Definition Of Codependent
Many women wonder, “What is codependency? What does it mean to be codependent? Am I codependent?”
They also wonder how codependency is different from betrayal trauma.
Coach Rae, what does it mean to be codependent and why is the term sometimes offensive to wives of sex addicts.
Coach Rae: Codependence started as a way to designate the struggles expressed by partners of addicts and also the behaviors and coping mechanisms exercised in order to survive that type of dynamic. Even when psychotherapists refer to the term codependent, they are referring to a combination of other behaviors or issues. Whether it’s a term we’re hearing someone else use about their own lives, or whether it’s a term we’re coming to on our own, it can be tense when our feelings about the term is different than someone else might interpret the term.
Anne: When I hear the term codependent, I think that I was codependent before my marriage, and that’s why I ended up marrying a pornography addict. But from your description, you’re saying that it’s a set of behaviors that develops as a coping mechanism after the marriage. Is that your understanding of it? That’s blowing my mind! Because the way I viewed it before felt like, since I’m codependent – all of the problems in my marriage are my fault. But what you’re saying is, that my abusive husband’s behaviors were so traumatizing that I developed a set of coping skills around in.
Coach Rae: The way you describe it as the coping skills we develop is the one we relate to more. You’ll often hear about women who choose addict husband’s are carrying baggage from their past, but sometimes they’re not. I can’t tell you the number of times I hear a woman say, “I grew up in an extremely functional family, with parents who are loving, spiritual, and connected.” These women struggle more to understand how they ended up in the relationship with an addict, versus women who grow up in an abusive situation who marry someone similar to their father.
One thing I think you highlight, that’s important, is the ability to take something that once felt like a loaded indictment, like, you caused all this chaos in your life, That feeling of being blamed or cornered or labeled, doesn’t mean that you need to be stuck there.
Anne: Just right now, I’m feeling a little more open to codependence, thinking, maybe I could look at this a little more. Maybe I don’t need to be so defensive about it. I felt a lot of anxiety about being labeled codependent. Already I’m feeling a little more open to the idea that maybe I did develop some coping mechanisms in relation to the abuse that are unhealthy that I need to work on.
How Do You Feel About The Term Codependent?
I’d like to know what our readers think about the label codependence. Does it help you? Does it trigger you? Will you please comment on this article at the bottom anonymously. I look forward to hearing what you think about it.
How Being Defined As Codependent May Be Hurting Women
Coach Rae: In addition to looking at all the different ways the word codependent can be valuable in terms of understanding our experiences, one of the things I know is critically important is that the term can be triggering, offensive, and re-traumatizing word to some of us. Through APSATS, one of the things that I’ve learned that I really didn’t get anywhere else, was increased sensitivity, as a coach.
For a lot of women, just that initial instance of being called a codependent, or even worse, being called a co-sex addict can be really terrifying. For example, a woman who just found out about their husband’s sex addiction after years of not knowing anything, and the word sex addiction feels like a huge, heavy, dangerous, dark weight that suddenly just dropped in your lap. And by calling her a co-sex addict, it links her to a term that has so much threat potential for her life and her family. Imagine being refereed to as a co-murderer? That little co prefix to some of us implies that we are cooperating or collaborating or connection to this thing that we don’t want anything to do with – it can really be damaging and overwhelming.
Wives who have the term codependency thrust upon them often feel likes it’s an indictment upon them for choosing their husband. And the way I address this with my clients is that there may be some reasons you chose your partner. That indictment of I chose him, and that’s a negative reflection of me or a condemnation, overlooks or minimizes the fact that they may have lied to us, manipulated us, or deceived us. Knowing that seems to diffuse the guilt associated with choosing an emotionally unhealthy husband.
Women also think that the term codependent implies some sense of self-denial or self delusion, like we’ve somehow put our head in the sand.
We put our head in the sand and blinded ourselves to this reality that’s right in front of us. Unlike other chemical dependencies like alcohol or drugs which happen in front of your eyes, sex addiction or porn addiction, almost always happens in darkness and secrecy. Unlike other addictions, where you would almost have to be physically blind in order to not see it happening, this is the exact opposite of that. It’s difficult for women when they feel that the term codependent suggests that they weren’t attuned to their relationship, that they didn’t have enough self awareness – that somehow they should have known. I hear that one a lot, “How did I not know!?” Or other people ask them that same question.
