Ross Rosenberg, M.Ed., LCPC, CADC, CSAT
Excerpt from Chapter 3 of “The Human Magnet Syndrome: The Codependent Narcissist Trap (2018)”
Disclaimer: In this chapter, almost everything you think you know about codependency will be challenged, redefined, and hopefully replaced.
The way the world defines codependency is simply incorrect, excessively simplistic, and has not kept pace with advancements in the medical and psychiatric fields. That is why codependency treatment rarely works. To put this into perspective, ask yourself the following questions:
- Of all the codependent people you know who have sought professional help, what percentage have been able to terminate relationships with the harmful, narcissistic people who claim to love, respect, and care for them?
- Of these “success cases,” how many returned to the same narcissistic partner, like a well-meaning and sincere recovering alcoholic who slips back into drinking binges?
- Of the stronger and healthier people, how many of them fell in love with another person who, at the beginning of the relationship, seemed “normal” and healthy, but was really a narcissist in hiding?
- For the handful of leftover “success stories,” how many credit their “success” to slamming and locking the emotional “door” that leads them to romantic and sexual feelings?
If you are not steeped in denial, and have good counting skills, I believe you will be left with a very small number of people who have had successful long-term results with their codependency-specific treatment. Early in my psychotherapy career, I concluded codependency treatment was largely ineffective. My experience is most reach a feel-good state in psychotherapy, stop attending therapy and then return to or remain in the relationship responsible for their relapse. This observation is supported by my work with codependent clientele, as well as my own treatment-resistant codependency.
After more than a decade of my own psychotherapy and research, I have determined that once weekly individual psychotherapy simply does not provide long-term relief for codependency’s troubling and treatment-resistant symptoms. Despite thousands of therapists claiming to be specialists in codependency, it seems few, if any, really understand it – its origin and its treatment.
My intent is not to malign the contributions of the researchers, writers, theorists, and psychotherapists who helped advance the understanding of codependency. Rather, my desire is to move beyond the current body of knowledge, suppositions, and hypotheses, and develop compelling and irrefutable information about it, so we can create a conclusively effective treatment for it.
How can we treat a problem if we don’t really know what it is? Such a question should not be taken lightly as history is replete with ineffective treatment methods assigned to poorly understood medical and mental health disorders. Worse, many procedures were used without question, despite the patient receiving no benefit from them. In some cases, the patient never had the disorder for which they were being treated, and/or the method never had been proven to work. Therefore, it is incumbent on the mental health field to know exactly what codependency is, while simultaneously validating the value and efficacy of its treatment.
Cases in point: bloodletting (medical) and prefrontal lobotomies (mental). Both are striking examples of how blind faith in flawed or absent science has hurt many more people than it purported to help.
Bloodletting, the removal of blood from the body, was used for over 3,000 years for nearly every ailment known to man (Davis and Appel, 1979). Those who administered it were priests, doctors, barbers, and even amateurs. It was so widespread in 1830’s France that six million leeches were used for the procedure in a country of 35 million (Greenstone, 2010). By the 1870s, the procedure had become so popular that many ill patients had to be convinced not to be bled (Cardiology Today, 2008). Retrospective medical data analysis showed the procedure was harmful to a majority of patients, many of which died from it (Colović, 2016).
Prefrontal lobotomies were ineffectively used to remedy various mental illnesses and behavior problems. The procedure basically consisted of severing the part of the brain that connected the prefrontal cortex to its underlying structures. Between 1940 and 1950, nearly 40,000 patients in the USA received this “miracle cure” for their supposed mental illness. It was also used on the criminally insane, political dissidents, angry and oppositional children, and wives of husbands who complained too much. It’s supposed “miracle” value garnered Doctor Antonio Moniz a 1949 Nobel prize in Medicine.
Not only did this procedure rarely work, it left most of its victims with pervasive permanent brain damage. By the 1970’s, it was outlawed in most countries, deemed inhumane and a violation of basic civil liberties.
For any medical or mental health method to be viable, the problem it is meant to resolve, or cure, must be clearly understood and backed up by research, scientific data and repeated successful clinical trials. AIDS is a perfect example. The current effective treatment would never have been discovered if scientists and researchers hadn’t work so diligently to identify what the disease was and its origin. Thanks to a legion of heroes, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was identified as the cause of AIDS, and a medication for it followed shortly thereafter. To be clear, in no way am I equating codependency to AIDS. My point is to demonstrate the importance of understanding a ubiquitous and treatment-resistant problem, prior to creating a treatment strategy or protocol for it.
In conclusion, I believe Abraham Maslow “nailed it” with his 1966 quote: “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The time is now for psychotherapists to stop using their trusty hammer, and consider using the best and most effective “tool” or “set of tools” for this new codependency problem.
Colović N, Leković D, Gotić M. (2016). Treatment by Bloodletting In The Past And Present. Srp Arh Celok Lek. 2016 Mar-Apr;144(3-4):240-8.
Davis, A. and Appel, T. (2010). Bloodletting instruments in the National Museum of History and Technology. Smithsonian studies in history and technology; no. 41 [DNLM: 1. Bloodletting—History.
Dougherty, M. (2017). “Why are We Getting Taller as a Species?” Scientific American.
Greenstone, G. (2010). The History of Bloodletting. British Columbia Medical Journal. Vol. 52, No. 1, January, February 2010, page(s) 12-14 Premise