The Nature of Codependency | ATCPCC Guest Lecture | LaRhea Steindler

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Thank you to LaRhea Steindler of Pat Moore Foundation for sharing this lecture on codependency!

“Hi, I’m LaRhea Steindler, licensed clinical social worker.  I’m also the program manager at the Pat Moore Foundation and I’m a part of the Harmony Heals Counseling Center down in Laguna Woods with Gina Tabrizy.  Let’s talk about codependency.  It’s not unusual in my family group at Pat Moore Foundation or in my private practice to watch parents, daughters, sons, spouses of addicts and alcoholics come into group or come into therapy for the first time and they’re a mess.  They’re lives are unmanageable.  We talk about addiction and alcoholism is an addiction.  It’s cunning, baffling, and powerful.  Codependency is no less so.  It’s just as devastating.  It’s just as impacting on the codependent as addiction is to the addict or alcoholic.  In fact codependency is an addiction!  So what are some of the issues that I see in my practice and my personal life when it comes to codependency?  Codependents have difficulty taking care of themselves.  They take care of everybody else around them.  They have a high tolerance for pain.  They have a tremendous amount of fear and that results in some controlling behavior.  They have a tendency to make doctor appointments, dentist appointments, therapy appointments for everybody but themselves and they literally don’t see that they’re falling apart.  They believe that if the addict or alcoholic is okay that they’ll be okay.  They really believe that in their heart of hearts.  What’s fascinating is when the alcoholic or addict gets sober when the realization hits the codependent that oh, they’re sober and they’re working a program and my life is still unmanageable.  What’s the solution?

It’s an obsession of the mind.  In fact, I mentioned it’s an addiction.  What the brain chemistry behind codependency is very much like it is for an addict.  You actually get a dopamine fix when you have a little success as a codependent.  So we actually get addicted to that fix that we get to midbrain just like an alcoholic or addict gets addicted to their drug of choice.  Codependents when they come to my office or my family group, what do they look like?  They’ve usually either gained a tremendous amount of weight or lost a lot of weight.  They’ve got illnesses.  Psychoschematic stuff going on.  They’ve got anxiety, they’ve got depression.  Sometimes panic.  Numerous other things.  They look sick.  They look like they haven’t slept in months.  What’s the solution?  The solution is they need a reality check.  First of all we need to educate them about what codependency is and why is that such a devastating disease.  Then the second thing is I think it’s critical and speaking as a black belt Al-Anon myself and as a codependent myself, I think it’s critical that you go to a therapist who understands codependency.  If they don’t understand codependents, I mean really understands it, they’ve lived with it, an addiction and codependency because otherwise you may not really have a clue on how to help a codependent.  A lot of therapists are codependents themselves.  Have they dealt with their own issues?  My solution is to try to gently start giving a reality check to the codependent client.  I might start saying you know I noticed that you look like you haven’t slept in days and when was the last time ‑‑ what do you do to practice self‑care to yourself?  How do you take care of yourself?  You’ve got all this stress.  What are you doing?  Deal with your stress?  Because they don’t even see their stress or experience their stress.  They see the stress and the anxiety in the alcoholic or addict or whoever else they’re taking care of.

A lot of times it’s about awareness.  The first step is bringing them into an awareness of how their lives are unmanageable that it really isn’t about the alcoholic or addict.  Once that alcoholic or addict gets better, they’re gonna find another project to work on.  That’s part of what I do in therapy or family group, educate them about addiction, educate them about codependency, and why it is that we’re attracted to the alcoholics and addicts.  We’re just mere images of the same disease and when we say it’s a family disease of addiction, we mean that very literally.  Many of us that are codependents have had an alcoholic or addicted parent or in my own personal case my parents were both children of alcoholics or addicts.  Being raised by two codependents, that gets passed on.  We get the message that taking care of ourselves is selfish.  We get the message that we have to handle everything ourselves and that we have to handle everything for the other people in our lives.  This is an educational process.  Recovery from codependency is a process just like recovery from addiction.  I believe in the twelve step programs.  I think they’re a great adjunct to therapy.  I think they both deal with our codependency or our addictions from a different angle.  But I do ask my clients that are serious codependents to attend a twelve step program like Al Anon.  Those that do eventually they get to the point where they don’t need therapy anymore and they really grow and they begin to see that they’re not victims.  There’s a line in Al Anon.  There are no victims, only volunteers.  I know that today we have a choice.  We don’t have to be victims anymore.  It’s not selfish to take care of yourself.  What I’ve gotten to see with my own life and my own family and the addicts ands alcoholics in my family is one of the greatest gifts I can give to my children or spouses or family members, mother, father, is to be a role model for recovery myself.  That requires taking care of myself and feeding my needs.  Spiritually, emotionally, physically in every way.  Thank you very much for having me.  Thank you New Directions for putting on this conference and asking me to speak. “

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