Codependent Relationship Chemistry
In a Codependent relationship, there is an element present at the very core of the various dysfunctional patterns and cycles in these toxic relationships; Patterns such as the Drama Triangle, the Punishment/Forgiveness Cycle, the Enabling Trap, the Figure eight, relationship mind games, and the Distance & Pursuit Game. This common denominator is actually a cycle of biological changes in the mind-and-body that contains within it a “payoff” for playing the games. I call this the Chemistry of Drama and I see it as the “hook” for toxic, addictive relationships.
The Chemistry of Drama: Part One of Two
Chemistry of Drama in Codependent Relationships
Over the years I have taken a LOT of codependent relationship histories from people. It almost never fails that when I ask “Was there ever anyone in your history that really treated you well, was a reliable, stable person and really cared about you?” The answer is usually something like, “Well, yes…there was this one person who was really great, seemed to really like me, and treated me really well.” I would then ask what happened? “I don’t really know, we just fizzled-out,” or “I guess we just didn’t hit it off,” or “We didn’t seem to click,” or “We just quit calling each other.” – In other words, there was NO CHEMISTRY in that relationship! ~ Don Carter MSW, LCSW
The chemistry within the obsessive/compulsive cycle outlined below is not something we think about or are even consciously aware of (until we see it in print like I am about to show you.) Here is a brief description of the codependent relationship cycle:
- Things are okay and we are doing fine.
- One or both of us get a little bored with “fine” because there is no chemistry in that. So one of us says or does just the right thing, at just the wrong time causing a fight or other drama.
- During the fight, our abandonment, shame, and contempt get activated (see the Iceberg Model). We experience an escalating negative chemistry flowing through our system (adrenalin, cortisol, and other stress hormones) – just think of them as “little red frowns” flowing through our bloodstream. As the drama progresses, we feel increasingly NOT OK due to our threats of abandonment, shaming one another, and/or spewing of contempt!
- Toward the end of the drama we begin looking for ways to make up so we can “be OK” again as a couple – usually, this is just a retreat, cease-fire, and/or truce with nothing actually getting resolved.
- Having “made up” with each other we are “OK” again as a couple. At this point, we experience an internal sense of “being OK again” on the inside too, This is the positive chemistry that comes with comfort & relief – little yellow happy faces begin flowing through our system, (or at lease little grey straight faces) because dopamine and other natural morphine-like chemicals are released when a crisis is over.
- However, this comfort & relief is only a temporary condition that soon fades away — leaving NO CHEMISTRY!
- So, in order to have more chemistry in our codependent relationship, one of us must instigate another round of this cycle. It is not that we want that negative side of the cycle, it is that we are conditioned to seek the positive chemistry of comfort & relief that comes with making up, so…We MUST go through the negative part of the cycle in order to set-up the positive part of the cycle.
- Finally, in order to maintain this important cycle, denial must be present to prevent conscious awareness of it lest we become obliged to give it up. So, unless we get rigorously honest with ourselves, we really believe our rationalizations, projections, and blaming of the other person as the guilty party when it is actually both of us dancing the only dance we know. (Thank goodness we can learn a new dance!)
In sum, it’s the “Comfort & Relief” or “Making Up” chemistry in this cycle of drama that provides the fuel for addiction. We cannot access the comfort & relief unless we first re-enact those familiar emotional themes of abandonment, shame, and/or contempt.
Furthermore, without the entire cycle we will feel NO chemistry; meaning we cannot feel anything in our codependent relationship without the distance & pursuit or other psychological mind game. (Which is why we are not attracted to “normal”, stable people who don’t engage in drama.)