My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
Clinging and smothering behaviors are the unsavory consequences of a deep set of existential, almost mortal fear of abandonment and separation.
For the codependent to maintain a long-term, healthy relationship, she must first confront her anxieties head-on. This can be done via psychotherapy, of course. The therapeutic alliance is a contract between patient and therapist, which provides a safe environment where abandonment is not an option, and thus where the client can resume personal growth and form a modicum of self-autonomy.
In Extremis, a psychiatrist may wish to prescribe anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. But self-help is also an option.
Meditation, yoga, and the elimination of any and all addictions, such as workaholism or binge eating, feelings of emptiness and loneliness, which are at the core of abandonment, anxiety and other dysfunctional attachment styles, these feelings can be altered with meaningful activities, mainly altruistic and charitable, and with true, stable friends who provide a safe haven and are unlikely to abandon the codependent.
Therefore, these people constitute a holding, supportive and nourishing environment.
The codependent's reflexive responses to her inner turmoil are self-defeating and counterproductive. They often bring about the very outcomes that she fears most.
Clinging and smothering often lead to abandonment.
But these outcomes also tend to buttress her worldview.
She says to herself, the world is hostile. I am bound to get hurt.
And these outcomes also sustain her comfort zone.
A view with an abandonment, she says, are familiar to me. At least I know the ropes and how to cope with them.
And this is precisely why the codependent needs to exit this realm of mirrored fears and fearsome tumours.
She should adopt new avocations and hobbies, meet new people, engage in non-committal, dispensable relationships, and, in general, take life more likely, or even get a life.
Some codependents develop a type of militant independence against their own sorely felt vulnerability.
But even these daring rebels tend to view their relationships in terms of black and white, an infantile psychological difference mechanism known as splitting.
These codependents, who are also militantly independent, tend to regard their relationships as either doomed to failure or everlasting, and their mates as both unique and indispensable, soulmate, twin, or completely interchangeable, objectified.
All these, of course, are misperceptions.
Cognitive deficits grounded in emotional immaturity and thwarted personal development. All relationships have a life expectancy, a sell-by or good-before or expiry date.
No one is irreplaceable or completely interchangeable.
The codependent's problems are rooted in a profound lack of self-love and an absence of object-constancy.
She regards herself as unloved and unlovable when she is all by herself, and that's why she goes out seeking relationships.
Yet clinging, codependent and counterdependent, fiercely independent, defiant, and intimacy-retardant behaviors, all these can be modified.
If you fear abandonment to the point of phobia, here's my advice to you.
First of all, compile a written, very detailed kind of mission statement regarding all the aspects of your romantic relationships. How would you like them to look like? How would you go about securing the best outcomes? Revisit and revise this charter regularly. Then list your three most important mate choice criteria. What would you be looking for in the first date and without which there would be no second date?
This list is your finter, your proverbial selective membrane. Revisit this list and revise it regularly as your taste, experience, and preferences change.
Conduct a thorough background check on your prospective intimate partner. Go online, Google his name, visit his social networking accounts, ask friends and family for information, and an appraisal of his character, temperament, and personality.
This preparatory research will put you in control and empower you. It will serve as an antidote to uncertainty and the anxiety attendant upon it.
Next, use the volatility threshold and the threat modeling tools.
Explain is in order. The volatility threshold instrument is a compilation of one to three types of behaviors that you consider critically desirable, deal makers in your partner. Observe him and add up the number of times he had acted inconsistently and thus reversed these crucial aspects of his behavior substantially and essentially. Decide in advance how many strikes would constitute a deal breaker and when he reaches this number, simply walk away, leave.
Do not share with him either the existence or the content of this test list. This sharing may affect his performance and cause him to play act or prevaricate.
As a codependent, you tend to jump to conclusions and then jump the gun. You greatly exaggerate the significance of even minor infractions and disagreements and you are always unduly fatalistic, hypervigilant and pessimistic about the survival chances of your relationships.
The threat monitoring tool is comprised of an inventory of warning signs and red flags that in your view and from your experience herald important abandonment.
The aim is actually to prove you wrong, to falsify this list, to prove to you, to show you that more often than not you are wrong in predicting a breakup that never happens.
In general, try to act as though you were a scientist. Construct alternative hypotheses, interpretations or behaviors and events to account for what you regard as transgressions or bad omens. Test these hypotheses before you decide to end it all with a grand gesture, a dramatic exit or a decisive finale. Preemptive abandonment is based more on your insecurities than on facts.
So make sure to test your hypothesis and your partner in a variety of settings before you call it a day and before you prophesy doom and gloom.
This scientific approach to your intimate relationship has the added benefit of delaying the instant alleviation of your anxiety which consists usually of impulsive, ill-fought actions. It takes time to form hypotheses and to test them and this lapse of time between trigger and reaction is all you need.
When you have formed your informed opinion by that time, your anxiety will have abated and you will no longer feel the urge to do something now whatever it is.
Armed with these weapons, you should feel a lot more confident as you enter a new romantic liaison.
But the secret of the longevity of long-term relationships lies in being who you are, in acting transparently, in externalizing your internal dialogue and inner voices.
In short, if you want your relationships to last, you should express your emotions and concerns on a regular basis and honestly. You should knowingly and willingly assume all the risks associated with doing so. You will be exposing the chinks in your armor. Your vulnerabilities and blind spots may be abused or exploited or leveraged. You may be misunderstood, even mocked.
But the rewards of being open with your partner, without being naive of course, without being gullible, simply open, are enormous and multifarious.
Stronger bonding often results in long-lasting relationships, which is exactly what you are after, as a codependent.
Early on, you should confirm, meet your intimate partner and inform him of what, to you, constitutes a threat. What types of conduct he should avoid and what modes of communication he should eschew. You should both agree on protocols of communication.
Fears, needs, triggers, wishes, boundaries, requests, priorities and preferences should all be shared on a regular basis in a structured and predictable manner.
Remember, structure, predictability, even formality, are great antidotes to anxiety and impulsive acting.
But of course, there is only that much that your partner can do to ameliorate your mental anguish. You can and should help him in this oft-perculant task.
You can start by using grammar to desensitize yourself to your phobia.
In your mind, imagine and rehearse in excruciating detail both the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario, for instance, abandonment in the wake of adultery versus a blissful marriage.
In these reveries, do not act as an observer. Place yourself firmly at the center of the scene of the action and prepare detailed responses within these impromptu plays.
At first, this pseudo-theater may prove agonizing, but the more you exercise your capacity for daydreaming, the more you will find yourself immune to abandonment. You may even end up laughing out loud during the more egregious scenes. Who knows?
Similarly, prepare highly detailed contingency plans of action for every eventuality. And that includes the various ways in which your relationship can disintegrate.
Imagine the possible breakups and prepare an action plan for each and every type of breakup. Be prepared for anything and everything thoroughly and well in advance.
Planning equals control. Control means much reduced and lessened dread.