Harmony Alumni Share In Their Own Words
The holidays mark a time end of year celebration but for people in recovery, however, the holidays can be more complicated emotionally warns The Recovery Book: “They are also a time when temptations to jump off the wagon seem to multiply.” Holiday stress can cause people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction to resume or intensify their substance misuse. The increased presence of alcoholic beverages during holiday celebrations can be a dangerous trigger. So, how can people in recovery avoid all that? Continue reading “Renewing the Holidays”
by Khara Croswaite Brindle
What does it mean to feel connection with another person? How do you know when you are building rapport in your interactions with others? For many of us, connection starts with body language and conversation when determining relatability and ongoing engagement. Engagement can lead to belongingness and belongingness is a crucial element of positive mental health and overall wellness. So why wouldn’t we want to pursue belongingness and connection in our relationships and throughout our lives in support of optimal wellbeing?
Monkey See Monkey Do
Connection can be measured externally in how we interact with one another, but also internally through brain activity. Mimicking one another, often described as mirroring, was first discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD and his colleagues when studying monkeys. Rizzolatti recognized that there was similar, observable brain activity indicating pleasure when a monkey consumed a banana as when the monkey observed a researcher consuming a banana. This brain activity involving neurons, called Mirror Neurons, provided implications that our brain activity responds in relation to others, thus encouraging development of an empathetic response. A more recent article was published in the UK on research involving infants and their mothers. With eye contact, the brain waves in the infant responded and attempted to synchronize with their mother, implying efforts at deeper connection and communication, according to scientists at the University of Cambridge.
Bonding in Business
Mirror neurons are important for close relationships; however, they can be influential in working relationships as well. Business gurus have developed interpersonal programs to support connection and reciprocity in business interactions, including awareness of body language, eye contact, and mannerisms. These programs can teach a person to be more aware of cues in social interactions and introduce subtle mirroring behaviors to increase engagement, likeability, and reciprocity.
Mirroring behavior in conversations is adaptive, such as noticing when one party begins to unconsciously mimic the other in their posture, speech, and/or gestures during an interaction. As you can see from the picture we’ve chosen above, several members of the group are mirroring one another in their hand gestures, indicating connection or attempted connection in the moment. When learning these interpersonal skills for yourself, you may experiment with subtly shifting your posture to mimic the other party, exploring any observable differences in the interaction, including how you each feel towards one another. Mirroring research shows that when you make subtle attempts to mirror another person, they will find you more approachable, likeable, and connected, all which can be valuable when conducting working interactions or achieving rapport.
Engagement in working and personal relationships can support successful interactions, and it can also change how a person feels about themselves, including shifts in self-confidence and self-worth. Jean Twenge, a Psychologist researching generational differences including mental health, substance use, technology, and social engagement, speaks of this in depth in her book iGen. Her book highlights the dramatic shift in social interaction away from face to face contact to more technology-based connection. Her book also highlights a possible correlation between technology and lack of belongingness, even when those surveyed reported, on average, more than three hours per day of technology use including social media. Twenge’s research identifies some concerns about connection, including individuals reporting minimal person to person engagement, low self-confidence or preparedness in social situations, and thus identifies questions needing to be answered around technology and mental health.
Regardless of how we measure it, connection is important. One way of encouraging connection is getting out in the world and finding people who have things in common. This can be a pleasant opportunity to engage over shared interests and build relationships. Identifying activities you enjoy can be a starting point to engaging others around shared interests, with organizations like Meetup.com bringing groups of people together around enjoyable experiences. Pushing yourself to get out and meet people can have a positive result, as belongingness and social interaction continue to be vital parts of what it means to be human.
“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” Brene Brown
Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.
