Robert Birnberg offers teacher training programs inspired by the teachings…
Addiction is a contemporary epidemic which directly affects one in four individuals in America and countless more worldwide. The development of an addictive personality is a result of many factors, but we can begin to understand the influence the family has on addiction by exploring addiction’s natural cohort and its underlying pathology—codependency.
Codependency has been described by various experts as “relationship addiction,” “chronic external referencing,” “addiction to another person and their problems” or “a relationship and its problems.” Symptoms of codependency include difficulty in identifying personal needs, making decisions and verbalizing requests. Codependents can suffer from negativity, perfectionism and underlying feelings of powerlessness, self-pity or shame. They have difficulty expressing their feelings and have the persistent need to control, be controlled, satisfy and entertain. It is common for a codependent personality to crave approval and avoid confrontation. Habitual fixers, martyrs, and saviors, codependents are more comfortable helping others than practicing consistent self-care.
if i have it, you may too
To varying degrees, we can find some kind of tendency towards codependent behavior in most people. By and large, we all have a desire to avoid conflict, help others and receive validation, although some of these characteristics can be more intense and problematic in individuals with a propensity for codependent behavior. Rather than formulate a black and white diagnosis, we best understand codependency as a continuum with increasingly severe and painful symptoms as we approach the far end of the spectrum.
Extreme codependency is a serious disorder and can be life-threatening in certain circumstances. Usually, severe codependency is the result of being raised in a hostile, invalidating or unpredictable environment. Aggravating factors may be the sudden death of a family member, living within an extreme rule-oriented environment, exposure to religious fanaticism or other forms of abuse and neglect. Emotionally unstable or unavailable parents can instigate the disorder within their children by engaging in rigid, overly competitive or shaming behavior.
disorder in the family tree
The relationship between addiction and codependency is both subtle and complex. Studies show that individuals become addicted to substances or develop other obsessive, self-destructive behaviors as a direct reaction to either their own or a family member’s codependency. In the lineage of addiction, the addict often marries another codependent. They produce children who also tend to gravitate toward codependency, addiction or both. These children are likely to marry other codependents and addicts and recreate the cycle for generations. Most addicts, when observing their family history, find no shortage of active alcoholics/addicts, codependents or combinations of the two.
healing through yoga
Yoga describes externalized attention as an excess of vital energy (or prana) pushed, pulled or leaked outside the body. According to both yoga and modern addiction theory, this persistent outward focus stems from and deepens the lack of connection with our core self, consciousness. Twelve step programs use the word “higher power.” Regardless of semantics, this fundamental, habitual misdirection of awareness causes us to become obsessed or addicted to other people, processes, and substances outside of ourselves. Yoga and its root philosophy, samhkya, maintain that incessant outward focus is the basis for all human sorrow.
According to yoga’s timeless teachings, the very source of our being and the limitless confidence, wisdom, and joy it generates exist at the core of each individual; each of us can experience these virtues by continuously focusing our attention in their direction. Yoga’s central strategy and underlying goal for which its tools are designed is called svadhyaya, or inward focus. Posture (or asana), breath work (or pranayama), visualization, meditation and chanting all serve as methods to interiorize our attention.
a new road home
The “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” yoga’s source text, is a detailed guidebook, a how-to manual for the focusing of awareness on a chosen object or in a chosen direction. According to the sutras, the systematic shift of attention inward should be correctly adapted for each individual and practiced with consistency, conviction and enthusiasm over the course of many years. Through regular practice, the curse of codependency and the spell of addiction can be broken. Whether it is through long-term sobriety (or kaivalya), freedom (or paramananda), or perpetual and long-enduring joy, we can ultimately break the cycle of codependency and addiction. This inner evolution offers the sweet taste of true self-awareness to recovering addicts and offers hope to future generations.