This article will explore the relationship between codependency, attachment trauma, and pathological loneliness and the role that psychotherapy can have to solve this pathological circle. Perhaps not everyone knows that it is possible to think of codependency as a secondary condition, a symptom of profound mental health issues: it is not the problem we are dealing with, but a problem caused by much deeper issues.
Let’s define codependency: as a psychological, behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is manifested by a compulsion to give the preponderance of love, respect, and care (LRC) in any given relationship, hoping it will be reciprocated. Unfortunately, because of the Human Magnet Syndrome, codependents constantly find themselves in relationships with narcissists, who have neither the intention, motivation nor ability to be mutually giving in most relationships.
Codependents mistakenly believe the only solution to the LRC inequality problem is to try even more challenging to solve it. The prospect of being alone and experiencing pathological loneliness keeps them believing that their narcissist will change given enough time, patience, and sacrifice.
THE TROPHY CHILD
Codependency is not what needs to be treated; instead, the root cause needs to be addressed. It all begins with attachment trauma, which originates during the early years of a person’s life, during which they are bonding with their parents. If a child has a narcissistic parent, they cannot be loved unconditionally. In such a context, a child who learns to survive or cope with this challenging environment learns to be a kind, pleasant, and most importantly, a coveted trophy child.
This trophy child finds a way to get or stimulate the narcissistic parent to love them, so they soon learn that to get love or, to be worthy of love, you have to listen carefully and watch and scrutinize your environment to figure out what you have to do to make someone else happy. This child, who learns how to make the narcissist happy, gets what they need to survive their childhood, but what they don’t get is a feeling of self-worth or self-love. This leads to developing a relationship pattern based on giving others something to feel loved: the codependency mechanism.
At the heart of this codependency is a sense of loneliness that is deeply painful. It burns with pain, and the only way the codependent can resolve or get rid of this loneliness is to find someone to take it away. The codependent, who is prone to falling in love with a narcissist – as described in The Human Magnet Syndrome– find themselves inevitably pursuing a relationship with a narcissist to solve their loneliness and unhappiness.
When a codependent establishes a relationship with a narcissist, they feel complete. To understand this concept, we must start with the fact that it is a relationship composed of two underdeveloped people: the codependent, who has suffered attachment trauma, who is attracted to a narcissist who, as we have already seen, has suffered an equally severe attachment trauma. As a result, they come together in a relationship as if they were one person: they need each other to feel good and complete, and that’s why these codependent-narcissist relationships often develop so quickly and intensely.
What does this have to do with trauma and loneliness? The codependent who needs another person to feel good about themselves is fighting or escaping toxic levels of loneliness. To suppress this loneliness, the codependent find themselves pursuing the irresistible attraction to the narcissist and forming a relationship, despite being unhealthy. During the early stages of this relationship, loneliness is held at bay.
Just as an alcoholic or drug addict experiences pain when they stop drinking or taking drugs, the codependent experiences the same when they break off a relationship with a narcissist. Ask any codependent who is in that situation; they will tell you about the intense feelings of loneliness, the desire to return to someone they know is harmful but will satiate that part of them that wants to be saved.
If we want to heal from codependency become self-love abundant, we need to understand the power of pathological loneliness.
As we’ve seen, loneliness is the codependent’s number one enemy. This means that if you’re going to take the plunge and break free from a toxic relationship with a narcissist, you need to prepare for excruciating levels of psychological pain, primarily related to loneliness: just as I would tell my clients or alcoholics, you need to prepare for DTs or withdrawal symptoms.
But how to cure codependency? First and foremost, you need to be able to rely on a psychotherapist who has a deep understanding of codependency and acknowledges the fact that it is a symptom of a deeper problem, a lack of self-love— stemming from childhood attachment trauma.
Obtaining a therapist who can connect pathological loneliness to childhood attachment trauma and provides support and guidance to focus on the roots of the problem will play a vital role in the success of overcoming codependency.
In addition, one must be clear that the main problem causing codependency is the absence of self-love. But, of course, it’s not that simple: it’s not enough to tell yourself to love yourself to overcome toxic levels of loneliness, but the codependent must indeed understand that they are worthy in the eyes of others and themselves. They have to learn that they don’t have to give up all of themselves to be loved and that, instead, people will love them for who they are.
So, in conclusion, it is indeed a fact that the antidote to codependency is self-love abundance. The absence of self-love is a pathological level of loneliness and manifestation of attachment trauma. Therefore, all therapy and codependency recovery is really about learning to love ourselves and heal the deeply embedded wounds that keep us from loving others or being loved. And once we understand that, and once we master that, we start to feel good about ourselves and begin to love ourselves.
Ross Rosenberg M.Ed., CADC, is Self-Love Recovery Institute’s CEO and primary contributor. His internationally recognized expertise includes pathological narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and attachment trauma. Ross’s “Codependency Cure™ Treatment Program provides innovative and results-oriented treatment.
Ross’s expert educational and inspirational seminars have earned him international acclaim, including his 22 million YouTube video views and 230K subscribers. In addition to being featured on national TV and radio, his “Human Magnet Syndrome” books sold over 138K copies and are in 10 languages. Ross provides expert testimony/witness services.
More about Ross and his educational and inspirational work can be found at www.SelfLoveRecovery.com.
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