There are many programs that one can subscribe to in order to recover from a codependent life. All of them offer something different from different angles and theories. There are many good therapists and coaches doing good work in order to help others find a new way.
My opinion is that codependency is better looked at as development trauma rather than a disease or an addiction. Feelings of codependency can certainly feel like a ‘love addiction’ but the trauma usually starts with dysfunctional connection with parents, lack of parental awareness of child development and the need for parents to keep children codependent for their own reasons. This lack of connection is continually transferred onto other people and relationships on a never-ending quest to solve the issues. This means for me that the relationships that codependents have are a symptom of developmental trauma, not the cause and recovery starts with an awareness of that.
Over the years, I have tried various different methods to help codependents. At this point, I have to say that treating codependency is what I do most of my working week. This has naturally developed after dealing with my own, often excessive codependent issues. I have settled on a method I am comfortable presenting to potential as one that works effectively. However, the ultimate success of the program is determined by how ready and willing the client is to change behaviour and take the action needed.
Stage 1: Awareness
Many codependents believe there is something wrong with them. Codependency is not an illness or a disease and should not have a medical model attached to it. When people firmly believe they are not ok and at fault, they will see blame for themselves in all aspects of their lives. The first stage of recovery is making the client aware of their childhood traumas. Many have sketchy memories or justify parental ineptitude and it is sometimes a shock to become aware of what really happened. That is that their needs from a very early age were not met consistently and this means in the first six months of their lives. When a parent recognises and consistently meet a child’s need for comfort, food, touch, etc, a child feels secure and moves into the next stage knowing that their parent will be there for them. When this doesn’t happen, there is a theory that babies dismiss this insecurity into a ‘black hole’. This stops them believing that they will not survive and their world is insecure. It is the first instance of protection measures being employed but these develop as the child develops into the critical internal family of thinking parts that follow them into adulthood. Understanding and accepting that this has happened is essential. Additionally, one must analyse the relationship and behaviour patterns that generally develop as a result of such a childhood. Codependents carry a lot of anger and very often suffer from low self-esteem which stops them practicing effective self-care and decision-making.
Stage 2: Action
This is usually the hardest stage. Often codependents come into therapy with a history of dysfunctional relationships and behaviour. There outlook on life is often one of victimhood and self-blame and many have been enablers and controllers. Many have, on the other hand, been in controlling, abusive relationships but find it difficult to believe they were abused. There is often a hankering to go back to abusive partners stating that if they, personally could change, maybe the relationship would be different. This is the hard work that comes with recovery and often involves teaching and directing. I personally believe the major factors in recovery after awareness are as follows:
Being taught and guided to make the right choices
Practicing and maintaining a self-care regime and promoting self-sufficiency, discipline and purpose
Dealing with low self-esteem
Teaching how relationships work, setting boundaries and watching for “red flags”
Dealing with toxic relationships that have developed including with the family of origin.
Finding a sense of identity and learning to deal with emotion