By: Robert Weiss PhD, MSW, CSAT
Note from Michelle: This week, we are taking a break from our normal programming. Instead, Rob Weiss, who has just published his book Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency, has written a guest blog post for us on that same topic. I hope you all enjoy it!
Are you wondering if this is yet another article about codependence? If so, let me assure you that it’s not. This article is about prodependence, which is a completely new way of thinking about, talking about, and treating loved ones of addicts and other troubled individuals.
Why Do We Need a New Paradigm?
In 25 years of providing addiction treatment, I have never once felt comfortable applying the codependence model to partners and other loved ones of addicts. That model’s early-treatment emphasis on pathologies that pre-date the addiction, rather than on the current trauma of living with an active addict, has always, to me, felt misplaced and misguided.
So I spent much of the past several years researching codependence while hoping to find or develop a more loving and useful way of approaching loved ones of addicts. After reading pretty much everything ever written about codependency and conversing with countless colleagues at every level of clinical addiction treatment, I reached a couple of significant conclusions:
- There is not now, nor has there ever been an official diagnosis for codependence. With good reason.
- There are no commonly accepted criteria for “diagnosing” codependence, as the model has evolved and split over the years.
- Codependence treatment as it is commonly practiced inappropriately explores and emphasizes past trauma while ignoring or downplaying the current crisis.
- Countless “codependents” have been coached to walk away from a troubled loved one, often with disastrous results. Many never get over their anger about this.
- Despite many, many adaptations and versions, codependency at its core asks loved ones of addicts to question their actions and motivations in ways tend to feel alienating and dismissive of their experience.
- However it is conceived of and practiced, codependence tends to feel blaming, shaming, and pathologizing rather than welcoming. Because of this, loved ones of addicts often walk away from treatment before a therapist can help them.
The primary shortcoming of the codependence model is that it suggests loved ones of addicts are re-enacting unresolved early-life trauma by partnering with or raising an addict. In my experience, that may or may not be the case. Either way, telling these individuals early in the treatment process that they are damaged by trauma and that’s why they’re partnered with an addict and behaving in ways that are enabling (maybe even causing) the addiction is usually not something they’re ready to hear or process—even if it’s all completely true.
Thus, caregiving loved ones of addicts will often respond to the “diagnosis” and therapeutic suggestions of codependence with statements like:
- My spouse/child/sibling is addicted, and you’re telling me that I’m the one with the problem?
- What do you mean I’m enabling the addiction and making it worse?
- Detach with love? What does that even mean?
- I work three jobs, give away all my free time, and forgo self-care to help this family survive, and you tell me I’m the one with a problem?
To reiterate, codependence causes loved ones of addicts to feel blamed and shamed for the addict’s dysfunction, and that can be incredibly alienating. Often, it drives these loving individuals away from treatment before they can benefit, even just a little, from the therapeutic process.
The codependence paradigm is deeply flawed. It’s just that simple. A more empathetic model that understands why loved ones of addicts stay in their relationships and behave as they do is sorely needed. This new, fresh, forward-thinking, non-shaming, non-blaming paradigm for helping loved ones of addicts is called prodependence.
What is Prodependence?
Prodependence is an attachment-focused (rather than trauma-focused) term I’ve created to describe relationships that are healthfully interdependent, where one person’s strengths fill in the vulnerabilities of the other and vice versa, with this mutual support occurring automatically and without question.
Rather than blaming, shaming, and pathologizing caregiving family members of addicts for loving too much, or for enabling instead of helping, prodependence celebrates their desire to love and help. With prodependence, there is no shame or blame, no sense of being wrong, no language that pathologizes a loving caregiver. Instead, there is recognition for effort given, plus hope and useful instruction for healing.
As with codependence, prodependence recognizes that when that when a caregiver’s actions run off the rails and become counterproductive (enabling, raging, controlling, enmeshing)—and yes, this happens quite a lot when a person is trying to care for a deeply troubled loved one—measures can be taken to put the relationship back on track. However, prodependence does not imply that a caregiver’s dysfunctional behaviors arise out of any past or present trauma or pathology (regardless of whether they have such issues). Instead, prodependence views their actions as an attempt to maintain and/or restore their family and their relationships.
Interestingly, prodependence recommends and implements the same basic therapeutic actions as codependence—a fresh or renewed focus on self-care coupled with implementation of healthier boundaries. That said, the models approach this work from vastly different perspectives.
- Codependence, as a deficit-based trauma model, views loved ones of addicts as traumatized, damaged, and engaging in unhealthy caretaking behaviors as a result.
- Prodependence, as a strength-based attachment-driven model, views loved ones of addicts as heroes for continuing to love and continuing to remain attached despite the debilitating presence of addiction.
Which paradigm is going to feel more attractive and inviting to the loved one of an addict?
Instead of blaming, shaming, and pathologizing deeply attached caregivers, instead of telling them that their actions are being driven by unconscious attempts to heal their unresolved trauma, prodependence says, “You’re a wonderful person for putting so much effort into helping your addicted loved one. It’s possible, however, that you’re not doing that as effectively as you might. And who can blame you for that? It’s hard to worry about loving someone in the best possible way when you’re in the middle of a disaster zone. If the house is burning down, you grab your loved one and drag that person out of the fire, and you don’t worry about whether you’re grabbing too hard, or in a way that hurts. Now that you’re in therapy, though, we can slow things down and figure out how you can help the addict more effectively—in ways that might be more useful to the addict and your relationship, and that won’t cause you to feel so overwhelmed.”
That is the essence of the prodependence paradigm.
Simply put, prodependence encourages therapists and clients to celebrate the natural and healthy human need/desire to develop and maintain intimate connections and to provide ongoing, uninterrupted support to loved ones—even in the face of addiction or some other profoundly troubling life issue. In this way, prodependence welcomes rather than alienates loved ones of addicts.