Do You Have a Codependent Attachment Style | Darlene Lancer

Finding out whether you have a codependent attachment style or a healthy one can be a key to figuring out next steps to change — something especially important if you’ve been affected by a loved one’s substance misuse. Author of Codependency for Dummies and Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True YouDarlene Lancer explores attachment lifestyles in today’s guest post. It’s always a pleasure to share Darlene’s work! She can be reached at or you may wish to follow her on Facebook or visit her website

Do You Have a Codependent Attachment Style or Healthy One by Darlene Lancer

Even people who feel independent when on their own are often surprised that they become dependent once they’re romantically involved. This is because intimate relationships unconsciously stimulate your “attachment style” and either trust or fear from your past experiences, especially upon our mother’s behavior. We’re wired for attachment – why babies cry when separated from their mothers.

It’s normal to become dependent on your partner to a healthy degree and feel anxious when we don’t know the whereabouts of our child or of a missing loved one during a disaster, as in the movie “The Impossible.” Frantic calls and searching are considered “protest behavior,” like a baby fretting for its mother. When your needs are met, you feel secure.

Attachment Styles

DarleneLancerOur style varies along a continuum (whether we’re dating or in a long term marriage) from avoidant – 25 percent of the population – to anxious – 20 percent of the population. Fortunately, most people fall in the middle and have a “secure” attachment, because it favors survival. It ensures that we’re safe and can help each other in a dangerous environment. Combinations, such as Secure-Anxious or Anxious-Avoidant are 3-5 percent of the population. To determine your style, take this quiz designed by researcher R. Chris Fraley, PhD.

Secure Attachment. Warmth and loving come naturally, and you’re able to be intimate without worrying about the relationship or little misunderstandings. You accept your partner’s minor shortcomings and treat him or her with love and respect. You don’t play games or manipulate, but are direct and able to openly and assertively share your wins and losses, needs, and feelings. You’re also responsive to those of your partner and try to meet your partner’s needs. Because you have good self-esteem, you don’t take things personally and aren’t reactive to criticism. Thus, you don’t become defensive in conflicts. Instead, you de-escalate them by problem-solving, forgiving, and apologizing.

Anxious Attachment. You want to be close and are able to be intimate. To maintain a positive connection, you give up your needs to please and accommodate your partner in. But because you don’t get your needs met, you become unhappy. You’re preoccupied with the relationship and highly attuned to your partner, worrying that he or she wants less closeness. You often take things personally with a negative twist and project negative outcomes. This could be explained by brain differences that have been detected among people with anxious attachments.

To alleviate your anxiety, you may play games or manipulate your partner to get attention and reassurance by withdrawing, acting out emotionally, not returning calls, provoking jealousy, or by threatening to leave. You may also become jealous of his or her attention to others and call or text frequently, even when asked not to.

Avoidant Attachment. If you avoid closeness, your independence and self-sufficiency are more important to you than intimacy. You can enjoy closeness – to a limit. In relationships, you act self-sufficient and self-reliant and aren’t comfortable sharing feelings. (For example, in one study of partners saying goodbye in an airport, avoiders didn’t display much contact, anxiety, or sadness in contrast to others.) You protect your freedom and delay commitment. Once committed, you create mental distance with ongoing dissatisfaction about your relationship, focusing on your partner’s minor flaws or reminiscing about your single days or another idealized relationship.

Just as the anxiously attached person is hypervigilant for signs of distance, you’re hypervigilant about your partner’s attempts to control you or limit your autonomy and freedom in any way. You engage in distancing behaviors, such as flirting, making unilateral decisions, ignoring your partner, or dismissing his or her feelings and needs. Your partner may complain that you don’t seem to need him or her or that you’re not open enough, because you keep secrets or don’t share feelings. In fact, he or she often appears needy to you, but this makes you feel strong and self-sufficient by comparison. You don’t worry about a relationship ending. But if the relationship is threatened, you pretend to yourself that you don’t have attachment needs and bury your feelings of distress. It’s not that the needs don’t exist, they’re repressed. Alternatively, you may become anxious because the possibility of closeness no longer threatens you.


You can assess your partner’s style by their behavior and by their reaction to a direct request for more closeness. Does he or she try to meet your needs or become defensive and uncomfortable or accommodate you once and the return to distancing behavior? Someone who is secure won’t play games, communicates well, and can compromise. A person with an anxious attachment style would welcome more closeness, but still need assurance and worry about the relationship.

