I attended the Ottawa Institute of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, (OICBT), for a 1.5-hour orientation session on the Challenging Core Beliefs program that I’ll be starting on May 14, 2015. And the question went around the table at one point asking what each of us had to overcome in order to be there.
“For me, reaching a point of feeling like I need to ask for help again, has been hard. I’ve had to fight pride and denial to be here. I’m trying to hold hope that it’s not that I’m a broken or faulty person even though that’s how it feels. I hope it’s that there’s more to learn and I didn’t know that until now.
“I’m afraid to have to be doing this for the rest of my life and being here is me facing that fear.”
It was interesting to hear myself say all of that out loud and the idea of it stayed with me all day. My thoughts developed around the idea that I am actually doing things differently now (or this time). I’m listening to my inner self… listening to my inner physician if you will, and directing my own recovery.
Later that evening, I sat in a minimalist conference room at Serenity Renewal for Families and watched a vintage video presentation with a handful of strangers and my own words and thoughts began to make even more sense as another epitome of healing hit me.
This time it was the term – “Stage II Recovery” – that resonated with me. It’s a process credited to the late Earnie Larsen in the mid-1980s who was the very down-to-earth presenter in the video I watched.
I’ve since researched Larsen and found he was a very influential American counselor, author and speaker on alcoholism, recovery, co-dependency and dysfunctional behaviours who passed away in 2011 (very touching memorial video here).
Having had his own experience with depression, treatment and recovery, Larsen authored 55 books and 40 motivational tapes in the field of recovery. The former priest believed that everyone who comes from a wounded, dysfunctional or alcoholic family is codependent. Larsen said that in particular once the alcoholic finds sobriety they are still the codependent person they drank to get away from being in the first place.
“In the past codependency was associated with (a) person who enabled an alcoholic or drug addict. These days codependency has become associated with emotional dependencies in a relationship. All relationships involve a dependency on another person to some extent. However, when an individual compromises their own values and wants to avoid rejection and anger, they are exhibiting codependent behaviors,” wrote Dr Laura JJ Dessauer Ed.D., L.M.H.C. for Business Success for Therapists.
Codependency is thought to be passed down from one generation to the next and is learned by watching other family members. Research also suggests that people who were emotionally neglected or abused in their teens are more likely to enter into codependent relationships.
"These kids are often taught to subvert their own needs to please a difficult parent, and it sets them up for a long-standing pattern of trying to get love and care from a difficult person," says Dr Shawn Burn, PhD, a psychology professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
"They're often replaying a childhood pattern filled with development gaps,” added Dr Scott Wetzler, PhD, psychology division chief at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
In recovery or healing of any kind, Larsen believed the first stage is the one that brings sobriety and/or emotional enlightenment. He added that many will live in Stage I of recovery for a very long time, as he did (and maybe I've done), and believe they’ve done all they can do. In the case of the alcoholic, it’s easy to see that many would feel that having given up the booze would be recovery enough.
“But we didn’t just fall out of the tree one day a 30-year-old person,” said Larsen who counseled about how moving into a deeper level of recovery or spirituality requires inner child work. And this is something many don’t know exists or that it is required.
This inner child idea runs very close to the invisible child topic I wrote about last time and many readers sent me feedback saying they were able to relate to having been invisible. I think Larsen’s ideas of the inner child are what results after a child becomes unseen.
Larsen lectured that the inner child is a part of us that is fixed in childhood, usually the result of painful experiences. In Larsen’s books on inner child work, he speaks to the three parts of all of us: “the part that advanced into healthy adulthood, the part that remained rooted in childhood and the part that came into being to protect that “child” rooted in the adult.”
This third part - the protector part - developed when we were vulnerable as a child. (For example, shutting down and not responding when scolded or confronted.) Though it was once helpful, (because speaking up would make your parent angry or your feelings would be invalidated somehow), as we move to adulthood our protector is actually an obstacle to growth. The idea being that the protector in us actually grew at difficult times out of necessity to get along as a child. But in adulthood we keep invoking the protector because it’s everything we know and we don’t know how to change it. (And I think we can all agree that shutting down in our adult relationships just doesn’t work.)
To Larsen this is when Stage II Recovery kicks in. It’s the stage where we look at how we learned to be who we’ve become after having come to terms with the need to change what we are doing. Some of the primary focus of Stage II Recovery is recognizing that members of wounded families each have a type of Self-Defeating Learned Behaviour.
They are described as, "those self-defeating, learned behaviours or character defects that result in a diminished capacity to initiate or to participate in loving relationships," said Larsen and he categorized those behaviours as follows:
- Caretakers – caretakers believe that they are responsible for everybody at all times and if anything goes wrong, it’s their fault because the caretaker could have/should have done something more.
- Babies – babies believe they don’t have to do anything that is uncomfortable because someone usually does it for them. Babies are not responsible for anything and are never to blame because they deflect everything including making decisions. When anything does go wrong, it’s never the baby because someone else did it to them.
- People pleasers – people pleasers believe that they should never make anyone mad because if someone is mad, then the people pleaser is bad. They cannot say no and their thoughts, needs and wants are not as important as others’.
- Abusers – abusers believe that if they push or hit hard enough (literally and figuratively), things will change. Abusers often feed on instant gratification - they want what they want, right now.
- Martyrs – martyrs believe that life is supposed to hurt. They may live with a sense of impending doom and sabotage their happiness. They self-sacrifice so everyone else gets what they want. When life gets too good, the martyr will wreck it.
- Workaholics – workaholics believe that they are as good as what they produce and chooses things over people. They are only worth what they do and will out work everyone else. They also tend to self-sabotage by putting six months of tasks on a daily list and then feel negative about not getting everything done.
- Perfectionists – perfectionists don’t think anything is ever good enough unless they do it themselves. They tend to be amazed at the incompetence of others and believe that standards are slipping everywhere and for everything. They also believe they are alone and that no one helps them.
- Tap dancers – tap dancers have difficulty committing to people or situations and always have the backdoor open to make an exit. Tap dancers appear to have difficulty with intimacy and will distance themselves when they get too close to someone because they have been hurt too many times before.
Self-defeating behaviour and codependency is a huge topic that takes learned therapy to understand and explore all the complexity. Often 12-step programming such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon Family Groups (Al-Anon), - yes even for those of us without substance abuse challenges - or Co-dependents Recovery Society (CDRS) is recommended. But most of all, recovery begins with being patient with yourself and by remembering that small steps toward a healthier life are better than no steps.
Larsen, E. (1985).
Stage II recovery: Life beyond addiction. San Francisco: Harper Row