A revelation for me in 2021 has been the insights acquired through the numerous group therapy sessions that I have facilitated this year, which are detailed here. I made the decision to include group therapy as one of the services I provide at the beginning of this year. I’d done these in the past in a more clinical setting where individuals were compelled to attend, but this was my first year working with clients who voluntarily decided to participate. In terms of personal insight, there have been several revelations, particularly when examined through the perspective of human contact.
During this year’s sessions, the majority of the groups discussed codependency, the core causes of it, and how interactions with caregivers have resulted in dysfunctional adult relationships. These groups meet for a total of four 90-minute sessions and are designed to provide a fundamental understanding of the subject matter. There is an opportunity to continue with a more advanced group that is interested in going deeper.
Even while some may say that this brief introduction to the concept of codependency is insufficient, I have learned that learning does not necessarily have to be about learning in the traditional sense. Instead, it is about understanding and connecting with others. I frequently resort to a favorite phrase of mine to provide an example of this:
“Members of a cohesive group feel warmth and comfort in the group and a sense of belongingness; they value the group and feel in turn that they are valued, accepted, and supported by other members. In general, however, there is agreement that groups differ from one another in the amount of “groupness” present. Those with a greater sense of solidarity, or “we-ness” value the group more highly and will defend it against internal and external threats. Such groups have a higher rate of attendance, participation, and mutual support and will defend the group standards much more than groups with less esprit de corps”.
Irvin D. Yalom, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy
If this can be accepted as true, then my role as a facilitator becomes more than just a question of providing my expertise in terms of education and experience, (though that is important), but also serving as the primary catalyst for bringing the group together. Yalom also recognised this in the above mentioned definitive text on group therapy.
So, let’s get down to business with the insights:
- When you put a group of codependents together, the first thing you notice is how similar their stories are. A broken trail caused by a lack of connection, overworked parents, shame-based parenting, abuse, neglect, and attempts to overachieve in order to garner attention is the upshot. Many families were trapped in the cycle of the parents having to work to support their family’s basic needs while leaving the children with others or alone. In addition, the classic scenario of a distant father and a stressed-out mother was commonplace, resulting in the children acquiring toxic shame.
- As the group came together week after week, the strength of the group dynamic became more apparent. Many of the participants maintained contact with one another between sessions, and many of them continue to do so now. It was obvious that hearing other people’s stories that they could relate to helped some people feel that there is a future that may be healthier than the one they are currently living in. I really appreciated how they looked out for one another, cared for one another, and were compassionate.
- Codependents are fearful of ending a relationship because they loathe giving up control. Many of the participants who took part in the groups found it difficult to envisage leaving or being without their partner at the beginning of the journey. Regardless of how awful the relationship or the person was, this was universally true. Numerous people had tried, but had quickly returned when they became insecure or when their previous partner “turned on the charm”. Many people expressed the unrealistic desire for the individual who had been present during the “love bomb” stage to return. Something that was evidently not possible. They frequently held themselves responsible for his or her disappearance, or they were in a state of bewilderment as to what they had done.
- Many of the participants had struggled with anger issues. For someone with a codependent personality, the emotions of anger and toxic shame play a crucial role. Much of this rage was suppressed until they had eventually had enough of being singled out for blame, devalued, gaslighted, or verbally or emotionally abused that it erupted in explosive rages. This provided their partners with all of the ammunition they needed to label them as the “problem” or the “crazy” in the relationship. This was a recurring pattern. Following the “explosion”, feelings of shame and remorse continued to feed the cycle. The topic of toxic shame and how to deal with it was the focus of one of the groups I ran. It was an eye-opening experience.
- One part of the groups’ discussions that came through loud and clear was the concept of taking initiative. Many of the participants had reached a stage where they were well aware of the “problem,” but they were apprehensive about taking the initial move in the correct path because of their previous experiences. When a relationship has become entangled or when the narcissist/codependent dance is in full swing, this is a legitimate fear to have. Of course, change that occurs too rapidly may not be sustainable, but taking modest moves in the right direction is vital for long-term success. We investigated this with mindfulness as the primary focus. It was important for the groups to grasp the concept of the Inner Dictator and how it might be used to avoid and protect ourselves from perceived anxieties. Following that, it is possible to achieve the goals of recognizing scary thoughts, embracing the fear, and moving forward slowly (unless abuse is involved).
The groups were a joy to run and I enjoyed meeting everyone and hearing their stories. Hopefully, they will have learnt and understood more about themselves. More to come in 2022.
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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.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com