Spirituality is the calling to look more deeply into our lives – into ourselves, our relationships, our communities, and our relationships with the ecological and universal realms. As the Dalai Lama has said many times, “All beings want happiness and freedom from suffering.” We all want to love, be loved, feel peace, be creative, feel connected, and feel fulfilled with our lives. Treading the labyrinth of humanity’s misguided attempts toward achieving these deeper desires leads us down disastrous roads, dead ends, and into pits of confusion and despair. For a while, tasty foods, expensive material items, and prideful accomplishments can trigger the pleasurable neurotransmitters in our brains. Working much like a drug or alcohol, the external stimuli lose their power and we develop dependence and tolerance, needing more and more to get our happiness high. Finally, we are left strung out and unhappier than we were in the beginning. On the path of recovery, we bring spirituality into our lives to help us reconnect in a more sustainable and healthy way – a way that fills our core with contented pleasure and without as much dependence on things outside of ourselves. A quiet walk, taking time to chop the vegetables with precision, prayer, meditation, snuggling with our pets, gazing into the eyes of our loves ones, singing, painting, self-help workshops, religion, planting vegetables, reading, eating slowly and tasting every bite, fellowship, listening to soothing music, and donating time and resources for another’s benefit – these are common examples of how healthy people let go of their frantic pursuits of the insatiable highs and slow down to appreciate this fragile, fleeting, yet incredibly wonderful human life. Take a moment for spiritualty today. Breathe and appreciate this body, this life. Smell the roses – they are all around us if we can learn to see them.
Stop and Smell the Roses; Psychology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understand-other-people/201710/stop-and-smell-the-roses
Identify Your True Source of Happiness; Chopra – https://chopra.com/free-programs/awaken-to-happiness/week-1-identify-your-true-source-of-happiness
11 Ways to Appreciate Your Life a Little More; Mind Body Green – https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-16408/11-ways-to-appreciate-your-life-a-little-more.html
Mike Lewis is a Spiritual Advisor and Detox Counselor at Harmony Foundation
Mike Lewis Bio
by Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy, PACT Level I
Codependency is one of the most confused and contested words in the couples therapy field today. There could even be a debate between couples therapists and addiction counselors on whether or not codependency (and even the cartoon above!) is healthy or unhealthy.
Addiction counselors would likely say that codependency originates in childhood and manifests as an unhealthy relationship with oneself and a dysfunctional interpersonal pattern in adulthood between the codependent and his/her partner, children, and others that involves controlling, excessive caretaking, and enmeshment. Codependency and enabling are often used synonymously to refer to the dynamic between a partner with an addiction and the codependent who “loves him/her to death” through enabling. Addiction counselors might also contend that any level of dependency or too much “connection” to one’s intimate partner is unhealthy and recommend that individuals in recovery wait at least one year before beginning an intimate relationship.
On the other hand, couples therapists are more likely to conclude that codependency stems from the couples’ current dynamic, which includes one partner displaying an avoidant attachment style, which influences the other partner to feel tremendous anxiety and want to cling to her/his partner, and appear as codependent. These therapists might also underscore how partner’s emotional dependence on one another is a normal human need, and therefore should not be shamed. Or, couples therapists might elevate a codependent relationship as the ideal because they attest that partners are more resilient when they have a “secure base” or emotional anchor and will possibly point to the 2006 MRI study by Dr. James Coan that demonstrated how partners can regulate each other’s psychological and emotional well-being. Finally, some couples therapists, especially those who subscribe to attachment theory, might deny that codependency exists as in Amir Levine, MD and Rachel Heller’s well-respected book, Attached, in which they assert that “codependency is a myth”.
As with couples in therapy, often the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Because I am both an addictions counselor and couples and family therapist, it seems to me that this argument is a semantic one and that codependency means very different things to both professionals. In order to best serve our clients, it is important to distinguish the difference between codependency and interdependency or a secure attachment.
First, what is codependency?
This answer can greatly differ based on the source. I will share a definition by marriage and family therapist, Beverly Berg, PhD who wrote Loving someone in recovery; The answers you need when your partner is recovering from addiction.
“Codependency is an emotional and psychological state in which one is excessively preoccupied with taking care of or controlling another person at the expense of one’s own needs… The codependent’s excessive focus on caretaking does not only occur with his or her primary partner; it can also apply to work relationships, friendships, and relationships with extended family. People with codependency have a hard time leaving relationships that are abusive or depriving, tend to stay in jobs that are stressful, and are prone to ignoring their medical needs. Because of their high tolerance for denying their own needs, codependents tend to wait until they have experienced serious consequences before seeking a path of recovery” (2014).
