Paul Sunderland Recovery and the Couple Relationship - Part 3

This is part 3 in a video where Paul Sunderland talks about how recovery effects relationships. This talk is a must watch for anyone who has ever been in a relationship with an addict. It provides helpful advice and incite as well as explaining the dynamics of relationships and addiction.

For the next of previous part please click on the links below the video.

Paul Sunderland Recovery and the Couple Relationship - Part 2

Paul Sunderland Recovery and the Couple Relationship - Part 4

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They are trying to work out what they need to do in order to get him or her back. So actually you are pretty set up as a therapist because what they want is a rabbit out of a hat. Which we don't do. We don't do. Am I making some sense so far? Are you with me? I'm sorry that I have to look at this. I'm doing it for the first time. It does not flow that fluently.

I think that the other really important thing to think about with the couple relationships which is quite difficult-That is halfway isn't it? Thanks very much. It is to hold in mind that actually we hook up with people who are as distressed as we are. With people who are as capable with intimacy as we are. It is a really important concept. Snow White does not marry the big bad Wolf. Prince charming does not marry the wicked witch. It is just not like that. It is a really important thing to hold in mind. We need to take in an adult couple relationships 50% of the responsibility for the model.

Now around addiction. Addiction I think does a little pollution which sort of says look "we're both a bit messed up but let's make it look like you are really messed up.” So you might get the financial addictions. They will come in and him or her has just been spending all the money. Look what she has done or look what he has done. Look at all these debts. And I did not know about it. Actually what you have to do as a couple therapist is to say "okay so when did you decide. At what point in your marriage, or in your couple relationship, did you decide to that he/she was going to be in charge of the money?” The extent to which you have not kept an eye on it is the extent to which it is actually got out of control.

So these are just really important things. Patrick Combs puts Sex Addiction on the map and he will say that actually he is never met the partner of a sex addict who does not have trauma. I've never met one. Now I do not have the experience that he's had but I have never met a partner of a sex addict who actually doesn't have a sexual trauma of some kind. It is a pretty good way of not looking at you sexual trauma when your partner is having a big act out. Isn't it? How very nice of them to collude in all of this, to raise your game by looking like the problem. It's really important to hold all of this stuff in mind. It is a difficult concept for people to get.

The other thing I, we know this about addiction that damaged people put themselves in harm’s way. We sort of know that. Damaged people put themselves in harm’s way. There is a compulsion to repeat. Freud talked about all of this. There's something about-and I think this is where we start talking about mom and dad-there is something about what we re-create in the ordeal phase of our relationship that is a resonance of what was happening in the childhood relationship and it is really important.

I sit with a lot of people who are talking about, who are talking, either in couples or individually, about how they feel. I guess I have only just really learnt to listen when they tell you about how they feel with their partner. “She never makes any space for me. There is no point in me saying how I feel, everything is just going to kick off. I can't really be myself.” I make a point of thinking about that as if there is a child in front of me telling me what it was like in their family of origin.

What they're getting at is well of course it is about the here and now but it becomes a bit of a double whammy .For people, again, with this sub optimal parenting. They find themselves in situations that are both distressing in the here and now but also ring a bell from the three and then. So actually this is really quite sort of overwhelming.

For those of you who are therapists in the audience, you get the issues of transference. Very often when people are not behaving like your mom and your dad you start to really just see them as they are. In the ordeal phase this often manifests as assuming people's intentions are negative. You hear this of course when people are saying "gosh I just can't get it right" she says. “I'm trying but I just can't get it right for him.”, or vice versa. Because actually what is happening in that ordeal phase is that all the assumptions are that the others intentions are negative.

Let's go back and talk about addiction for a moment. What do we know about addiction? It is genetically proposed and it is environmentally disposed. It is about a search for pleasure that can continues into an escape from reality. It costs more than we can afford. It is about self-seeking. It is about destruction. It is anti-intimacy. We know that all the addictions have this. Addiction are such a wide thing now. Like I said before with the financial addictions, sex and love addictions. The work addictions, food and eating addictions.

Time: 5:00

I'm very fascinated around the eating addictions. The one where we start to see the most and probably one that isn't really seen as an addiction is anorexia. Which as you may know is the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. It is sort of a faddy eating. The people who think to themselves that I can't possibly eat pizza. I've got to bring my food along with me. They want to count the almonds that will put on their porridge. The whole food industry, the diet industry and the health industry really feed into this. That is because it is worth so much money. Actually what that is about is trying to manage how I feel inside by controlling the outside. It is not 1,000,000 miles from anorexia, “I will control how I feel by what I do in don't put into my body.”

All these things are anti-intimacy, but they are also actually anti-relationship because as human beings we actually want… As human beings we all group animals. We need to be around other people. But if you're in an addiction actually your relationship with your addictive substance of pleasure becomes the primary relationship. So we are talking again about the people in recovery who have actually been having a relationship with a process or substance. They actually have not learned to relate to themselves let alone start relating to someone else which is, I guess why so many people talk about not having relationships for a certain period of time. That is of course mentally frustrating to most people and they reckon that they are an exception to the rule. That is particularly true if they are in their 20s.

There is a bit of sense and it isn't there? We have to treat people compassionately because they going to have relationships. They are just going to do it. But, people need to understand why we're saying it. Actually we do have to get to know ourselves before we can get to know someone else.

