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The Flight from Intimacy
Healing Your Relationship of Counter-dependency, â" the Other Side of Co-dependency
By Janae B. Weinhold, Barry K. Weinhold
New World LibraryCopyright © 2008 Janae B. Weinhold and Barry K. Weinhold
All rights reserved.
Counter-dependency The Other Side of Co-dependency
But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He is not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention must be finally paid to such a person.
— Arthur Miller
In an earlier book, Breaking Free of the Co-dependency Trap, we identified the cause of co-dependency as a failure to complete the bonding process — one of the most important developmental processes of early childhood. We explained how to complete this process and eliminate co-dependency problems.
AN OVERVIEW OF THE PROBLEM
Co-dependent behaviors are rather easy to identify, much easier to identify than counter-dependent behaviors. Major signs of co-dependency are evidenced in some of the following ways:
feeling anxious and insecure without knowing why
constantly worrying that others will reject you
feeling trapped in an abusive relationship
not trusting yourself and your own decisions
taking care of others instead of yourself
trying to please others
having few or no personal boundaries
not knowing what you want or need
acting like a victim or martyr
By contrast, hidden away in an office building somewhere is a person working late at night whose counter-dependent behaviors may be less apparent though just as dysfunctional. People who display counter-dependent behaviors probably have the same unmet needs for closeness and intimacy that people with co-dependent behaviors have, but these needs are hidden — not only from others but also from themselves, because counter-dependent people make judgments about needy people. These counter-dependent individuals do in fact have some justification for feeling this way. Previously, when they revealed their weaknesses and vulnerability, someone made fun of them or ignored them because of it.
How can you tell if an adult has counter-dependent behaviors? When you review the following list of characteristic behaviors, you will likely recognize some that remind you more of a two-year-old than of an adult. This isn't surprising, because people whose social and emotional needs aren't met in the first three years of their lives carry them around. These needs then emerge in adult relationships and interfere with intimacy. This is the chief cause of counter-dependent behaviors in adults. When individuals simply do not get their developmental needs met in childhood, they find themselves just "playing grown-up."
Characteristics of Counter-dependency
As you read the list of characteristics, see how many of these behaviors you recognize in yourself. The first step in understanding your counter-dependent attempts to meet your vital developmental needs is to identify your compensating behaviors. Do you:
have trouble getting close to people?
have trouble sustaining closeness in intimate relationships?
tend to view people as bad or wrong when you leave them or they leave you?
have trouble feeling your feelings other than justified anger or sadness?
have fears of other people controlling you?
tend to say no to the new ideas of others?
rebel against or move away from people who try to get too close to you?
get anxious in close, intimate relationships?
feel constantly afraid you will make a mistake?
try to be perfect and expect others to be perfect?
refrain from asking for help even when you need it?
have a strong need to be right?
have thick layers of muscle or fat across your shoulders, chest, or abdomen that create a kind of body armor?
get afraid of being consumed by the needs of others?
fear that others will reject you if you show your weaknesses or fears?
get bored easily and need to seek new thrills?
make high demands on yourself or others?
tend to see people as all good or all bad, depending on how they relate to you?
work long hours during the week and go into work on weekends too?
keep very busy with hobbies, recreation, or other projects?
find it difficult to relax and do nothing?
have difficulty with free play or unstructured time?
have fits of anger when you don't get your way?
take outrageous risks in sports or business dealings that you secretly hope will make you rich and famous?
believe you're entitled to have others treat you in special ways?
Like people with co-dependent behaviors, people with counter-dependent behaviors also have a sense that they are not whole without the help of someone else. However, they try to hide this fact from others so they can appear as if they really don't need other people. In order to maintain this deception, they often sink an enormous amount of energy into fooling themselves and others regarding the depth and range of their needs.
They often do this through an almost compulsive adherence to activities that others will value and reward, such as work, hobbies, recreation, exercise, or community activities, all of which serve to keep them busy and make them look good. In this way, they are actually hiding from themselves, hoping they won't have to feel their deep feelings of being rejected, abandoned, abused, or smothered by the people they were close to while growing up. These people may be their parents or parental figures like teachers, older siblings, or peers.