Internally, codependents tend to struggle with thoughts of not feeling good enough, excessive worry about what other people think of them, and constant waiting for disaster or the other shoe to drop. They may perceive neutral or even positive situations as negative. I know some very “high functioning” codependent people who (similar to some addicts prior to recovery) may look great on the outside, but are internally suffering. Fortunately, treatment/help for codependency addresses both one’s internal and external world.
Lastly, codependency affects people from all walks of life- both men and women, addicts and non-addicts, and should not be assigned to every partner of an addict. To see if you or someone else meets the criteria for codependency, one assessment can be found on The Bridge to Recovery’s website (an outstanding treatment program for codependency)
Second, how does codependency develop & manifest in adult relationships?
Stan Tatkin, PsyD, creator of PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy), which incorporates attachment theory, neuroscience/arousal regulation, and experiential therapy, explains the origins of codependency in the foreword for Berg’s book. Tatkin’s former supervisor was John Bradshaw (the latter was a leader in the addiction and codependency treatment field).
“[…] Codependent men and women tend to bond in love relationships in a way that makes them both angry and resistant…because during their childhood, at least one of their important caregivers was preoccupied as a result of feeling overwhelmed, unsupported, and unloved by his or her own parents” [or spouse]. Preoccupied caregivers tend to alternately reward their children for depending on and supporting them, and rejecting, punishing, or abandoning them. This inconsistency tends to make the children angry as well as suspicious of and resistant to affectionate approaches from the caregiver [and later spouse] (2014)”.
“[…] Fast forward to adult relationships with a partner preoccupied with addiction [a mental health condition, or something/someone else] and you find a familiar situation. Your partner knows how to feel good without you [or is unaware of your needs], but you need your partner to be present, loving, and caring to feel good. Even though you feel ignored, abandoned, and alone, you STAY in the situation. Why? Because you are insecure and fear abandonment” (2014). And of course, many partners would also say, “because I LOVE him/her.”
Third, what do different attachment styles look like in children and adults?
Tatkin’s (2016) work draws from researchers who discovered that children and adults typically have one of three distinct attachment styles: secure, avoidant, or anxious (codependent). There is also a small portion of adults who have a disorganized attachment style due to severe unresolved trauma. Adult’s attachment (or “relationship”) styles are primarily influenced by the attachment relationship they had with their primary caregivers when they were children and secondarily by one’s intimate relationship history.
In a nutshell:
Children who felt their parents would respond consistently and appropriately when they called out for help or reached out for emotional comfort tended to develop a secure attachment style as adults. As adults, these securely attached folks find it relatively easy to get close to an intimate partner and are comfortable depending on their partner and having the partner depend on them. These relationships are mutually reciprocal. These partners have each others’ backs!
Children who felt their parents minimized, scolded or ignored their emotional needs or did not know how to appropriately emotionally comfort them tended to develop an insecure/avoidant attachment style as adults. As adults, they have disowned their emotional needs and thus struggle to identify what they need from their partner or over rely on themselves for comfort, and do not know how to adequately meet their partner’s emotional intimacy needs.
Children who felt their parents inconsistently responded (sometimes expert soothers and very loving and other times overwhelmed and either ignored the child, got angry, or guilt-tripped the child) when they called out for help or comfort tended to develop an insecure/anxious (codependent) style as adults. As adults, they worry that their partner does not really love them, won’t want to stay with them, or cannot meet their emotional intimacy needs.
The GOAL- A Secure Attachment Style!
Tatkin’s (2013) description of a “secure functioning relationship” is his unique terminology for a secure attachment:
“We have each other’s backs. We soothe each other’s distress and amplify each other’s joy. We protect each other in public and in private. We have each other’s “owner’s manual” and thus are experts on one another. We are as good at our partner as we are at our job! Our relationship is based on true mutuality.” We work on our own recovery and support each other’s recovery.
Fourth, how does an avoidant attachment style affect partners?
Although avoidantly attached partners and relationships are not nearly as vilified as codependents, they are of equal concern because they evoke in their partner a deep loneliness, often feelings of betrayal (when they seem preoccupied with their work, their family of origin, or other people or activities, including their alone time) and emotional deprivation. Perhaps the lack of widespread concern about avoidance is that our American culture places independence and stoicism above collaboration and vulnerability as well.
