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Rethinking men and codependency

August 3, 2012
by Dan Griffin, MA and Rick Dauer, LADC
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Men's treatment must focus on developing relational skills
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Over the past two years we have been training and speaking with addiction professionals around the country in an effort to rethink how the addiction field can provide effective treatment services for men. Our work, with a strong emphasis on how men navigate relationships, already had us thinking about the idea of male codependency. When we were invited to speak last April at a conference sponsored by the Indiana Association of Addiction Professionals on the issue of male codependency, it required us to flesh out a framework for our emergent ideas.

In this article we offer a brief description of this concept, with the primary interest of generating dialogue and inquiry into how addiction professionals might think differently about men and codependency. We propose the following for consideration:

·        The traditional notion of codependency pathologizes behavior that is intrinsically human and even healthy at times.

·        Codependency can be viewed as existing on a continuum of relational behavior.

·        Men engage in codependent behavior as frequently as women do.

·        Codependency manifests differently according to gender and is a product of gender-based socialization.

·        The masculine expression of codependency may include dominating and violent behavior, which is a compensation for shame and lack of relational skills.

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I appreciate your focus on male codependents, as this subject has been sorely overlooked to the point that most codependent men don't identify their issues with codependency. I've addressed the relationship dynamics and personal psychodynamics of the problem in a blog post here, http://www.whatiscodependency.com/dilemmas-of-codependent-men/, and state: "Societal and cultural values have shamed men as weak for expressing feelings or needs, which reinforces codependent traits of control, suppression of feelings, and denial of needs. Often they turn to addiction in order to cope." You focus on dependency, but I see underlying trauma, shame, and a weak Self as the core issues in intimacy problems. Aside from violence and drugs, workaholism is the accepted addiction and escape for men: "Some men end up becoming workaholics to justify alone time, but their needs for nurturing, respect, freedom, and appreciation, just to name a few, go unmet. Fear of rejection and abandonment are powerful motivators for codependency, usually because of early emotional abandonment by a parent. Consequently, the men never leave – physically – but withdraw to the safety of a self-made emotional prison." I go into more detail and provide a step-by-step plan for recovery in "Codependency for Dummies."
Darlene Lancer, MFT

The article raises some interesting points about co-dependency.
However, I couldn't help but think of Joseph Nowinski's (PhD) little know book published in 1993 titled "Hungry Hearts: On Men, Intimacy, Self-Esteem, and Addiction." Nowinski's book is packed with a boatload of ideas and explanations about co-dependency, attachment, intimacy, masculinity, self-esteem and their connection with drug addiction that the Addiction Audience will be sure to find helpful in working with men. Though over two decades old, this easy to read and understandable book is still very much relevant today.

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