So let's just go back and think about mom and dad. Let's think about childhood development. In sub optimal parenting we know disruptive bonding with mom have an enormous impact such as reduced serotonin, increase adrenaline, increase cortisol and will influence the brain development. We know that experiences are the chief architect of the brain. We know that we are born with over 100 billion neurons at birth just waiting to form connections based on experience.

Did you know that there really isn't a cortex? Actually what exists is a brain-stem that regulates all sort of things like heartbeat and keeps the whole show on the road. The lympex system, cortex isn't there which is why we talk about a proverbial in developed it. Some of the cortex is regulating but a lot of it isn't.

So very early on the experiences, and the human brain starts working before it is built. It is not like a computer that comes already loaded. He starts working and builds itself. Actually what we've got is experiences. If the experiences are difficult actually they are the ones that get built upon and remembered. That is practically true and early wounds which is what I think-I am fascinated about adoption because these early psychological wounds of relinquishment are so dramatic and of course can't be recalled but always remembered as life-threatening.

But this sort of wounds, if mom or dad is an addict, has distress, mental illness, if there is stuff going on at home, if the adults needs are put over and above the needs of the child. Actually, that starts to have an impact on the child. We know this. We know the real cradle is the parents’ relationship. We do know that. The attachment psychologist say that 75% of the child's emotional well-being is dependent upon the mother's ability to tell what she describes as an emotionally coherent story. Which means the mother's ability to say "look this is who I am, this is where of come from this my story and how I function.” The more that the mother is able to do that the more actually the child will feel well. Not because the mother is telling the story to the child. But it is because these things are picked up and then picked up in a sort of a lyndic resonance. It is just simply picked up.

You know in the same way that these things are picked up when Robert Skinner did the experiment which asked participants to go around with all of these people we don't know and put your hand on somebody you feel comfortable with. We know that this, don’t we, 7% of communication is just words. I don't know how to work that out but the point is it is very small amount of stuff.

Time: 10:00

What we now have is the human influence. Freud talked about his Majesty the Baby. Nowadays you would probably say her Majesty the Baby. Yet, the idea that the human influence certainly up until double figures tend to think that whatever is going on has something to do with them. I've seen this and often tell the story that is about a family that I was seeing. There were three daughters in the family which was separating. The father, he was in recovery as an alcoholic. They were doing a very good and proper thing that is getting together and having a chat about what is happening and telling the children. Towards the end of the session the seven-year-old child who had been pretty silent said is daddy leaving because of the way that I eat my Crisps?

Now what had happened was that this girl, when the dad was drinking would be eating her crisps. Presumably he had a hangover. It sounded pretty awful to him and he would get into a state. So this is what “his Majesty the human infant”, “his Majesty the baby" starts to believe. It has something to do with me. Because that is the world. It has something to do with me. So this is the beginning of the shame and anxiety that fuel addiction.

Everybody have shame and anxiety by the way. It is just the case the addicts have it at the volume 10. They have it in buckets full. The shame in the feeling of “oh it’s my fault there is something wrong with me. I am overwhelming, there isn't really space for me.” Which are exactly the kinds of things that you hear in the counseling room when they talk about their relationships by the way. They may say “I think I just overwhelm everybody”, “he or she does not have space for me”. It could be all of those sorts of things. They will think that there is something wrong with themselves. It can be all of those sort of things going on.

The anxiety which fuels addiction. It is saying that this is just not a safe place. The human infant instinctively knows that without care they are going to die. They just do. They do not know that they know that isn't an unthought known that without care I'm going to die. In situations of real abuse and neglect it really does feel life-threatening.

Now back to this word separateness that I talked about. Actually being separate for people from sub-optimal parenting is life-threatening. Hence the beginning for what I guess we would call codependency. It's an attempt to regulate self through a dependent relationship on another person. “What is she doing, let’s just look around. What is he doing? What you have to do to get along around here? How do I need to change myself?” So we start to talk about adaption. When we talk about adaption and codependency we talk about the loss of self. I want to suggest to you that codependency actually is an addiction to security. It is an addiction to security at all costs. Because being separate as life-threatening.

Back to the ideal face of the relationship. Where everything that he or she does is just so wonderful and marvelous. Let's go back to the negotiating, the being separate and being found attractive. If you can't be separate because it feels life-threatening then you actually can't be attractive. If you can't look after your needs, no adult is actually going to want to have a relationship with you. You know that is the truth of it. So actually being in recovery is quite complicated isn't it? That is because first of all in the ideal phase you think that you are taking drugs. Then you have got all this stuff in the ordeal phase where actually it can't really be separate. No wonder it gets no-deal.

Actually it is very easy to separate isn't it? Let’s face that. It is quite hard to go into. It takes a lot of courage to go into the real deal. Am I still making some sense? Thank you very much it is always good to know.

At the extreme in codependency you know from the authors in the recovery field. Bradshaw and there's a lot of other books. Some are a bit easier to read than others. There's some books which are simplistic and others that are dated. Most of them I think are on to something. I think that I would rather like to have an English perspective. But actually it seems like the British have not contributed much. It's all coming from the States. Which is a pity. I was at an addiction symposium the other week. It's only one that we have in the UK. Most of the speakers there were American. Now, I love the Americans but actually we know quite a bit, don’t you think? We know quite a bit so we should be talking about this too.



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