A Talk With Drs. Janae and Barry Weinhold, authors of The Flight from Intimacy and Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap

I’ve heard of co-dependency. How is counter-dependency different? How are co-dependency and counter-dependency related to each other? Explain?

Counter-dependency is the little known flip side of co-dependency. While co-dependents want to get close and cuddly, counter-dependents are afraid of close, intimate relationships. In our developmental model, people use co-dependent behaviors to try to meet their need for the secure bonding they never got as a child. Counter-dependent behaviors are used to protect them from re-experiencing trauma from their toddler years when they were trying to get emotionally separate.

Some parents are able to provide enough bonding for their infants, but they struggle with providing toddlers with effective limits and consequences. They may use shame, physical punishment and isolation to control toddlers that leave emotional wounds. Or they are unable to provide consistent limits, which is a form of neglect. If these early relational wounds are not healed, close adult relationships can trigger memories of these hurts and they flee from intimacy. People with unmet co-dependent bonding needs often form relationships with people who have unmet counter-dependent safety needs. This very combination of people with complementary or opposite unmet needs can be a constant source of conflict.

Why are so many relationships failing these days? What advice do you have for people who want more intimacy in their relationships? Relationships are failing for a number of reasons. We believe that the most common cause is that people bring a lot of unrecognized and unhealed developmental trauma into their relationships that get triggered by closeness. The unidentified trauma causes them to go into survival mode and they find themselves acting out fight, flight and freeze responses. Another trauma-related cause of failed relationships is that people have become afraid of intimacy because they came from families where there was divorce and they are not willing to commit to working out their conflicts. They’d rather move on to another relationship. There’s also the factor of unrealistic expectations about intimacy and poor role modeling that is fed by movies, celebrity websites and pop literature such as People. Our “disposable” culture makes it easy to throw away relationships that aren’t perfect or require some persistence to work things through. The most life-changing thing people can do in their relationships is to redefine the meaning of intimacy.Most people think of it as happy, blissful and romantic experiences, and there’s nothing wrong with this definition. Unfortunately, it’s not realistic. We live in a world of duality that includes some good things and some not so good things. What we’ve done in our own relationship is to expand our definition of intimacy to include both the happy times and the struggles. Once we closed the exits in our relationship and learned to use our conflicts as opportunities to heal the traumas from our pasts, we saw how fruitful our struggles were. This larger perspective helped us appreciate both the “peak” experiences and “depth” experiences of intimacy. As one of our friends says, “It’s all God” . . . . we say, “It’s all intimacy!”

Do you have scientific research that supports what you are saying about co-dependency and counter-dependency as it relates to the subjects above?

We sure do. There’s a lot of scientific findings from cell biology, pre- and peri-natal psychology, attachment research, psychobiology and developmental psychology that supports our more than 20 years of clinical research on co-dependency and counter-dependency. This growing body of research describes parental behaviors that best support normal child development and indicates how relational trauma in childhood causes develop co-dependent and counter-dependent behaviors. If not recognized and addressed, this subtle relational trauma has lasting effects on adults. For example, the difference between a childhood event that is a trauma and one that is just an “owie” is whether or not the child is comforted by a caring adult. Many parents do not recognize their children’s emotional “owies” and do not know that they should comfort them.