Anxious and avoidant attachment styles look like codependency in relationships. They characterize the feelings and behavior of pursuers and distancers described in my blog, The Dance of Intimacy and book, Conquering Shame and Codependency. Each one is unconscious of their needs, which are expressed by the other. This is one reason for their mutual attraction. Pursuers with an anxious style are usually disinterested in someone available with a secure style. They usually attract someone who is avoidant. The anxiety of an insecure attachment is enlivening and familiar though it’s uncomfortable and makes them more anxious. It validates their abandonment fears about relationships and beliefs about not being enough, lovable, or securely loved. Distancers need someone pursuing them to sustain their emotional needs that they largely disown and which wouldn’t be met by another avoider. Unlike those securely attached, pursuers and distancers aren’t skilled at resolving disagreements. They tend to become defensive and attack or withdraw, escalating conflict.

Without the chase, conflict, or compulsive behavior, both pursuers and distancers begin to feel depressed and empty due to their painful early attachments.

Changing Styles

Although most people don’t change their attachment style, you can alter yours to be more or less secure depending upon experiences and conscious effort. To change your style to be more secure, seek therapy as well as relationships with others who are capable of a secure attachment. If you have an anxious attachment style, you will feel more stable in a committed relationship with someone who has a secure attachment style. This helps you become more secure. Changing your attachment style and healing from codependency go hand-in-hand. Both involve the following:

  • Heal your shame and raise your self-esteem. (See my books on shame and self-esteem.)This enables you to not take things personally.
  • Learn to be assertive. (See How to Speak Your Mind: Become Assertive and Set Limits.)
  • Learn to identify, honor, and assertively express your emotional needs.
  • Risk being authentic and direct. Don’t play games or try to manipulate your partner’s interest.
  • Practice acceptance of yourself and others to become less faultfinding – a tall order for codependents and distancers.
  • Stop reacting, and learn to resolve conflict and compromise from a “we” perspective.

Pursuers need to become more responsible for themselves and distancers more responsible to their partners. The result is a more secure, interdependent, rather than codependent relationship or solitude with a false sense of self-sufficiency.

Among singles, statistically there are more avoiders, since people with a secure attachment are more likely to be in a relationship. Unlike avoiders, they’re not searching for an ideal, so when a relationship ends, they aren’t single too long. This increases the probability that daters who anxiously attach will date avoiders, reinforcing their negative spin on relationship outcomes. Moreover, anxious types tend to bond quickly and don’t take time to assess whether their partner can or wants to meet their needs. They tend to see things they share in common with each new, idealized partner and overlook potential problems. In trying to make the relationship work, they suppress their needs, sending the wrong signals to their partner in the long run. All of this behavior makes attaching to an avoider more probable. When he or she withdraws, their anxiety is aroused, pursuers confuse their longing and anxiety for love rather than realizing it’s their partner’s unavailability that is the problem, not themselves or anything they did or could do in the future to change that. They hang in and try harder, instead of facing the truth and cutting their losses.

Particularly after leaving an unhappy codependent relationship, people fear that being dependent on someone will make them more dependent. That may be true in codependent relationships when there isn’t a secure attachment. However, in a secure relationship, healthy dependency allows you to be more interdependent. You have a safe and secure base from which to explore the world. This is also what gives toddlers the courage to individuate, express their true self, and become more autonomous.

Similarly, people in therapy often fear becoming dependent upon their therapist and leave when they begin to feel a little better. This is when their dependency fears arise and should be addressed – the same fears that keep them from having secure attachments in relationships and propels them to seek someone avoidant. In fact, good therapy provides a secure attachment to allow people to grow and become more autonomous, not less. Herein lays the paradox: We can be more independent when we’re dependent on someone else – provided it’s a secure attachment. This is another reason why it’s hard to change on your own or in an insecure relationship without outside support.

