A short search on the internet will find you a whole array of information on and descriptions of codependency. I actually did just that before starting here and found it defined as “the love addiction” or “codependency personality disorder” (which is officially not the case, according to the DSM) and “the self-love deficit disorder”.
All interesting names which go some way to describing the process of codependent attachment but all miss the one true fact. That is, that codependents have a connection problem which plagues thoughts around the relationships they seek and themselves. We should maybe call codependency the Relational Connection Disorder.
Why relational? I firmly believe that codependency is a result of relational trauma experienced in childhood. Let’s look at an official description:
Relational trauma (or as some may define as Complex-PTSD), encompasses relationships where there exists a profound “violation of human connection” (Herman, 2015) in which healthy attachment is impaired and in some cases either severed or at minimum, injured significantly. Relational trauma is found in circumstances of child maltreatment, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, rape, psychological and emotional abuse, bullying, domestic violence, narcissistic abuse, abandonment, rejection, complex grief, traumatic loss and other forms of attachment betrayal or disruption (Heller, 2015).
As you can see, there is a wide range of causes of relational trauma but all relate to who a child grew up with, what happened in that relationship and how the child connected to that person (or not). A “violation of human connection in which healthy attachment is impaired” describes codependency perfectly. A child living under these circumstances would naturally try to connect by overachieving, caregiving or attempting to parent the parent to gain connection by sacrificing his or her own needs. Conversely, it would withdraw. Either way, it would acquire toxic shame, another key component of codependency, while internalizing the abuse and neglect.
Such a childhood obviously doesn’t prepare a child adequately for adulthood and complex world of relationships they will find there. A world full of triggers and defense mechanisms experienced through Complex PTSD, a synonym for relational trauma. Children experiencing this will mirror events in their childhood and sacrifice their own needs to feel secure, to become indispensable in the lives of their chosen one, often in denial. While it can be seen that most therapists might avoid “blaming” parents for the ills of their children where codependency is concerned but the responsibility lies right there. Codependents assume that responsibility as adults to change things.
Codependents in adult relationships are always looking to connect with others. For some, it is an essential part of their lives and they often move from one dysfunctional relationship to another looking for this connection. This leaves them fully vulnerable to manipulation and further abuse without natural boundaries to protect them. They are often caught by emotional manipulators in what is known as the “honeymoon period”.
The honeymoon period is generally associated with the first three to six months of a relationship but can last a year. During this time, couples are not truly themselves and are driven by the need to attract their new partner by being the best possible version of themselves. In the case of emotional manipulators, it is a false self presented that will be dropped eventually. In any case, the relationship will become more routine as time goes on and the “real” people will emerge, imperfections and all. In the case of narcissists, this is never positive but codependents will especially struggle with the ending of this period.
During the honeymoon phase, a codependent has given a lot but the difference is that they have also received a lot as well. This is how attraction works. When this comes to an end, what they receive will always be less than they are willing to give and this is hard to accept. They fully expect all that connection, validation, affection and understanding to continue, without realizing that is was specific to the early stages of the relationship. This hits them especially hard as this situation develops and the need to connect becomes a question of control through such mechanisms as the drama triangle.
What is the solution apart from therapy and working issues out? Start to learn how relationships work. Accept that the relationship will mature and change over time and accept that who you and you prospective partner are in the early stages of the relationship is not a true representation of who will eventually emerge (that doesn’t always need to be negative). Give yourself time to get to know the person well before making any big decisions with or about them.
The next step would be to practice and maintain boundaries and learn relationship values. Most of all, enjoy the first few months without thinking that it is the way things will stay!
Subscribe to Dr Jenner's Blog via Email
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.