Causes of Counter-dependent Behaviors in Adults
There are three basic developmental reasons why adults behave in counter-dependent ways: (1) they did not bond sufficiently with their parents during the first year of life, (2) their parents were not able to help them become emotionally separate during the second and third years of their lives, and (3) they suffered developmental traumas as the result of various subtle forms of abuse and/or neglect. We estimate that only 1 or 2 percent of the adult population successfully completed bonding and separation, the essential developmental processes during early childhood. As a result, incomplete developmental processes show up constantly in adult relationships, preventing people from being intimate. With the appropriate parental and societal support and guidance, you should have completed your psychological birth by about age three. What often interferes with the completion of this very important developmental milestone is the presence of subtle forms of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse and developmental traumas during the first three years of life.
Repeated, early exposure to any form of trauma and violence desensitizes people to violence. When we give talks on counter-dependency, we typically ask members of the audience to raise their hands if they have personally witnessed violence or abuse, or if anyone has treated them violently or abusively. Typically, about one-third of the audience raises a hand. But never witnessing violence or abuse means never watching a violent television show or movie and never watching anyone in the family, workplace, highway, school, or neighborhood being violent or abusive. That any individual has been this sheltered is highly unlikely! So why don't more audience members raise their hands when we ask this question?
Perhaps they learned to dissociate during these moments in order to cope with their memories of trauma and abuse. They may also, however, remain in a constant state of hypervigilance to prevent being triggered by memories of past traumas and abuse. When people are in a persistent hyper-aroused state, they have adrenal hormones flowing through their bloodstream that trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response. This is particularly true when a current conflict in their relationship contains even the slightest hint of an earlier unresolved trauma or abuse. These classic adrenal stress reactions are wired into our brains to help us cope with situations we perceive as dangerous. We don't even have to think about them, we just react. Unhealed developmental traumas may be a major factor in why people own over 270 million guns in the United States. People just don't feel safe.
Along with the fear of traumatic encounters, there is often a companion phenomenon that causes people to be attracted to and fascinated by trauma. The natural learning style of humans is to repeat behaviors until the lessons are learned or the trauma is healed. Freud called this the repetition compulsion. We are drawn to what we fear so we can heal the trauma. That is why so many people seem to enjoy watching violence in movies and seem to enjoy having the wits scared out of them. While people may appear to be addicted to violence, they are still trying to understand and heal traumas from their early childhood. When young children, who have not completed their psychological births, witness violence at home or on TV, they experience it as happening directly to them.
The Role of Parental Neglect and Abandonment
In High Risk: Children without a Conscience, Ken Magid and Carol McKelvey state that severely abused and neglected children grow up to become violence-seeking adults, unless there is an intervention in their lives before age sixteen. They estimate that over 20 million adults fall into this category, and that their number is growing more rapidly than the general population's rate of increase. They advise us to do a better job of protecting our young children and intervening early in their lives. Magid predicts that, if we don't, "soon there will be more of them than us, and then we will be in real trouble."
New research by Dr. Bruce Perry of Baylor College of Medicine says that it takes a special kind of family environment to turn a normal child into a killer. He concluded that repeated abuse, neglect, or experiences of terror cause permanent physical changes in the brains of young children. He found that a constant flood of adrenaline causes the brain to reset its normal alarm system to a permanent hair-trigger alert.
Children who are constantly exposed to abuse or who witness the abuse of others, such as a sibling or parent, have high levels of adrenal stress hormones that shut down their brains. These are the high-risk kids that Magid talks about. They typically have antisocial personalities, low heart rates, and impaired emotional sensitivity, including a lack of empathy. They often will kill or torture animals. A profiler of the character-disturbed child, Foster Cline was one of the first to profile the characteristics of high-risk children who have attachment disorders. According to Cline, high-risk children
are unable to give and receive affection;
exhibit self-destructive behavior;
are cruel to others;
employ phoniness or seductive "sweet talk";
have severe problems with stealing, hoarding, and gorging on food;
exhibit marked behavior control problems;
lack long-term friendships; and
display abnormalities in eye contact.
