The Weinholds believe that sustainable relationships create a social safety net for people during times of economic uncertainty, political instability and rapid global climate. These videos examine the importance of having a web of relationships that provide social and emotional support during times of rapid change. [Read more…]
People are either life-givers or life-takers. Life-givers are relationally-oriented and have open compassionate hearts. Life-takers have closed hearts and are don’t care about the welfare of others.
Life-givers give life. This instinct is so much a part of them that they don’t even think about it. They just respond instinctively to innocence, vulnerability and Source energy by touching, holding, feeding, empowering and supporting. This gives them their greatest joy. [Read more…]
The Flight From Intimacy YouTubes identify counterdependency as the result of developmental trauma between the age of 9 and 36 months. This trauma prevents the completion of the “pyschological birth” and a child’s emotional separation from his or her parents.The premise of The Flight From Intimacy is that counterdependency is a set of behaviors that can be changed through inner work, by using effective self-healing tools, through conscious, committed relationships, and through therapy.
We correlate developmental trauma with counderdependent behaviors and problems with adult intimacy. We also see counterdependency as a systemic problem. By this we mean that individuals, couples, families, groups, organizations, cultures and nation-states all struggle with intimacy, cooperation and collaboration.
In the YouTubes below, we talk about our developmental approach to healing counterdependency. We also talk about our book, The Flight From Intimacy, which contains many case histories and lots practical activities to help you identify and heal the traumas from your early childhood.
In these we talk about the personal aspects of counterdependency:
In these we talk about the collective aspects of counterdependency:
What Are Your Family Death Patterns?
There are family death patterns and beliefs about dying that if not understood and changed can cause your death. Two seemingly unrelated things happened last week that reminded me of my family death patterns.
On Friday, I played in a club tennis tournament with my “old fart” tennis buddies, one of whom is Dave Carey, pictured here. The picture was taken at Dave’s Birthday party held immediately following the tennis tournament at the Aston Park Clubhouse. After participating in the tournament, where Dave played about 3 hours of tennis, he then celebrated his 99th birthday. Dave plays tennis about three times a week in our round-robin doubles play.
Then Sunday night, Janae and I attended a concert performed by Loudon Wainwright III. He opened the evening by singing the title song on his new CD, “Older Than My Old Man Now.” He revealed that his dad had died at the age of 64 and had outlived his dad who died at the age of 43. Loudon, who is now 66, realized that he had outlived his Dad. Having three generations of men with the same first name also struck me as significant. His Dad wrote a column for Life magazine for many years and during his performance he read a few of his Dad’s columns.
It was obvious to me that his Dad had influenced him greatly in his music and he had great affection for his Dad but also some unprocessed anger. He also shared that when he was about 64 he got very sick and thought he was going to die. He also said that this new CD focuses on the Double D, “death and decay.” I wondered if this is his way of trying to get some completion with his Dad who probably died before Loudon was ready for him to go. It is hard to have unresolved issues with your Dad that you hope someday to get resolved and then he dies before that happens.
Death and Dying Is A Family Tradition
In my book, Breaking Family Patterns: How To Identify Your Family Patterns, I write about patterns of illness and death that run in families. Loudon’s sharing of the significance of being “older than his old man now” and his bout with illness and possible death about the same age of his father when he died reminded me of how these patterns operate. He apparently broke his family pattern not by trying to run away from it, but by embracing it and focusing on “death and decay” in his new music.
At Dave Carey’s birthday party I thought about my Dad, who like Dave Carey loved tennis, but he gave up playing tennis at about age 89. He told me he was afraid he would fall and break a hip. He lived to be 92. I wondered if he had continued playing tennis whether he might have lived longer. He too had outlived his Dad who died at about age 70. I remember that my Dad had a serious illness about the same age as his Dad had died. We never discussed how he was able to break through that family death pattern, but it must have been hard.
Breaking Family Death Patterns
I remember, when my Dad was 65 I wrote him a letter and told him all the things that I appreciated about him and what he had taught me. He was in tears when he called me to tell me how much he appreciated my letter. He thanked me over and over and then said to me, “I had wanted to write something like this to my Dad, but he died before I had a chance to do it. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life.” I am glad I didn’t wait to express my appreciations. It made the last 27 years we had together much better for both of us.
Having people like Dave Carey in my life reminds me of one way to overcome family death patterns: have relationships with people who are older than you. They serve as reminders that we don’t have to die to keep our family death patterns intact.