And the last one, and this is the one that hits closest to me, is often when we hear the word codependent, it results in feeling like we’re not being seen, heard, or validated. It sometimes translates into being told that we shouldn’t focus on the wreckage of our partners abuse. It’s like us screaming and yelling for help because our house is on fire, and others telling us, “Don’t worry about the flames, just go water your own flowers.”
So that’s one of those visceral ways that hearing the term codependent can trigger a lot of trauma and pile up hurt in wives of pornography addicts.
The Best Way To Safely Approach Codependency
Anne: That’s why it’s so important that women get qualified APSATS coaching because we can be re-traumatized or have secondary trauma from therapists who tell us, “I know you’re house is burning down, but don’t focus on that right now.” For me, when I went to therapy, the therapists never addressed the fact that I was being abused continually – they told me to focus on myself. But focusing on myself didn’t stop the abuse when I don’t know how to set boundaries around my husband’s unhealthy behaviors.
I have secondary trauma because of some harmful ways my church leader dealt with the situation, secondary trauma from several of the therapists that my husband worked with. Getting APSATS trained coaching for yourself is so important, so you can feel compassionate support, and to be able to have a clear plan to get yourself to a safe place is key.
Coach Rae: When we’re experiencing betrayal trauma – when we’re in that safety and stabilization phase, and that can happen any time during recovery, it doesn’t necessarily happen when you first find out. But when you’re in that safety and stabilization phase, you’re not processing information in a way that healing can happen.
It’s important to be able to not expect ourselves to be doing work on codependency while we’re in the throws of the first stage. I’m glad you brought up treatment induced trauma. I’m really proud to be trained by an organization like APSATS. I’ve been in S-Anon 12 Step recovery for seven years before I started coaching. I’ve been through years of therapy and three different coaching trainings, and it wasn’t until APSATS that I even heard the term treatment induced trauma. With all my experience working with sex addiction and all my coaching training, it really shows the level of quality of training of APSATS in providing what partners of sex addicts need.
When you have a client whose husband is seeing a therapist and there is conflict there. I’ve heard women who are on the receiving end from treatment induced trauma issued by their husband’s therapist or pastor. Those are the situations that APSATS trains us for.
Secondary Trauma – An Extension Of Betrayal Trauma
Anne: Being a survivor of treatment induced trauma myself, and being a survivor of church leader induced trauma – being aware that it can happen and getting the most qualified help you can get is essential. Especially if you’re dealing with someone who exhibits narcissistic personality disorder behaviors, they can convince all the people around them of their alternate reality. You can feel so alone and scared. Having a community and a coach who can help you navigate you that from a safe space is so helpful.
Coach Rae: I like to present to women, if you’re having trouble recognizing what is codependence versus what is a response to the trauma in your marriage or your relationship, look at it from a lense outside of pornography addiction or sex addiction and sometimes it becomes clearer.
Anne: I think that’s an interesting distinction. Look at yourself outside the context of your relationship with your husband, and look at yourself inside that context and see what types of behaviors are keeping you from safety.
Tell me about your training. What is APSATS and why is is so important to get a specially trained coach to deal with gaslighting or narcissism or other behaviors that active addicts exhibits.
Specialized Coaching To Navigate Issues Related To Betrayal Trauma & Codependency
Coach Rae: APSATS stands for Association of Partners of Sex Addicts Trauma Specialists. It was started by Barbara Steffens who wrote the flagship book, Your Sexually Addicted Spouse – which first posited the idea that what wives of sex addicts were demonstrating with the coping strategies and survival skills was actually symptoms of trauma, called betrayal trauma, not necessarily some sort of kind of broken relationship dysfunction they brought with them into the marriage.
When I first encountered APSATS, I was excited to find the first organization that existed specifically to train and certify professionals to support partners of sex addicts, not about sex addiction itself, not about general addiction family dynamics, not about marital counseling. It was specifically oriented toward supporting the traumatized partners of sex addicts. It’s a trauma informed approach and partner oriented approach to this situation. It supports the partner’s safety and well being, rather than putting the focus on the addict or abuser.
Anne: At BTR we recommend that women begin attending free SALifeline 12 Step meetings and work with a free sponsor, and that they also engage professional help from an APSATS coach.
If you want one-on-one help with exploring codependency or trauma with Coach Rae, or any of our other coaches, please schedule an appointment today. Our coaches are specifically trained to help you see determined if your behavior is a result of codependent traits you’ve developed throughout your life, or trauma you’ve experienced in relation to your husband addictive or abusive behaviors.
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