There are three types of maternal attachments: secure, avoidant, and anxious/ambivalent. Campos, Barrett, and colleagues, found that 62 percent of infants were securely attached, 23 percent were avoidant, and 15 percent were anxious/ambivalent. The child's type of early attachment causes him or her to develop what is called an internal "working model" of the world. There are also three identifiable subtypes of avoidant children: (i) the lying bully who blames others, (2) the shy, dissociated loner who seems emotionally flat, and (3) the obviously disturbed child with repetitive twitches and tics who daydreams and shows little interest in his or her environment. And there are two subtypes of anxious/ambivalent children: (1) the fidgety, impulsive child with poor concentration who is tense and easily upset by his or her failures, and (2) the fearful, hypersensitive, clingy child who lacks initiative and gives up easily.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists the characteristics that lead to a diagnosis of what the manual identifies as a "conduct disorder." This diagnosis can apply to a child under the age of eighteen; in diagnosing individuals over eighteen, the same disorder is called an "antisocial personality disorder." The symptoms are summarized as follows:
Acts aggressively toward people and animals:
often bullies, threatens, or intimidates others
has used a weapon that can cause serious physical harm to others
often initiates physical fights
has been physically cruel to people
has been physically cruel to animals
has stolen while confronting a victim
has forced someone into sexual activity
Has destroyed property:
has deliberately engaged in fire setting
has deliberately destroyed others' property (other than by fire setting)
Practices deceitfulness or theft:
has broken into someone else's house, building, or car
often lies to obtain goods or favors or to avoid obligations
has stolen items of nontrivial value without confronting a victim
Has committed serious violations of rules:
often stays out at night despite parental prohibitions, beginning while under the age of thirteen
has run away from home overnight at least twice while living in the home of a parent or parental surrogate
is often truant from school, beginning while under the age of thirteen
Before being diagnosed as having an antisocial personality disorder, a person must exhibit a persistent pattern of three or more of these behaviors over a period of twelve months, with at least one of the behaviors exhibited once in the preceding three months. You can see that most of these behaviors are similar to those that Cline found in his study of the effects of poor bonding and attachment. It's clear that parental neglect, abuse, and emotional abandonment play an important role in shaping children's brains. They also are responsible for shaping children's internal working models of reality, particularly concerning how — or whether — adults in their environments are going to care for them. In order to prevent bullying, school violence, and other antisocial behaviors in children and later in adults, parents need therapy to learn to repair the attachment disorders in their children.
Perry's research also indicated that children living with parents who are withdrawn and remote, passive or depressed, and neglectful suffer from delayed brain development. He found that neglect impairs the development of the brain's cortex, where feelings of belonging and attachment originate. According to Perry, these neglected kids desperately need positive adult attention to compensate for the lack of attention, or the negative attention, they received early in life from their parents or family members.
Other research has confirmed that the internal working model of the world formed in early childhood persists into adulthood virtually unchanged. Krause and Haverkamp have summarized the research, saying, "Existing research does suggest that the bond between parent and child is likely to remain in effect across the life span and plays an important role in later life parent-child relations."
In our research on conflict resolution, we identified the occurrence of developmental traumas during early childhood as the main reason people flee from intimacy. These traumas are more often the result of neglect than abuse. As a result, they are harder to identify, because "nothing happened," except that children's social and emotional needs were neglected by the significant adults in their lives.
The Causes of Developmental Trauma
Abuse, neglect, or emotional abandonment during the child's first three years
Disruptions in the normal sequence of development
Prolonged, repeated, or premature separations between mother and child during the early bonding period due to illness
Daily small emotional disconnects between mother and child
Repeated encroachment on the child's physical, psychological, and emotional boundaries
A lack of understanding of the child's needs
A lack of safe and clear limits during the exploratory stage
Developmental traumas can have a variety of effects on the subsequent development of the child. These effects can be physical, emotional, or cognitive. Many children are mislabeled as a result, and the true cause of their behavior is not recognized. Professionals and parents alike need to better understand the effects of early developmental traumas on children and, later, on adults.
Excerpted from The Flight from Intimacy by Janae B. Weinhold, Barry K. Weinhold. Copyright © 2008 Janae B. Weinhold and Barry K. Weinhold. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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