When I deal with my codependent clients, they are often surprised to hear me use the word addiction in relation to their obsession with a relationship. I have always maintained that the cycle that drives the more well known addictions such as alcohol or drugs can also be found in codependency. Just for reference, that cycle is depicted below.
One can quite easily see that each stage can be applied to a codependent relationship, especially when in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic tendencies, as codependents generally are. I see this in terms of contact needed with someone where the ideal measure would be no-contact. The love addicts cannot help themselves and need their fix of contact to make themselves feel “better”. However, all it does is start the cycle that will lead to consequences, pain and shame that will drive the cycle on…and on…and on.
One thing I have noticed when the cycle gets to the original pain or pain cycle is the existence of a secondary addiction that is often a consequence of the first. In some cases, this is alcohol or drugs but more often something like shopping, spending or anything that will bring instant gratification. These “milder” addictions can have profound consequences on the psyche, the bank balance and the original addiction. I have known codependent clients who have gone to the mall and spent thousands of dollars on clothes and goods after dysfunctional contact with a “partner”. Asked later, what these things were, they often cannot remember…but can remember what triggered the incident in the first place. These purchases can always be justified by saying ” I really needed that”. The same excuse can be used for comfort eating and gambling. Where codependents are concerned, it is often the inability to come to terms with their primary addiction (the relationship) that drives the second addiction.
Is it so simple to think that if one addiction is cured, the other will follow? I believe that this is partly true in such that the codependency is usually the stronger addiction and in my experience when healthier thought patterns and boundary setting are learnt, it will have a great effect on any other addiction that might be present.
So how can this happen in therapy? There are formal programmes that one can use. I use my own that I concepted from experience working with codependents, The 10 Step Framework, Read More HERE or a therapist can simply work with the triggers that occur in the addiction cycle. Theoretically, once those triggers are identified, it can start the process of recovery. We have to remember here that the addiction cycle mentioned above is generally applied to addictions such as alcoholism or drug addiction. However, if we see codependency as an addiction, which I generally do, then the same rules can be applied.
The stages of the cycle of addiction can be matched up with some of the stages of the model of behavior change and its relationship to recovery. I have adapted this standard model somewhat to apply to codependency.
- Precontemplation -The codependent has not yet considered stopping the behavior or ending the relationship. This is a time when triggering is at its highest and many attempts from friends, family and therapists to intervene have fallen on deaf ears. The codependent believes at this stage that their narcissist partner is the answer to their dreams. However, also at this stage, the secondary addiction will also be active driven by constant disappointment and expectation. There will be much justification going on as well as covering up purchases or dysfunctional behavior.
- Contemplation – The codependent is starting to consider making a change in behavior. This often comes only after a major event that drives the codependent into making a change. Financial issues or the realisation that the relationship is codependent (usually only after the codependent is badly hurt) are just two reasons why a codependent will seek recovery.
- Preparation – The codependent is mentally and, possibly, physically preparing to make a change. This is where therapy can be most effective in that full awareness is there and there is a realisation that behavior needs to change. This could also be where any secondary addiction starts to decrease in nature. However, this might not happen until later.
- Action – The codependent has taken an action, such as seeking treatment, self-help groups or counseling. Treatment has been provided and the codependent is enmeshed from the codependent relationship. Tools have been learnt and healthy boundaries are set. However, relapses are always possible if the narcissist returns to tap into supply once again.
- Maintenance – The codependent is maintaining his or her new lifestyle and behavior, following a recovery program. At this it is a case of mindful rather than mindless. Many codependents tend to partake in activities that lead them to further dysfunction when they see themselves free of toxic relationships. Now is a time for more mindful activities to be introduced.
Unfortunately, relapse can occur during the action or maintenance stage, which means the codependent again enters the cycle of addiction and ongoing therapy is often required to counter this.
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