You may want to trace the illness and death patterns in your family back at least three generations, if possible. Once you make them conscious, they won’t unconsciously come and get you. I believe if we break our family patterns around illness and death, we can choose when and how we will die. This is one of the benefits of breaking your family patterns.
In another post I share a written exercise I did to help me break my family illness and death patterns. It is something you too can do. I wrote my own obituary.
The search for intimacy has reached new heights as more than 40 million lonely Americans used online dating services last year. The search for soul mates and other kinds of “perfect match” partners has caused an explosion of internet match services and social networking sites, showing just how many people are searching for intimacy and connection.
In spite of an increase in population, however, marriage rates are down. While people say they want intimacy, they also seem to fear and flee from it–people like John, Eric, Lindsey and Susan.
The Flight From Intimacy
John is a hard worker who puts in seventy hours a week and has frequent rage attacks when little things go wrong. Despite his high job performance, he has been passed over for promotion because of his poor relationship skills.
Eric is bright and seems to handle life easily. He is a sharp dresser and has a likeable personality. Inside he feels insecure and has low self-esteem. Divorced at the age of twenty-three, he is still looking for the perfect woman.
Lindsey always looks as if she stepped off the pages of a fashion magazine. She is witty and fun-loving but is careful about letting people get too close because of her struggle with sexual intimacy.
Susan is preoccupied by her children’s activity schedules, fundraising for local charities, playing competitive tennis, and exercising at the club. She is so unavailable to her husband that he recently had an affair.
So, what causes these kinds of counter-dependent behaviors in adults? We believe it is trauma that prevents a person from becoming emotionally separated from his or her parents as toddlers, between the age of 9 months and 3 years. This process is also known as the “psychological birth” because it marks the psychological separation from the parents.
When this separation doesn’t get completed during the appropriate developmental window, it can cause addictions to “upper” substances and activities, recurring relationship conflicts, problems with closeness and intimacy, patterns of bullying or victimization, and a series of unsuccessful relationships.
Separation Trauma Becomes Adult Drama
In order for toddlers to “individuate,” or become separate individuals, they must learn how to tolerate the loss of their infantile illusion that they are the center of the world. And they have to learn how to control their feelings of infantile rage when others set limits for them or around them.
During this painful process, toddlers need not only the understanding support of their mothers, but also the empathic support of their fathers. Without the support of both parents, children’s individuation process will not be completed on schedule and will continue to cause relationship problems for them later in life.
People who do not go through this rage reduction process during their toddler years will likely express rage their adult relationships when some one or life circumstances impose limits on their behavior. As the defenses against the need for emotional intimacy become stronger over the course of a person’s lifetime, this behavior can turn into a full-blown narcissistic personality disorder.
The massive number of narcissistic adults in the world has become a global problem. Because so many people did not experience healthy narcissism and go through the developmental process of ego reduction, they continue to act like entitled, grandiose, euphoric, and omnipotent 2- and 3-year-olds. As adults, their temper tantrums emerge in child abuse, domestic violence, wars, and a full range of dominating, revenge-seeking protective behaviors. They feel entitled to more than their share of Earth’s resources and even to bankrupt the whole planet!
Counterdependency & Narcissism
Unfortunately, narcissists tend to seek positions of power and prestige in government and private industry. It’s easy to see their unresolved two-year old issues—entitlement, grandiosity, omnipotence and euphoria—shining through their adult behaviors. Their air of superiority and their need to look good and be in control without having limits or being accountable shouts “NARCISSIST!”
Those who experience developmental wounds during the counterdependent stage of development are often addicted to “upper” substances and activities—drugs, overwork, quick sex, traveling and over-consuming. All of these addictions serve as inadequate and unsatisfying substitutes for the lost deep emotional connection with their mother and with the divine. Unfortunately, it often takes people a long time to discover this as the source of many of their problems.
Although people don’t generally remember their early developmental traumas, they are visible in their relationship histories. It’s visible in their addictions and in their intimate relationship patterns. People with counter-dependency issues often create a conflict when the relationship gets too intimate, while those with co-dependency issues create a conflict when the relationship is not intimate enough. Much of couple conflict involves a struggle to determine how much intimacy and how much separation partners can tolerate in their relationship.
