Friday, October 30, 2015

Codependency vs. Trauma

I first learned about the term codependency from the book Codependant No More. I like the book Codependent No More. It taught me some very interesting good concepts that I loved. It helped me be more aware of myself. But does the term Codependent automatically apply to spouses of sex addicts too?

Most likely not.

Instantly labeling a spouse of a sex addict "codependent" the moment she finds out the world has flipped over can run the risk of indirectly putting inappropriate blame & shame on the spouse, and can in turn indirectly cause the spouse to tolerate and enable the addict, which puts themselves in further danger.


According to the DSM-5, PTSD moved out from under the class of Anxiety Disorders into a new class called Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders

PTSD is also considered a Psychiatric Injury not a mental illness. The cause is external not internal. It is not resulting from the individual’s personality.

"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a natural emotional reaction to a deeply shocking and disturbing experience. It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Any human being has the potential to develop PTSD. The cause is external not internal. It is a Psychiatric Injury, so It is not resulting from the individual’s personality. Individuals suffering from PTSD are injured, not mentally ill.  PTSD indicates severe trauma and stress which causes a weakness in the individual, and not the reverse. " link

Whereas CODEPENDENCY is more of a Personality Disorder and under the DSM-5 is called Dependant Personality Disorder.

Historically, the concept of co-dependence comes directly out of Alcoholics Anonymous which was founded in 1935 and was later used by Al-Anon when it was formed in 1951. Al-Anon holds the view that alcoholism is a family illness.
"The language of, symptoms of, and treatment for codependence derive from the medical model suggesting a disease process underlies the behavior."

"Personality Disorders are a class of mental disorders characterized by enduring maladaptive patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience, exhibited across many contexts and deviating markedly from those accepted by the individual's culture. These patterns develop early, are inflexible, and are associated with significant distress or disability. They are defined as ingrained patterns indicated by inflexible and disabling responses that significantly differ from how the average person in the culture perceives, thinks, and feels, particularly in relating to others. Hence, personality disorders are defined by experiences and behaviors that differ from societal norms and expectations. Also, particular personality features must be evident by early adulthood. The personality disorders in general are defined as emerging in childhood, or at least by adolescence or early adulthood." Link
** Note: Personality Disorders are "not due to use of substances or another medical condition", and they do not seem to have a direct effect on Sexual Dysfunction.

Types of Personality Disorders are paranoid, dependant disorder, schizoid, dissocial, borderline personality disorder (ughhh), narcissistic, passive aggressive disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder (diff than ocd) etc etc etc

Codependency and PTSD are two DIFFERENT diagnosis. Its like telling someone who has ADHD that they are Bi-polar. Yes many symptoms overlap and are very similar, but they are two completely DIFFERENT diagnosis and they both require different medications and treatments.

It matters GREATLY to be diagnosed correctly because being diagnosed as Codependent when someone really has PTSD can run the risk of not fully being able to heal. "Behavior modification (typically used with Codependency) can be functional in terms of bringing about a temporary change in a person’s behavior but unless the causes are addressed there is no real fundamental healing that takes place."

Let's call it like it is. If 70% of sex addict wives have PTSD, then let's call it what fits the symptoms the best.....PTSD. Not Codependency OR "Co-addict". Most of us did not have these symptoms and behaviors present before our lives were shattered by addiction. They were not a part of our personality before we were married.

My life was continually shattered over and over by my husband and it was an extremely traumatizing experience, what's real, what's not real? What's up, what's down?

Me thinking and wondering about my husband was just a desperate attempt to find SAFETY. I was trying to assess threats before they happened so that I could find a way to be safe and not be hit with, yet another, shattering surprise.

There was nothing wrong with me. My behaviors weren't "wrong".

They were normal behaviors of trauma. Almost like a reflex. If someone throws a ball in my face, my body is going to flinch.  If someone cuts me, I'm going to bleed and feel pain. If my husband continuously lies to me and makes me feel crazy, I'm going to desperately try to find any way possible to keep myself safe and make sense of my world. I'm going to frantically hold onto any lifesaver I can find, while kicking and screaming and choking on water.

Yes , I occasionally did a few things that resembled "codependent" behaviors, but they WEREN'T actually codependent behaviors, they were the natural byproduct of PTSD Betrayal Trauma.

Healing from trauma is about knowledge, love, and acceptance. Its a process, it takes time. Everyone is different. I believe the the most effective healing comes from loving and accepting wherever we are at, VS. telling ourselves (and risk shaming ourselves) "I shouldn't do this" "I shouldn't do that", "I need to do better" etc.

THINK of it this way--------If a woman got hit by a drunk driver, out of no fault of her own, and ended up in the hospital with tons of broken bones, cuts and bruises......would it be wrong of her to be in pain? Or to feel angry? Or to be scared? 

No, its just the NORMAL effects of trauma and pain, right? Its a natural process the body goes through.

Could the woman "should" herself better? Would telling herself ------- "I shouldn't be in pain. I shouldn't have been driving. I should have paid more attention. I need to be a better driver. I should be better by now. It shouldn't take this long for bones to heal. I should have known he was drunk and was gonna hit me. I shouldn't feel this angry and scared. I shouldn't think about what the drunk driver is doing. I shouldn't think about him hitting other people either. I shouldn't hate him, I need to love and trust him." -------- would any of these thoughts HELP her to heal faster and keep her safe? 

