Codependent No More: Situational Codependence

Uploaded 1/10/2015, approx. 4 minute read

My name is Sam Vaknin, I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.

Some patients develop co-dependent behaviors and co-dependent traits in the wake of a life crisis, especially the life crisis involves an abandonment and the resulting solitude. Example would be a divorce or an empty nest when one's children embark on their own autonomous lives and leave home altogether. Such late-onset adult co-dependence fosters a complex emotional and behavioral chain reaction, whose role is to result in a conflict by ridding oneself of the emergent, undesirable co-dependent conduct.

The new co-dependent is unhappy with her traits and behaviors, she wants to rid herself of them.

But there's a discrepancy between consciousness and the unconscious. Consciously, such a patient may at first feel liberated, especially after a nasty divorce. But unconsciously, being abruptly dumped and lonesome has a disorienting and a disconcerting effect, a little like intoxication.

Many patients rush headlong and indiscriminately into new relationships. Deep inside, this kind of patient is always dreaded being lonely, not alone.

So following the divorce, the death of a significant other or intimate father, the passing away of parents or other loved ones, children relocating to college and similar episodes of dislocation.

Following this, she suppresses this dread of being lonely, because she possesses no real, effective solutions and antidotes to her sudden solitude. She has developed no meaningful ways to cope with her overwhelming loneliness.

We are told that denied and repressed emotions often erupt and re-emerge in camouflage in disguise, as it were. The dread of ending up all alone is so great that the patient becomes co-dependent in order to make sure that she never finds herself in a similar situation again.

A co-dependence is a series of dysfunctional behaviors that are intended to fend off abandonment.

Still, patients who develop situational co-dependence, unlike the classic long-life co-dependence, are fundamentally balanced and strong personalities. They cherish their self-control. So they always keep all their options open, including the vital option of going it alone yet again. They make sure to choose the wrong partner. That's their way of getting rid of their co-dependence. They choose their own partner and then they spectacularly expose his egregious misconduct so that they can get rid of him and together with him of the newly acquired co-dependence and all this in good conscience and at the same time.

And so to reiterate, the situational co-dependence is characterized by a deep-set fear of being lonely, a kind of abandonment anxiety, a form of attachment disorder. And this is an underline, dormant, inner lens. This lurking, abandonment anxiety is awakened by life's tribulations, a divorce, an emptiness, the death of one's nearest and nearest.

Once this abandonment anxiety is awakened, at first the newly found freedom is exhilarating and intoxicating, but this feel-good factor actually serves to enhance the anxiety. The inner dialogue goes something like this.

What if it feels so good to be alone that I will opt to remain by myself for the rest of my days? This prospect is so terrifying.

So feeling good and being alone enhances abandonment anxiety.

And so a conflict erupts between conscious emotions and behaviors like liberation, joy, pleasure-seeking, etc.

And a nagging, unconscious anxiety.

The dialogue is, or actually the monologue is, I'm not getting any younger. This can't go on forever. I've got to settle down, got to find an appropriate mate or spouse. I should not be left alone, etc.

And this is only unconscious there.

So to allay, to resolve this internal tension, the patient comes up with situational co-dependence as a coping strategy.

The aim is to attract and bond with a mate so as to forestone abandonment.

Yet the situational co-dependent is egodystonic. In other words, she is very unhappy with her co-dependence, though at this stage she is utterly unaware of all its dynamics.

Co-dependence runs contrary to her primary nature as accomplished, assertive, self-confident person with a well-regulated sense of self-worth. She feels the need to frustrate this new set of compulsive addictions, her new co-dependence. She feels the need to get rid of her co-dependence because it threatens who she is and who she thinks she is, her self-perception.

She says to herself, I am not that clingy, maudlin, weak, out-of-control type. It's disgusting.

All her life she has known herself to be strong, a good judge of character, intelligent and in control, and co-dependence doesn't become her, definitely.

But how to get rid of this newly acquired disease? What to do?

Well, three easy steps.

One, the situational co-dependent chooses the wrong partner, unconsciously, of course. She then proves to her satisfaction that he is the wrong partner for her.

And then she gets rid of him, thus re-establishing her mustery, her autonomy, resilience, self-control, and demonstrating incredibly that she is co-dependent no more.

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