The Good News & The Bad News
The bad news is that the closer your adult relationships become the more they will activate memories of old traumas of being dominated, invaded, betrayed, abused and manipulated. The good news is that intimate relationships are the best place to heal the trauma that causes co-dependent and counter-dependent behaviors.
We found that healing trauma in intimate relationships requires redefining intimacy so that it includes the conflicts and struggles that are a natural part of the healing process. This approach to healing trauma in relationships also requires telling the truth about who you really are, what your needs are, sharing power, finding soul-evolving solutions to all conflicts and being willing to openly share your life with your partner on many levels: mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical.
Authentic intimacy involves seeing your partner as a complete and separate person with some traits you like and some traits you don’t. It requires skills in negotiating with your partner to meet your needs for closeness and separateness. Most importantly, it requires being willing to ask for what you want one hundred percent of the time.
Once you expand your definition of intimacy to include healing each other, your relationships will shift dramatically. You’ll find more opportunities for intimacy that help you create an intimate partnership relationship. For us, this is the foundation for building a sustainable relationship. Click here to hear a podcast of us talking about the search for intimacy in relationships.
Buy our books on relationship!
Developmental Trauma During the Toddler Stage of Development
Counterdependency is a set of protective adult behaviors that are caused primarily by developmental trauma between the ages of nine and 36 months—the toddler or “terrible twos” stage of development. During this period of time, children are separating from their mother and the dependency needs they have with her.
Between the age of six and thirty-six months, children’s triune brain and autonomic nervous system become much more connected and integrated. During this period, children learn to walk and talk, which gives them many more resources during times of stress. They have developed fight and flight responses to protect them when they perceive danger and help them avoid falling into shock. During this period, they also may have developed be coping mechanisms such as thumb or pacifier sucking or attached to a blanket or doll in order to comfort and self-soothe.
Toddlers’ Developmental Task
The most important developmental task during the separation stage of development is bringing the child’s developing ego and narcissistic rage under self-control. While this may involve a mere temper tantrum in the two to three year old child, the failure to complete this task during the counterdependent stage of development can not begin to compare with the rage exhibited by a developmentally delayed adolescent or a thirty or forty year old adult.
By adulthood, there are many more weapons available in a person’s arsenal to use when someone or something attempts to limit their feelings of entitlement, euphoria, grandiosity and omnipotence. If you challenge them, they might punch you out, attempt to kill you with a knife or gun or use an automobile to help them to discharge their narcissistic rage. This came to mind when we visited Alaska and saw most of the “Stop” signs with bullet holes in them. “No limits” for us they seemed to say.
Separating from Mother
Around the age of six months, toddlers’ begin to physically crawl and then creep and away from their caregivers. They also learn how to push away from too much physical closeness and use the flight and fight responses. Emotionally overwhelming experiences during this stage tend to fall more into the category of developmental trauma and to involve the sympathetic nervous system and the limbic part of the brain.
The biggest daily challenge in parenting toddlers is enduring the upset they experience when faced with the physical and social limits their parents impose on them. These limits frustrate toddlers who are having a love affair with the world and wanting to see how far they can push their passion to explore. Setting and enforcing behavioral limits gradually deflates their natural narcissistic behaviors involving entitlement, euphoria, grandiosity and omnipotence. Limits typically create strong feelings of frustration, anger, guilt and shame.
Toddlers need the assistance of attentive, sensitive and understanding parents or adult caregivers to help them learn how to regulate these emotions that are an integral part of the separation stage. It is very important that parents and other adult caregivers know how to help children re-regulate their emotions and repair any mis-attunements during the bonding stage. It is just as important to support children’s emotional regulation during the separation stage. Sensitive and cooperative adults must support toddlers in their transition between the codependent and counter dependent stages of developmental .
Toddlers are naturally ambivalent and oppositional, so adults who must be both consistently loving and consistently firm to help them navigate this bumpy period more easily. The most effective thing for helping toddlers regulate their emotions during this stage is adults who can keep their cool and not split or get triggered. We understand the challenge behind these words and offer it as an ideal to work towards. The presence of calm adults also help toddlers create healthy internal models of their adult caregivers.
Two Kinds of Mothers
There are “mothers of bonding” who do well at attuning with their infant. While they may be skilled in repairing bonding disruptions quickly and effectively, they may not be so effective as “mothers of separation.” A mother of bonding may feel abandoned or even resent the fact that her darling baby she once loved to cuddle is now more interested in exploring the world than being in her lap.