No, probably not, because those types of thoughts usually bring shame.

Shame is toxic for the body and can actually make healing SLOWER and more painful. Shame and fear perpetuate trauma. 

Knowledge, love and acceptance of ourselves, no matter where we are at or how we feel (and therapy ha), are keys to healing. BOUNDARIES are the key to our SAFETY. I know we can't control our husbands, but we CAN control what dangers/ behaviors we allow and tolerate in our homes.

BEEEEEEEEE nice to yourselves. Your just reacting normally to an abnormal situation :)

"As wives of sex/porn addicts, we deserve and have a right to know the type of relationship we are in. We DESERVE to know what kind of danger our addict husbands are putting us and our children in by viewing pornography, masturbating, or having any contact with other women. "Keeping someone in a relationship under false pretenses represents exploitation".

*RESOURCES* (Read Therapist's Take at the bottom):

How to Set Boundaries (I posted additional resources & links at the bottom)

To Filter Internet or Not :

Excerpt from Rhylls article on Codependency vs. Trauma. :

"A Therapist’s Take
I believe that trauma is often mis-labeled as co-dependency.  It may be best explained by understanding the criteria for a diagnosis of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.  This diagnosis is separated into the following four assessments:
First, the individual needs to meet both of the following criteria:
1) The person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved … threat to the physical integrity of self or others.
2) The person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror
(Spouses of sex addicts certainly meet those two criteria.)
Now lets look at the next criteria.  In this part of the evaluation the clinician looks for signs that the traumatic event is being re-experienced.  Only one of the five need to be present.
1) recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions,
2) recurrent distressing dreams of the event,
3) acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring,
4) intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external curs that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event (For example, husband texting on phone late at night.)
5) physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event (For example, feeling nauseous at the site of massage parlors.) 
The third area is where the clinician evaluates for whether the individual is numbing.  One of the three needs to be present:
1)  Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma.
2)  Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma (So, a counselor without a thorough knowledge of trauma may say that a spouse is being uncooperative when they choose not to attend S-Anon, counseling or discuss the situation with an ecclesiastical leader.  This assessment would not help the spouse heal.)
3)  Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma.
4) Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
5) Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
6) Restricted range of affect
7) Sense of a foreshortened future.
Finally, a clinician will need to assess for the following symptoms and if two or more are present:
1)  Irritability or outbursts of anger
2)  Difficulty falling asleep
3)  Difficulty concentrating
4)  Hypervigilance
5) Exaggerated startle response
So, why does it matter if the spouse is considered co-dependent vs. traumatized? For a variety of reasons, if we get the diagnosis wrong it is like giving antibiotics to a Stage 4 cancer patient.  Because the spouse can feel like she is equally to “blame” because her behaviors were just as “bad” as his, because trauma is visceral and cellular and our bodies remember so all the teaching about changing co-dependent behavior will not heal the bodies memory of the trauma. Because having a spouse labeled co-dependent doesn’t help the addict see the very real consequences of his behavior, it is kind of like saying, “I had an emotional affair.”  Rather than, “I broke sacred covenants.”


  1. HOW do you do that ?!? I have this theory . Your actually a therapist incognito and are just getting research from a pretend blog ....just teasing :) Of course this wouldn't be possible for you because then you would be deceitful and that is not possible for you ! :) No really now , HOW do you put my feelings and thoughts on paper like that ??? When I do find a counselor I hope they would read this . I love how you said shame is toxic . I am made to feel ashamed for pain , tears , and anxiety about going certain places , even made fun of . Toxic is a good word . It fits perfect. , toxins build up , make you feel sick , create serious disease and are not fun to detox or just will not come out . Makes me wonder if I will ever heal from this disease . Thank you for writing so perfect , again .

  2. I really appreciate this article. & have some Q's ...What about when a wife finds out her husband has been calling/texting ab xgf from hs/drug days 15 years previoius & looking @porn. What if he started a new addiction to pain pills unbeknownst to her? She thinks its just his bad arthritic back & questions him intently( all while she very sick,pregnant) ...but he lies multiple times & says I know this can make you nervous but this is real...Im seriously in pain. I found out while sick, I figured out it WAS an addiction a few months later. Why do I get all this talk of let it go...moooove on & all this codependent nonsense like any of his choices are my fault. He was addict before I met him & clean for 14 years. Im not supposed to be traumatized? Yeah ok...I dont think so:/

    1. Sounds like crazy making, make you question your sanity, type stuff. Ope, yep = traumatizing indeed. Trauma is created when circumstances of intense fear and helplessness happen. Lies are incredibly traumatizing and INCREDIBLY damaging.

      But wait.... didnt you know? Your codependency must have been smothering him enough to make pain pills magically pop in his mouth and then text his ex. Ha cuz that makes sense.

      Says no-one

      Haha jk

      He had his issues before he met you, and he still has his issues after he met you. Nothing you did made him make bad choices.

      Your responsibility is creating boundaries and your OWN safety.