There are many of my peers who believe that codependency does not exist or is at most, a symptom of a quantifiable and recognizable disorder. Many clients will go through therapy for years without their therapist recognizing basic concepts of codependent behaviour in their actions and relationships. There are a number of reasons for this. One, codependency does not appear in the therapeutic diagnostic bible, the DSM, meaning that for some, it is evidence it doesn’t exist. Secondly, therapists are expected to include a DSM code (or the European equivalent here) in any kind of diagnosis for the insurance companies in order to get paid. You can see the dilemma. Many clients who have come to me with clear codependency, have been diagnosed with disorders they clearly don’t have. One said to me that her therapist was going to state that she was Borderline on the paperwork but wanted to reassure her she wasn’t. I wonder how often this happens.

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My hope is that codependency never appears in the DSM. That may sound strange for someone who treats it and has spoken widely about overcoming his own codependency issues but my suspicions are that if that ever happens, a medical, insurance-based model would be applied based on medication. While I am not suggesting that codependents do not have other issues that might need medication, anxiety is a good example, codependency is more than just subduing the symptoms. 

Codependency, in my opinion based on my experience of working with it for so long, is a behavioral problem with roots in child development issues and a lack of connection with caregivers growing up. It is consolidated by a certain pattern of thinking, developed at that time, that comes to the fore when in relationships.

As I have mentioned before, I subscribe to the ideas put forward by Freud in his Repetition Compulsion theory that states that we continually seek out relationships as an adult that try to solve the “original issue”, that of the broken connection with parents. 

The question is, what is this broken connection and how does it happen? It is easier done than one might imagine and what is perhaps most surprising is that it could well be the everyday life of a family that starts the codependent process in children. It doesn’t necessarily need to be abuse or neglect that does it, though that obviously wouldn’t help. It is deeply rooted in emotional connection or the lack thereof. Many parents, especially in previous generations, worked with a parenting model that was based on authoritarian concepts and children should be “seen and not heard”. Many families consisted of an emotionally distant father who was a breadwinner and little all else and a “homemaker” mother who was overwhelmed looking after the home and a number of children. Survival was put before deep connection with children and guiding them through developmental stages where a lack of awareness regarding age-appropriate behaviour consolidated the problem. Many older children (myself included) were drafted in as “pseudo parents” in order to look after younger siblings. It is an environment that fosters, caregiving, sacrifice, obligation and more importantly, shame. All bedrocks of codependency.

It leaves children with a skewed idea of what a relationship could be as they move into adulthood and look to build a family of their own. Often this is done by mirroring the original family and what happened there. Many codependents will involve themselves inappropriately with emotionally distant, abusive individuals where their practice of martyrdom and sacrifice continues. It is very much a societal, generational issue that can only be halted by awareness and behavioural change.

The views in this post are not based solely on personal opinion, which I very much stand by, but on evidence gathered from many people who have come to me over 15 years of dealing with codependents. From that knowledge, I developed a technique to deal with it which I am convinced helps deal with the trauma of a never-ending quest for love.

Licensed Counseling Psychotherapist

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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