For example, the research of cell biologist Dr. Bruce Lipton indicates that the outer lining of the cell wall contains receptors that tell cells whether or not the environment is safe. If they perceive a safe environment, they open to take in the nutrients that are necessary for growth and normal development. If the receptors perceive danger in the environment, they close down and go into a protection mode. This cell activity directs our whole behavior. Children who suffer intentional or unintentional relational abuse or neglect become hypervigilant about their safety. According to Lipton, this keeps their bodies in a constant “false alarm” state and prevents them from learning and eventually from building sustainable intimate relationships. They become fearful adults who create co-dependent relationships or flee from intimacy. Our research indicates that committed, compassionate relationships are actually the best places to heal these traumas and to break free of the grip that co-dependent and counter-dependent behaviors have on people’s lives. The topic of co-dependency has been around a long time. Why has it become a topic of interest and concern again? Co-dependency was first associated with addictions and alcoholism. Now it is recognized as a cultural issue that is interfering with our ability to address global issues such as climate change, peak oil, economic and political instability and the over-consumption of the earth’s resources. Co-dependency makes people afraid of changing their beliefs about who they are, about how the world operates and encourages them to hang on to their “things” as a way of feeling safe during times of crisis or rapid change. As in co-dependent families, co-dependent cultures use force or the threat of force to keep people mistrustful, fearful and separate. They keep secrets, plot against each other for limited resources and discourage cooperation and collaboration. Cultural values are determined by the individuals, couples, families and larger social structures such as schools, churches and governments. These values change only when individuals, couples and families want something different and are willing to look at why they do what they do. When people stop wanting the government to take care of them and to solve all the country’s problems and they are willing to use their personal and political will, things will change. We believe that people are fast approaching the place where they recognize that we all sink or swim together. You write that what causes co-dependency and counter-dependency are unrecognized and unhealed developmental traumas from the first three years of life. Do people actually remember what happened to them when they were two years old? Explain how you help people remember these things. The WeinholdsVery few people are able to remember what happened to them before the age of three or four. We discovered, through our work on ourselves and with our clients, two simple ways to get this information. The first is through an extensive review of a person’s early developmental history. Sometimes people already know, for example, that their parents divorced when they were small, that their sister was born when they were eleven months old or that their mother put them in childcare when they were one month old. Other people don’t have this kind of information, so they get it from their parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and neighbors. The process of putting together these puzzle pieces can be very enlightening. The second way to get this early information is to observe people’s current behavior and to look at the problems they are having in their adult lives, particularly their addictions. If people are using “downer” substances such as alcohol, marijuana, food and nicotine and display more co-dependent behavior in their relationships, they likely experienced trauma during the first six months of life. If people are using “upper” substances such as caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines or methamphetamines and display more counter-dependent behavior in their relationships, they likely experienced trauma between six and thirty-six months. Many people have had trauma during both periods of development and flip back and forth between acting co-dependent and counter-dependent. How are co-dependency and counter-dependency related to current topics of public concern such as terrorism, the increase of domestic violence, the scandals in the Catholic Church, PTSD in our returning soldiers, and the collapse of the housing market?

We believe that co-dependent and counter-dependent behaviors in adults are caused by trauma related to the lack of secure bonding during the first six months of life and the failure to separate emotionally during first three years of development. These unhealed traumas not only leave people feeling confused, depressed and angry, they also create faulty beliefs about how the world operates and their place in it. They blame everything bad that happens to them on others, and they search for magical “perfect parents” who will meet their all their childhood needs and take away their deep pain. When this doesn’t happen, they turn to addictions such as alcohol, drugs, sex, work, or activities such as exercise or other compulsive behaviors in a desperate attempt to feel better. They may buy houses they can’t afford or use abuse their partners to try to avoid the hurt and pain they feel deep inside. Priests who suffered childhood sexual traumas are reenacting these traumas by abusing children. These futile attempts to cope with their early traumas leave people feeling fearful, depressed, alone and now paranoid about terrorist attacks. People act out their traumas in their relationships without full awareness that they are suffering from symptoms of early relational trauma.

Soldiers who are returning from Iraq have symptoms PTSD that prevent them from adjusting to civilian life. Then they have to wait for up to a year to get help from the Veteran’s Administration. Manyof our military personnel had traumatic childhoods that makes their tours even more difficult. Their unhealed traumas are like thousands of time bombs waiting to go off through domestic violence, child abuse, drug abuse, depression and suicide. Veterans’ lives are not going to improve unless their treatment helps them understand that only part of the PTSD they are experiencing is related to being in Iraq.We did not do a good job with the returning veterans from Vietnam or the first Gulf War and we don’t seem to have learned much in the meantime.

For more information, please visit www.weinholds.org or www.newworldlibrary.com

> Book Information:

The Flight From Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship

of Counter-Dependency – the Other Side of Co-Dependency

By Drs. Janae and Barry Weinhold · Foreword by John Bradshaw

Personal Growth/Psychology · Trade Paper · February 2008

$14.95 · 276 pages · ISBN-13: 978-1-57731-605-3

Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap

Second Edition

By Drs. Barry and Janae Weinhold

Foreword by John Bradshaw

Self-Help / Psychology – Trade Paper · February 2008

$14.95 · 272 pages · ISBN: 978-1-57731-614-5

by Monique Muhlenkamp, New World Library
In addition to almost sixty years combined teaching experience, Drs. Barry and Janae Weinhold have served for over five decades as licensed mental health professionals. They are the authors of Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap and Flight from Intimacy (New World Library) Barry is licensed as a psychologist and Janae is a professional counselor. Cofounders of the Carolina Institute for Conflict Resolution & Creative Leadership(CICRCL), they specialize in the areas of developmental psychology,trauma, violence prevention,conflict resolution,cosmologies,and consciousness studies. Barry is professor emeritus and former chair of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Counseling and Human Services Program. Janae is former adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. They live in North Carolina. Their website is www.weinholds.org.