of enjoyment and productive activity.
Obsessions can paralyze us. Other times, they can lead to compulsive behavior like repeatedly checking our email, our weight, or whether the doors are locked. We lose touch with ourselves, our feelings, and our ability to reason and solve problems. Obsessions like this are usually driven by fear. more
Accepting reality enables us to live in reality. What does this mean? When life pleases us and flows in accordance with our needs and desires, we don’t think about acceptance. But when our will is frustrated, or we’re hurt in some way, our displeasure causes us to react, ranging from anger to withdrawal. We might deny or distort what’s happening to lessen our pain. We might blame others or ourselves, or we try to change things to our liking and needs. more
It must be cellular that men and women automatically feel humiliated when their partner cheats, even though they themselves have done nothing to be ashamed of. Too often, people feel embarrassed for their partners’ behavior, whether it’s domestic violence, emotional abuse, drug or alcohol addiction, gambling, or sex addiction, and too often, those addicts and abusers shift the blame onto their wives and husbands. It’s called “blaming the victim.” But the truth is that we are only responsible for our own behavior and others are responsible for theirs.
Betrayal is a devastating assault upon our ability to trust – trust in ourselves, other people, our sense of justice, even God. It can affect our self-esteem, if we let it. For some people, the worst part of adultery is the dishonesty – sharing our life with someone whom we discover has been living a lie day in and day out. We start to doubt our own senses, let alone our own attractiveness. Who was he or she, really? more
Enabling is a term often used in the context of a relationship with an addict. It might be a drug addict (which includes an alcoholic), gambler, or compulsive shopper. Enablers suffer the effects of the addict’s behavior rather than the addict. Enabling “removes the natural consequences to the addict of his or her behavior.” The reason professionals warn against it is because evidence has shown that an addict experiencing the damaging consequences of his addiction on his life is the most powerful incentive to change. Often this is when the addict “hits bottom” – a term commonly referred to in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Codependents often feel compelled to solve other people’s problems. If they’re involved with addicts, particularly drug addicts, they usually end up taking on the responsibilities of the irresponsible addict. Their behavior starts as a well-intentioned desire help, but in later stages of addiction, they act out of desperation. The family dynamics become skewed, so that the sober partner increasingly over-functions and the addict increasingly under-functions. This builds resentment on both sides, along with the addict’s expectation that the over-functioning partner will continue to make things right when the addict doesn’t meet his or her responsibilities. more
Codependency is often thought of as a relationship problem and considered by many to be a disease. In the past, it was applied to relationships with alcoholics and drug addicts. It is a relationship problem; however, the relationship that’s the problem is not with someone else, but the relationship with yourself, and that is what gets reflected in your relationships with others.
Codependency underlies all addictions. The core symptom of “dependency” manifests as reliance on a person, substance, or process (i.e, activity, such as gambling or sex addiction). Instead of having a healthy relationship with yourself, you make something or someone else more important. Over time, your thoughts, feelings, and actions revolve around that other person, activity, or substance, and you increasingly abandon your relationship with yourself. more
Have you been told, “Just let go of it,” or tell yourself, “I have to let go,” but wonder, how? I’ve asked myself that question. Sometimes you want to let go of a worry or an obsession about someone else. You may try to detach, but can’t. Other times, you can’t move forward after a major loss or you need to unwind from a busy work schedule. Each case has different challenges, but fundamentally, they all require a shift in attention from the mind into the body and from the past or future into the present. Letting go can be a rejuvenating practice that brings the mind and body into balance for clarity, peace, and heightened functioning.
Depending upon what you’re letting go of, it can take moments or years. When you’re letting go of someone you love, it’s not easy, nor pain free. However, it’s human nature to avoid pain, even if the price is long-term misery. When the source of frustration, loss or stress is ongoing, letting go becomes a process of developing a new, beneficial orientation toward life. more
Do you wonder if you are Codependent? Do you regularly sacrifice your opinions, needs or wants, and then feel resentful? Do you feel guilty saying no and resentful when you don’t? Are you controlled by, or try to control someone else, whom your thoughts and feelings revolve around, as in the Barry Manilow song, “I’m glad when you’re glad, sad when you’re sad?” Are you afraid of speaking up? Resentment, guilt, control, and fear are the hallmarks of codependency, a term once used only to describe the enabler of an alcoholic, is now more generally applied to unhealthy dependency.
Codependents live from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. In Codependency for Dummies, I define a codependent as someone whose thinking and behavior revolves around another person, substance or process. (Notice my definition includes addicts.) Codependents can’t access their innate true self that underlies their codependent self created in childhood. Read the Symptoms of Codependency. more
Shame is so painful to the psyche that most people will do anything to avoid it – even though it’s a natural emotion that everyone has. It’s a physiologic response of the autonomic nervous system. You might blush, have a rapid heartbeat, break into a sweat, freeze, hang your head, slump your shoulders, avoid eye contact, withdraw, even get dizzy or nauseous.
Why Shame is so Painful and unlike Guilt
Whereas guilt is a right or wrong judgment about your behavior, shame is a feeling about yourself. Guilt motivates you to want to correct or repair the error. In contrast, shame is an intense global feeling of inadequacy, inferiority, or self-loathing. You want to hide or disappear. In front of others, you feel exposed and humiliated, as if they can see your flaws. The worst part of it is a profound sense of separation – from yourself and from others. It’s disintegrating, meaning that you lose touch with all the other parts of yourself, and you also feel disconnected from everyone else. more