Suggested Reading on Attachment

The many books by John Bowlby

Mikulincer and Shaver, Attachment Adulthood Structure, Dynamics, and Change (2007)

Levine and Heller, Attached (2010)

©Darlene Lancer 2014

Lack of Mental Health Care

The horrific consequences of the lack of mental health care in America were driven home last night (9/14/14) by 60 Minutes in their program, “No Where to Go: Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis.” Having studied mental health, especially as it relates to co-occurring disorders with addiction, I wanted to share this program, as well as images showing what the brain with mental illness looks like in comparison to a healthy brain without it and help resources compiled by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency).

Images Showing Brains With Mental Illness | Why Lack of Mental Health Care is so Problematic

These two images provide the visual evidence that a brain with a mental illness cannot work the same way as a brain without one. When we understand that it’s chemically and structurally impossible for the brain to function “normally,” perhaps we can better appreciate why the lack of affordable, accessible, comprehensive mental health care is so problematic.


These 3-D SPECT scans by Amen Clinics provide visual evidence of various mental illnesses and how a brain with one of these cannot possible work the same way a healthy brain works.




This image comparison of a normal adolescent brain on the left to an adolescent brain with schizophrenia by Paul M. Thompson, Ph.D., Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, UCLA, also provides the visual evidence described above.


To help those with mental illness and the people who love them find help, below you will find two resource data bases created by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMSHA). The first is for information, resources and help and the second is for peer support groups. This is not to suggest the following is the answer to the issues raised in the 60 Minute program, rather they are intended as places to start.

Mental Health Consumer Assistance Suggested by SAMHSA

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
    Promotes awareness of anxiety, depression, & related disorders; works to reduce associated stigma. Locate a therapist.
  • Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA)
    Peer-directed national organization. Locate a support group. Peer-based, wellness-oriented, and empowering services and resources.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA)
    Provides information, resources & networking opportunities for adults with ADHD & professionals. Locate specialists & support groups.
  • Children and Adults with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
    Non-profit organization advocates for people with ADHD; education on research, medication & treatment. Find support groups.
  • National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)
    Non-profit organization supports those affected by eating disorders. Information & Referral Helpline 1-800-931-2237, M-F 9 am to 5 pm EST.
  • Borderline Personality Disorder Resource Center (BPDRC)
    Non-profit organization at Cornell Medical College helps those with BPD find current & accurate information on BPD & treatment sources.
  • International OCD Foundation
    Non-profit organization for people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) & related disorders, families, & professionals. Find treatment.
  • National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse
    The nation’s first national consumer technical assistance center for those who receive or have received mental health services.
  • National Empowerment Center
    Consumer/survivor/ex-patient-run organization provides information supporting recovery & empowerment for those with mental health issues.

Mental Health Peer Support Groups Suggested by SAMHSA

National Institute on Mental Health

Thanks to Susan, who shared her comment on this post, another key resource is the National Institute on Mental Health, whose mission is to “transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure.

“For the Institute to continue fulfilling this vital public health mission, it must foster innovative thinking and ensure that a full array of novel scientific perspectives are used to further discovery in the evolving science of brain, behavior, and experience. In this way, breakthroughs in science can become breakthroughs for all people with mental illnesses.”


World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day – September 10, 2014 – is sponsored by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, an organization dedicated to:

      • preventing suicidal behaviour,
      • alleviating its effects, and
      • providing a forum for academics, mental health professionals, crisis  workers, volunteers and suicide survivors.


Using Brain Research for Suicide Prevention

Thanks to the relatively new brain research now possible with imaging technologies, such as SPECT and fMRI, new insights into the causes and symptoms of suicide are helping us understand that suicide is not a choice, rather it’s an outcome of a brain that is not functioning “normally.” Given the brain controls EVERYTHING we think, feel, say and do, it follows that changes and/or differences in brain functioning changes our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. And this is where brain research can help with suicide prevention.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), “At least 90 percent of all people who died by suicide were suffering from a mental illness at the time, most often depression. Among people who are depressed, intense emotional states such as desperation, hopelessness, anxiety, or rage increase the risk of suicide. People who are impulsive, or who use alcohol and drugs, are also at higher risk.” To this last connection, the AFSP goes on to explain, “…alcohol is estimated to be a factor in at least 25 to 30 percent of all suicides.” 

To learn some of what is now available in terms of research into brain changers related to depression, check out Harvard Medical School Health Publication’s article, “What Causes Depression?,” which shares some of what researchers have learned about the biology of depression related to the brain.