Yet, what I see as a couples therapist is as many or more relationships suffering when partners balk at mutually making it their sacred responsibility to put their partner’s emotional well-being first. Although this blog focuses more on codependency in intimate relationships, I have included resources at the end that can help folks interested in healing from and transforming their avoidant attachment style into a secure style.
Fifth, how can we integrate the wisdom from the Couples Therapy and Addiction Counseling fields on the topic of codependency?
The couples therapy field, especially attachment theorists, offer us a unique perspective on codependency that doesn’t blame or shame the partner being labeled codependent by explaining that the codependent is behaving in a normal way to an abnormal situation, which is his/her partner disconnecting from the relationship to connect with something else, ex. an addictive substance or behavior. This distancing from the codependent’s partner will likely propel the codependent to take extreme measures in an attempt to reconnect with his/her loved one because it has been found in research that adults, similar to children, experience “primal panic” when they cannot emotionally reach their loved one and/or their loved one stops emotionally responding to them.
Attachment couples therapists also normalize our biological need to attach and bond to others and to be emotionally dependent on significant others from the cradle to the grave. Couples with a secure attachment style and/or an interdependent dynamic have been found to feel the most loved, safe, and secure with their partner, have the happiest and longest relationships, and are more successful in the world because they are launching and landing each day with a partner who serves as their “secure base” or emotional anchor.
Addiction counselors provide a different type of expertise and often more personal and professional experience with codependency, which can bring a level of wisdom that is invaluable. Addiction counselors tend to better understand the gravity of codependency, ex. being the spouse or child of a codependent can be extremely challenging because the codependent limits others’ growth and unconsciously disables them. These counselors are also often aware of the internal pain that codependents experience and feel compassion for the codependent’s inability to stop (cold turkey) his or her codependent behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Some codependents describe their experience of enabling or helping (anyone with anything) as a “HIGH”, refer to themselves as “self-sacrificing martyrs” or “rescue warriors”, yet by the end of an enabling spree, they need to crash from emotional and physical exhaustion, and later they feel intense hurt and/or resentment from having given too much and sacrificed themselves for others who continually neglect their needs. This cycle repeats until help is attained by a professional who can provide appropriate treatment.
Thus, by acknowledging that codependency is a REAL condition and explaining the research-based recommendations for treatment, addiction counselors can offer validation, empathy, and hope to their clients who previously felt hopeless about their internal suffering and compulsive behaviors. These counselors also go far beyond normalizing the couple’s dynamic to helping the couple navigate out of an insure attachment style into a secure one.
Finally, Moving Forward~ Recovery from Codependency or Avoidance to a Secure Attachment Style and Relationship
Tip #1 Strengthen your individual recovery program (if applicable, ex. CoDA, Al-Anon, AA/NA &/or individual therapy, meditation, etc.) and your ability to know your autonomous self (the ability to be emotionally close to someone while at the same time, not lose yourself). One outstanding book to guide you is Loving someone in recovery by Beverly Berg, PhD, which explains the stages of recovery from codependency, emotional relapse indicators, and teaches missing interpersonal skills. (in addition to a comprehensive overview of how couples in recovery can change a dysfunctional dynamic into a securely attached relationship.)
Tip #2 Learn how to develop a secure attachment with your partner that addresses how to transform both insecure styles (codependent and avoidant) into a “secure functioning” relationship. Three outstanding books to guide you are Wired for love by Stan Tatkin, PsyD, MFT, Attached by Amir Levine, MD and Rachel Heller, MA. & Berg’s book mentioned in Tip #1.
Tip #3 Seek couples therapy, with a counselor who has training in helping couples develop a secure attachment and recovery from addiction and codependency if applicable. And, if you are a couple in recovery, develop a couple recovery program, ex. participate in RCA- Recovering Couples Anonymous and AA/Al-Anon/CoDA speaker meetings).
If you would like help navigating out of an insecure attachment style into a securely attached relationship, Contact Lana Isaacson, LCSW, CAC III, Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy, PACT Level I Therapist, at 720.432.5262 to schedule your appointment today.