In the counter-dependent stage, mothers must undergo a major shift in the relationship with the child. They must move from being the mother endless “yes’s” of infant care to the mother of frequent “no’s.” Her need to monitor, limit and restrict her toddler’s exploratory and experimental behavior and administer consequences can put her in an uncomfortable policeman role. If parents or adult caregivers are not able to understand the difficult inner world of toddlers and the frustrations that they express through their angry outbursts, the parent may not be able to respond as lovingly as they did during the bonding stage when toddlers seemed more compliant and interested in oneness.
Developmental neuropsychological studies show that by ten months of age, 90% of maternal behavior consists of giving and receiving affection, playing with children and other positive care giving functions. In sharp contrast, mothers of 13-17 month old toddlers express a negative prohibition to their toddler on the average of once every nine minutes. In other words, the mother’s role changes drastically in this short period from being a positive and unconditionally loving caregiver to a being a negative and conditional socializing agent. Mothers must somehow persuade their toddlers to inhibit their desires for unrestricted exploration, their need to have temper tantrums, to control their bladder and bowel functions; and curtail many activities that toddlers enjoy immensely (Rothbart, Taylor, & Tucker,1989, p. 59 – 80).
Separation Drama & Trauma
In addition, separation anxiety intensifies during this stage because toddlers now understand for the first time that their mothers are separate persons with separate needs and interests. Toddlers sometimes use narcissistic rage and temper tantrums in an effort to control their mothers so they won’t abandon them. This strong opposition, unfortunately, can trigger mothers into reenacting their own unhealed developmental issues related to their struggle to become separate. If the mother retreats or becomes escalated in this power struggle, it can create an experience of emotional abandonment in the toddler.
Stir into this drama the fact that very few parents have healed the developmental issues from their own toddler stage, and you have a recipe for conflict. If parents and other adult caregivers have unhealed developmental trauma related to separation, their own toddlers’ oppositional behavior and temper tantrums can easily trigger them into a reenactment. Rather than welcoming their stressed toddlers back to their laps for comfort, the adults may want them out of their sight. Mothers may have difficulty re-regulating feelings that trigger the reenactment of their own unhealed developmental trauma. Over the years of my parenting and grand parenting, I (Janae) adapted one of the country sayings I grew up with to an adage for parents: “Never get in power struggles with skunks or two-year-olds.”
Time-Out vs. Time-In
So what do frustrated mothers and toddler caregivers typically do? They use “time out” methods to isolate the toddler. While a time-out is useful for adults to re-regulate their emotions, it is absolutely the worst option for toddlers. In order to help calm their stressed nervous systems and to control their narcissistic urges, toddlers need comfort and closer connections with the adult. The forced separation during a time-out can trigger deep emotions in toddlers that, if not modulated, can lead to low self-esteem later in life. This is where shame enters the picture.
Shame is seen as an “attachment emotion” (Lewis, 1989, p. 59 – 80) because it is a reaction that toddlers have to their mothers when they are unable to help them re-attune or repair their dysregulated feelings. The shame is caused by the toddlers’ belief that there is something wrong with them because their mothers do not respond in the loving way they used to. They internalize the disapproving scowl on her face and her harsh tone of voice as a rejection. The now emotionally dysregulated mother, causes her toddler to become even more upset and filled with the shame of rejection.
According to Schore, shame is “the primary social emotion” (1991, p. 187 – 250)  that emerges around 14-16 months of age. By this age toddlers are usually exploring and attempting to master their environment while also staying in their mothers’ vicinity so that they can share with great excitement what they’ve discovered or mastered. This period offers mothers a chance to give lots of validation and praise for these accomplishments. Unfortunately, if toddlers also bring their frustrations and anger to their mothers to be re-regulated, these encounters are also likely to bring limits, restrictions and negative looks. This just creates more stress and emotional dysregulation in toddlers.
How To Help Toddlers & Young Children
When children become upset, they need calm, caring adults who can help them regulate their emotions. Common symptoms of emotional dysregulation in young children include hitting, crying, throwing, withdrawing, bullying and oppositional behaviors.
The most important thing to remember is that emotionally-dysregulated children have a problem that they are not able to resolve within themselves. They need adults to both help them identify the problem and to fix it. In this context, the conventional concept of “discipline” (punishment) is not useful. A more effective approach is to ask, “What does this child need and how can I help meet this need?”