Risk Factors for Suicide

As with preventing addiction, for example, understanding the risk factors can go a long way to preventing suicide. How? One can use this information to assess a person’s condition and more aggressively intervene as outlined in the section below.

Again, quoting from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s websitethe most frequently cited risk factors for suicide are:

  • Mental disorders, in particular:
    • Depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder
    • Alcohol or substance abuse or dependence
    • Schizophrenia
    • Borderline or antisocial personality disorder
    • Conduct disorder (in youth)
    • Psychotic disorders; psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Impulsivity and aggression, especially in the context of the above mental disorders
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Family history of attempted or completed suicide
  • Serious medical condition and/or pain     (click for source link)

To learn more about the research into the “complex range of factors that contributes to suicide,” including that which relates to mental disorders, previous suicide attempts, medical conditions and pain, family history of suicide and more, please visit American Foundation for Suicide Prevention > Understanding Suicide > Key Research Findings.

What You Can Do to Help With Suicide Prevention

Continue to read the page I linked above (and here), and learn more about:

  • the Environmental Factors That Increase Suicide Risk
  • Protective Factors for Suicide
  • Warning Signs for Suicide
  • and What To Do When You Suspect Someone May Be at Risk for Suicide.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Magnet, SVP05-0126Check out the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA) Suicide Prevention Resources website, as well.

You might also visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website where you’ll find a great deal of information and help for a number of mental illnesses, as well as peer-to-peer and family-to-family support.

And always know there is someone available to talk with you 24/7, 365 days/year at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

For Family Members of a Loved One in Recovery


Written for Family Members of a Loved One in Recovery

I’ve worked a lot with the family members of a loved one in recovery over the years. I’ve also worked a lot with family members whose loved one is still active in their addiction.

As someone with similar experiences, I know their heartache, anguish, anger, pain, frustration, resentment, fear, love, desperation and never-ending belief that they (the family member) can do something to stop the nightmare.

And they’re right – there is something they can do.

But it’s generally never what they thought the answer would be. I know it sure wasn’t for me.

And that answer?

Get help for yourself. Yes, just for YOU.

As someone who resisted this concept for decades, believing such action was selfish and really irrelevant to the whole picture because I wasn’t the one with the problem (they were, and if I just got them fixed, all would be well), I suffered greatly – physically, emotionally and spiritually – by the time I cried, “Uncle.” And as I got further and further from my “core” self, I changed, and I deeply affected my daughters and everyone else in my path – including my loved ones with the disease. For I became a master at manipulating, blaming, shaming and a martyr extraordinaire (trust me, I’d have punched [OK yelled] at anyone who would have even suggested this to me back then, so I understand if you want to bounce out of this post right about now). Yet I eventually learned, it was all of that yuck that had kept me from doing the most important thing I could do for my loved ones (yes, I have several), and as importantly, for me – get help.

Consider the Numbers of Family Members in Need of Help

It’s well accepted that over 23 million Americans still struggle with the disease of addiction but only 10% get the help they need.

I would hazard a guess this same percentage applies to the number of family members who’ve lived this disease with a loved one actually getting the help they need.

But the numbers – the numbers of people who are still suffering the physical, emotional and quality of life consequences of ongoing exposure to secondhand drinking | drugging – are in the tens of millions.

Why that number? It is also well accepted that each person with a substance use disorder affects up to 5 other people (not all are family members, of course; it could also be a close friend or boyfriend or girlfriend, for example). Take a family of 5 in which a teen or young adult child has the disease, as an example. Assuming it’s an intact family, that includes a mom, dad and two siblings. Likely there are four more, as well – the two sets of grandparents – not to mention any siblings either parent has.

Doing the math: 23 million x 5 = 115 million, less 10 percent (11.5), leaves more than 103 million people who are not getting the help they may need for the physical, emotional and quality-of-life consequences they may have developed as a result of coping with a loved one’s addiction, which they are now carrying into their loved one’s recovery (explored more fully in this post, Consequences of Secondhand Drinking (Drugging) to One’s Health).

What Do I Mean by “Help?”

I’ll let this post of mine share some of what I mean, Behind Every Alcoholic or Drug Addict is a Family Member or Two or Three…, as well as the following suggestions:

[Just to be clear, none of this is to suggest that everyone exposed to or living with a loved one's addiction or a loved one in recovery needs help nor to suggest those that do will all need the same sort of help.]

