When it comes to addiction, family members, especially parents, are always concerned about codependency. That’s why I’m pleased to share this interview with Darlene Lancer who can shed some light on the subject.
1. Can you please briefly introduce yourself to the readers who may not know you?
I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert in relationships and codependency. My recent book, Codependency for Dummies reflects my personal experience of over 30 years in recovery and counseling individuals and couples for 25 years and as Program Director of Brookside Institute’s Los Angeles Office for addiction rehabilitation. I’ve been a radio guest, consultant and presenter at many rehabilitation facilities, universities, colleges, and various organizations, including the California State Bar Association.
In addition to my two ebooks, I’ve publish many articles in professional and popular periodicals and blog regularly on my own and numerous websites.
Prior to becoming a psychotherapist, I was an entertainment lawyer. I received a Masters in Psychology from Antioch University and a Juris Doctorate from the School of Law at UCLA. I maintain a therapy practice in Santa Monica and coach internationally.
2. Can you explain the definition of codependency especially with regards to substance abuse and/or addiction?
My definition is someone who can’t function from their innate self, but instead organizes their thinking and behavior around another person(s), a process, or substance. So all addicts are codependents, but you can’t work on recovering from codependency until you’re abstinent from your primary addiction.
Not being able to function from your innate self means that you can’t access your perceptions, feelings, and needs. Many codependents don’t know what they believe and are in denial of their feelings and needs. They don’t trust their perceptions and often don’t know what they want. Instead they react to others and accommodate their needs, feelings, and values.
3. What are the symptoms of codependency?
There are several core symptoms that stem from the definition. Low self-esteem is pervasive and underneath is shame. This can be tricky, because some people cover-up their shame by feeling superior.
They may think they have good self-esteem based on praise or success, but this is “other-esteem.” It’s not what you you really think about yourself. Shame and low self-esteem lead to people pleasing, fear, anxiety, and guilt.
Control is very important to codependents because they react to others and are dependent upon them, so they have to control them. Other symptoms are dependency, denial, poor boundaries, non-assertive communication, and problems with intimacy.
4. Since many of my readers are parents, how can a parent of an addicted child determine the difference between being codependent and helping their child?
This is difficult for more than one reason. First, children are dependent upon parents to help and guide them. Second, it’s biologically, psychologically, and emotionally difficult to “detach” from your children. Instinctively you want to help them and naturally empathize with their suffering.
Detachment doesn’t mean you’re indifferent. It means that you’re supportive without being controlling and that you don’t “enable” Enabling is when you remove the natural consequences of their addiction. So covering up, giving money, doing their homework, or bailing them out might be examples.
The single most powerful incentive for an addict to pursue sobriety is suffering the negative consequences of their addiction. Even so, not all people recover. Remember than addiction is very powerful and that there are genetic components. The most important thing for parents to remember is not to blame themselves. If you made mistakes in the past, you can act differently in the present.
Setting boundaries is important and shouldn’t be confused with controlling someone. It’s your bottom line and communicates what YOU will do if the addict does certain things, such as, “If you get a DUI, I will not pay for legal defense or bail you out.” Also, you might create consequences for a teenager’s bad behavior, for example, restricting driving privileges and social activities, etc.
Of course, the degree you’re able to do this varies based upon your child’s age and how dependent he or she is upon you. If living with you, you have more options than if your child is living on the street or independently. It’s fruitless to try to control behavior outside your purview, but you can and should have rules and consequences for what happens in your home and about what you will or will not do.
Consequences shouldn’t be enforced in anger or with blame, which undermines their impact.
Giving support, listening understanding, nurturing, helping children problem-solve are all ways in which you can support them in healthy ways. When they’re making poor decisions, help them think through the consequences of the behavior without judging it. If you scold a child, you’re inviting rebellion.
If your child can rebel against you, then he or she doesn’t have to take responsibility. Another thing you can do is to enter into a contract about certain behavior (when your child is sober), but negotiate it at arms’ length. Don’t dictate terms.
Allow your child to come up with consequences if he or she breaches the agreement. Then you’ve both agreed in advance to consequences for bad behavior, and your child can’t blame you for the punishment. This encourages self-responsibility. Don’t forget that rewards are better ways to change behavior than punishment.
5. What suggestions do you have for parents struggling with their teen or young adult child so that they are not codependent?
The best way you can help your child is to overcome your codependency by attending Al-Anon or CoDA, learn all you can, and seek the help of a knowledgeable therapist.
I recommend my ebook, “How to Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits” to learn to communicate and set boundaries in healthy ways.
6. Why did you decide to write the book, Codependency for Dummies?
I was approached by John Wiley Publishing as an expert in the field. For a number of years, I’ve wanted to reach more people. There’s a great need for good information about codependency and how to recover because so many people are hurting. So I started teaching, speaking, and supervising other therapists.
There are many books on the subject. Some are great reads, but don’t tell you how to change, and in others the concepts are difficult to understand. My book is very comprehensive and easy to understand, yet deep psychologically.
Perhaps my years as an attorney taught me how to analyze and write clearly and concisely. Additionally, the wonderful thing about the Dummies style is that it is very well organized and modular, so readers can skip around and immediately get answers and exercises to work on a particular aspect of codependency – for instance, if you want to work on your self-esteem or boundary issues.
7. I notice you talk about dysfunctional boundaries in your book. Can you explain the difference between dysfunctional and healthy boundaries?
Boundaries affect every area of your life and interactions with others. Healthy emotional boundaries reflect a strong identity. You’re aware of your feelings, values and needs, and honor them.
So you’d never allow someone to abuse or control you verbally or otherwise. You respect others’ boundaries and wouldn’t do that either. You don’t have strong reactions to other people, because you see yourself and them as separate and can allow them to disagree or have different feelings than you, without being defensive.
You’re also assertive without being bossy or blaming and take responsibility for yourself and your mistakes. You honor yourself and others. Blaming and controlling your children violates their boundaries and shows disrespect.
Because you know that you’re unique and separate from others, you’re able to get intimately close without losing yourself and are also capable of being happy on your own. You may still prefer to be in an intimate relationship but you’re not desperate for one, because you’re whole.
What are your thoughts about codependency? Has it affected your life in any way? Let us know in comments.
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