How to Heal From Codependency Using AEDP
By Annabelle Parr, MA, AMFT
In our first blog, we explored codependency, including what it is, and how it can serve as a mechanism of self-protection. We explored the characteristic codependent behaviors, including caretaking, repression, obsession, controlling, denial, dependency, poor communication, and weak boundaries, and the emotional consequences of these patterns of behavior, including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and anger (Beattie, 1986). And we explored what recovery from codependency looks like. But how does one actually work toward recovery from codependency?
Treating codependency with AEDP.
Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy, or AEDP for short, offers one approach. In her book, It’s Not Always Depression, Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW (2018) describes AEDP as an approach that facilitates healing by identifying, experiencing, and processing emotions in the body in the present moment. This is done in the context of a warm, empathic therapeutic relationship in order to create neurological and relational change, addressing symptoms at the core rather than at the surface level.
AEDP requires that we get in touch with our core emotions. From an AEDP perspective, healing is facilitated when we are able to experience our core emotions without defense, and thus move into a more openhearted, authentic state of self. Core emotions, according to Hendel (2018), are a collection of physiological sensations that must be viscerally felt in order to be fully processed. The core emotions are: fear, anger, sadness, disgust, joy, excitement, and sexual excitement (Hendel, 2018). (The Pixar film, Inside Out, is an excellent primer on the first five core emotions).
Defenses keep us from experiencing our core emotions.
Defenses are defined as “any thought, action, or maneuver we make that takes us away from being in touch with discomfort” (Hendel, 2018, p. 20). And there is a fair amount of discomfort inherent in most of our core emotions; even the ones we tend to view as positive, such as joy, excitement, and sexual excitement, can feel incredibly vulnerable. As Brené Brown so wisely noted, joy is the most vulnerable emotion we can experience, because it reminds us what we care about most, and inherent in that care is the threat of loss. Defenses allow us to avoid our vulnerability; in doing so, they also often cut us off from who we really are and from the things that matter to us.
Inhibitory emotions can also defend against core emotions.
Hendel (2018) also noted that certain emotions, such as anxiety, guilt, and shame, can keep us cut off from our core emotional experience, and by extension, our authentic selves. She explained that we may, at some point in our lives, have received the message that our emotional experience is unwelcome, dangerous, or bad, and that this emotion is actually a threat to our ability to connect with the people we love and need. In order to keep us connected to those around us, inhibitory emotions like shame cut us off from that primary, core feeling.
How do core emotions and defenses relate to codependency?
One of the defining features of codependency is a loss of touch with one’s authentic self: with one’s emotions, needs, wants, and desires. As discussed in our last blog, codependency is a behavioral pattern which develops as a result of a system of oppressive rules which inhibits the open expression of feelings (Beattie, 1986). The codependent person has received the message, whether implicit or explicit, that their emotions and needs pose a threat to their relationships; thus, they may feel inhibitory emotions like anxiety, guilt, and shame – hallmarks of the codependent experience. They may also adopt certain behaviors that focus around attending to another person as a defense against their own emotional experience.
Defenses might work, but they come at a high price.
The thing about defenses and patterns of avoidance is that they tend to work. Sort of. They may work in the short term. Or they may even “work” in the long term. But they often have a big, giant cost: when we are spending all our energy trying to defend against our emotions, our discomfort, and our vulnerability, we lose touch with who we are, what we feel, what we need, and our ability to engage flexibly with those areas of our life that mean the most to us. Our core emotions are vital – they have important information about what we want and need. They generate an impulse for action, and when we become conscious of this impulse, we get to make a choice about how to proceed. We are empowered to make conscious decisions rather than operating on autopilot with the sole purpose of avoiding discomfort.
How does someone heal from codependency?
Ultimately, the goal of AEDP is to help clients to move past their defenses, to get in touch with their core emotions, and to learn that not only are these core emotions not dangerous, but they are actually vital to our wellbeing. As Hendel (2018) said so beautifully, “wellness is a by-product of our ability to tolerate our internal experiences” (p. 48). When we are comfortable sitting with our emotions, they have a chance to move through us. To share the information with us that we need to move forward. Recovery from codependency requires the individual to get back in touch with their emotions and the core of who they are, so that from there, they can begin to disrupt codependent behavior patterns. In being intimately familiar with and accepting of one’s own emotional experience, one can then begin to set appropriate boundaries, communicate clearly, and make conscious choices from a place of authenticity and compassion. AEDP provides the relational environment where this kind of new learning and healing can take place.
If you or someone you love might benefit from therapy for codependency, anxiety, low-self esteem, or depression, please contact Jodi Staszak, LMFT. Jodi offers Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) for individuals, and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples, in addition to Overcoming Codependency groups for individuals struggling with codependence. Jodi can be reached at 619-818-0375 or JodiS.MFT@gmail.com.