In many codependent relationships, addiction is part of the relationship. In Ramona M. Asher’s book “Women With Alcoholic Husbands: Ambivalence and the Trap of Codependency,” the issue of the interactive nature of the relationship, the effects of the addiction and the behavior of the codependent are explored.
One of the factors this book, which is written from the interviews with women living with alcoholics, is the way that living with an addict changes a person’s self-definition. In other words, not only does the codependent change the definition of the relationship to accommodate for the abusive behavior, but she also changes how she sees herself and how any threat or challenge to that new definition is seen as a challenge to herself as an individual.
As part of making the change and looking through this lens on life, even though it may be distorted by the addictive partner and the abuse in the relationship, is the need to block out messages from self and others that cause distress or emotional and cognitive discomfort.
The Pattern of Denial
People develop coping mechanisms from very early childhood. These may also be called defense mechanisms, and they help us to avoid becoming anxious, depressed or stressed when unpleasant, uncomfortable or bad things happen in our families and in our early life experiences.
These patterns of defense mechanisms continue to frame the way we handle issues in our life as we mature, even if they are no longer useful or of value. One of the most common defense mechanisms for codependents with addiction is to enter into a state of denial.
Denial can be practical, and everyone engages in some form of denial to avoid emotionally distressful situations. In relationships with addicts, the denial can become dangerous, and potentially allow a person to stay in a highly emotionally destructive or a physically abusive relationship. Denial is typically developed in childhood to negate feelings of pain, shame, fear, loss, neglect or conflict within the family. Learning to pretend that the dysfunction does not exist or has no impact on you is emotionally safer than having to try to accept the dysfunction within the family.
Common signs you may be using a denial mechanism to avoid recognizing the dysfunction of the relationship with the addict include:
- Talking yourself out of believing something you experienced or minimizing a negative, abusive, hurtful or harmful interaction.
- Making excuses for the bad behavior of the addict.
- Focusing on what could be and not on what really is occurring in the relationship.
- Trusting the person will change, despite constant proof of the contrary.
- Rationalizing his/her behavior as well as your own.
- Accepting empty apologies and broken promises.
- Reducing or minimizing the pain you are experiencing.
Denial is a learned defense mechanism of codependents. Through coaching and therapy, it is possible to identify denial and to develop an effective, healthy and positive way to address the underlying issues.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW and Transformation Coach
Author of Love Smacked: How to Stop the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love
And Wake Up Recovery for Toxic Relationships, Codependency and Love Addiction