The first step in helping a young child return to calm, harmonious behavior is supporting them both emotionally and energetically. Adults who are bonded to a child are the most effective in providing this kind of support, as children will attune only to adult caregivers who they trust will meet their needs.
The most effective tool for reestablishing this connection is known as Time-In. This practice involves placing children physically on or near to a caring adult for a period of time—someone who offers calming words and sounds, empathetic facial expressions, respectful touch, and firm but loving limits.
To download a four-page PDF file describing age-appropriate Time-In Techniques to use with children, click here.
Parentizing children is an intergenerational relational pattern that is the most common cause of adult co-dependency, and involves something known as the reversal process. In reversal processes, parents and other caregiving adults unconsciously use children to meet their own emotional and psychological needs.
Rather than the adults caring for their children, parentized children learn to take care of the adults. Emotionally needy parents discourage their children from developing their own interests and identity and both subtly and overtly encourage them to stay close and become parental caretakers.
The parentizing process is particularly prevalent in parents and other adult caregivers who were emotionally and/or physically abandoned or neglected as children. While this theme is commonly discussed in alcoholic family systems, we believe that is characteristic of most family structures.
The Impact of “Reversals” on Children’s Development
In reversal situations, it’s quite common for parents to care for their children until they are old enough to become self-sufficient. At this point, the nurturing energy stops flowing from parent to child and reverses, so that the children begin caring for their parents. This is the core of parentizing.
Parentized children, sensing their parent’s emotionally unstable condition, may decide that the only way they can survive in this situation is to ignore their own needs and comply with their parent’s expectations. Parentized hildren come to believe that if they take care of their parent’s needs, then the parents might be available again to care for their needs. Parentizing is very common in oldest children.
Another version of reversal happens when a parent looks into the eyes of his or her newborn baby and sees him or her not as a separate human being but as an extension of the parent. They project their own unfulfilled wishes and dreams on the child and expect him or her to become the successful doctor, lawyer, sports figure, musician, or other notable person the parent always wanted to be.
As a result, the parent focuses only on the child as an object of his or her own unfulfilled dreams and ambitions, and programs the child to live these dreams in order to earn the parent’s love. This is also known as conditional love.
Another way that parents engage in role reversal is by giving their children things that the parents wanted but didn’t get. Parentized children also learn to perform and make their parents look good so that their parents will love them. The parent’s focus is on meeting their own emotional needs rather than meeting their children’s needs.
Parentized Children Become Codependent Adults
Because so few adults are aware of parentizing and role reversals, many parents traumatize their children with these patterns. The reversal process is very difficult to identify and heal, because parentized children look like well-behaved and dutiful children to outside observers. However, the children almost always know when parents are engaging in reversals with them.
Nonetheless, they often believe that if they don’t sacrifice themselves for their parents, the parents will not or cannot take care of them and they might not survive. This co-dependent programming is rampant in a narcissistic culture such as the one that currently exists in the United States.
If the reversal process is not healed, it will be transferred into other adult relationships. If it is not healed there, it will show up when a couple has a family. If not healed at the family level, families will collectively imprint it on the functioning of organizations and even nation-states. Recognizing and healing the effects of this reversal process is essential to advance human evolution at all levels.
Vicarious traumatization can also be a factor in parentizing families. Older children are often traumatized when they witness their younger siblings being emotionally neglected by parents who are overwhelmed by their responsibilities. Witnessing their younger sibling’s subtle reactions to the loss of emotional synchronization with their parents often triggers the older children’s memories of this same experience of emotional disconnect they experienced earlier in life.
We have had many clients who report how this vicarious retraumatization unconsciously triggered them when they witnessed their younger siblings being neglected. This often activated a set of instinctive caretaking behaviors that caused them to step into surrogate parent roles to rescue their younger siblings from being emotionally neglected and abandoned.
The Impact of Parentizing on Families & Society
The parentizing process can also involve children caretaking their overwhelmed parents by assuming some of their daily responsibilities in hopes that the overburdened adults will be able to take care of them. Parentized children may take over shopping for food, cooking for the family, and providing essential care for younger children. Parentized children who end up taking care of their parents rather than vice versa, often sacrifice their own childhoods and grow up to become professional caretakers such as teachers, therapists, and ministers.