Codependents often exhibit a certain behavior in adult relationships, often moving from one to the next in a “copy and paste” scenario. Given the symptoms of codependency generally, these relationships are often with emotionally distant or self-centered individuals with whom they spend their time trying to fix, care take and enable in a never-ending quest for validation and acceptance. Often when they break this mould and find someone giving and caring, they reject them as too “needy”. This for a codependent is too unfamiliar and far too much trouble. Needless to say, it doesn’t mirror what they have experienced since childhood and this is the key to their thinking and behavior.
In our early relationships we establish what we can class as a template. These are patterns learnt from our caregivers (good and bad) that we tend to fit all our subsequent relationships into (especially the significant ones). As children, we have no idea whether the template or patterns we were given are the correct ones for us to function fully. They are often given to us by people with their own faulty templates. However, we believe our template because, firstly, we know no different and secondly, we believe our parents. For example, if we had a warm relationship with our father, we will look at authority figures (especially male) in a good light and we will tend to seek out that kind of relationship. Of course, the opposite is also true. If we were in competition with our siblings for scarce resources around our parents, we will often see our peers as competitors.
We do not have the cognitive abilities as a child to judge or change this and so we head off into adulthood armed with a certain way of looking at the world.
In terms of codependency, a specific template is formed. When a child is brought up by an emotionally distant or codependent parent, an alcoholic or sick parent or in cases of a child parenting the parent, a template of codependency is formed because the child puts it’s own needs aside to either garnish favour or validation from the parents. This is done for survival purposes. This template is then the framework for adult relationships.
To look at what happens next, we need to look at one of the basics of Freud and his theories. He describes a process called repetition compulsion where the template learnt in childhood is applied to the same type of relationship in adulthood. By this, he meant that we have a need to create for ourselves replays of difficult and troubling situations and relationships experienced in childhood. We all know people who involve themselves endlessly in situations that are guaranteed to have a bad ending. Codependency is a great example. It is a paradoxical part of our nature and seems to make little sense. One would think that by repeating unfavourable situations, we would be looking for a happy ending. However, if that happens, we often ( and codependents especially) see it as spoiled as it deviates from the original and is often rejected. We then prefer to revert back to seeking a ‘solution’ with the original template.
Freud believed that we were so enmeshed and fixated with the original situation that we unconsciously drive forward with the need to know what happened and why with different people. The original situation was defined by guilt, conflict and frustration and often rejection and feelings of not being good enough. This is why many codependents, especially find it difficult to match with kind, loving potential partners. They will often reject them and continue their search for a repeat of their template.
In therapy and especially when treating codependency, the analysis of the template and how it formed is an essential first step before assessing the possibility of repetition compulsion and repeated patterns of behavior. The ultimate aim would be to develop a new healthier template.
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.