Include Family Members in Recovery in National Recovery Month Celebrations

This is being done already to some extent, but I believe we need to enhance the effort.


ILoveRecovery.10455573_766128776785040_4578322412557196174_n1.  To gently remind family members they need help, and that it’s OK to seek it, if for no other reason than their own relief. The additional, wonderful outcome of family members getting the physical, emotional and spiritual help they need to heal their brain (yes, as you read in one of the posts linked above, family members’ brains wire around the stress responses they developed to cope with their loved one’s disease, which in turn changes their physical and emotional health, thoughts and behaviors) is what their “new self” can do to help their loved one seek treatment and/or continue in their long-term recovery.

2. To help those living in recovery and society as a whole better appreciate what family members have gone through in order to cope with their loved ones’ addiction-related behaviors WITHOUT the numbing effects of alcohol or drugs.

3. To recognize and support FAMILY RECOVERY from this FAMILY DISEASE. If we fully embrace and celebrate family recovery as an integral part of the recovery movement, then we can better advocate for efforts to expand health care programs to treat both sides of this family diseasewhich in turn insures family members have access to the medical and emotional treatments they need, which in turn helps break the cycles.

For if we don’t, the family side misses out on wonderful opportunities to live healthy, happy, enjoyable lives AND families have far too many opportunities to raise the next generation of people who will develop this disease. Addiction is a developmental disease and its key risk factors include: genetics, childhood trauma, social environment, early use and mental illness. Growing up in a family where one person has the disease and the others cope with it in unhealthy ways, sets up the potential to develop three of these key risk factors: childhood trauma, social environment and mental illness. Throw in genetics, and a child has 4 out of the five before they have their first drink. You’ll see what I mean in this closing post, Drug Addiction – Alcoholism – Can Parents Help Their Child Avoid It?


Master of Manipulation – the Disease of Addiction

If you live with and/or love a person with the brain disease of addiction, you can probably relate to this poem I wrote several years ago. I know that until I finally understood addiction for what it is – a chronic, often relapsing brain disease, I never saw the real puppeteer pulling all of our strings – the disease, itself.

Master of Manipulation

The voice changes — soft, solicitous
The brows scrunch and the forehead creases,
Framing eyes that bore intensely into one’s own, as if to
Telepath sincere concern as the body pushes forward
Every so slightly
And the hands compose themselves; one a
Repository for the chin, the other resting on the
Knee to exude concentration on par with
Rodin’s The Thinker.

And then come the words – soothing – oozing
Concern as they wrap themselves in probing questions,
Gentle explanations and believable excuses
That cause her to drop her guard and
Rush to their embrace with
An open mind and trusting heart,
And believe the sincerity that pours from
Every pore, Unaware the alcoholic’s
Truth is the Master of Manipulation,

Trained by the characteristics of his disease
To lie, to deny, to mince and to parcel
To tell the ‘Truth’ by omission 
To promise, to plead, to swear on all that is holy
That THIS r e a l l y is the last time;
Securing sanction for his unacceptable behaviors
No matter the cost to those he loves
As the last becomes the next, for
He, too, is Manipulated by the Master.

©Lisa Frederiksen

So What Can You Do About the Master of Manipulation – the Disease of Addiction?

Rodin's Thinker 9494For me, it was a four-fold approach and involved my:

  • Understanding that Addiction is a Family Disease (check out Behind Every Alcoholic or Drug Addict is a Family Member or Two or Three…) and then accepting that I really needed help, too, because I’d developed some very unhealthy coping skills. Over the course of several years, this included intensive cognitive behavioral therapy with a therapist who specialized in the family side of the disease of addiction; active participation in Al-Anon, a 12-step program for families; activate participation in the family programs offered by the rehab program my loved one had selected and research… lots of research.
  • Understanding that at the core of addiction is a person – a person who has a brain disease, which included findings and understandings such as those I share in this post, What’s at the Core of Addiction.
  • Understanding Why Addicts | Alcoholics Lie, Cheat and Steal to and from those whom they love the most.
  • Learning how to Forgive an Alcoholic and to Detach. Detach With Love.

I’m the first to admit this does take time and that time is not what you feel you have because you are so done, done, done with the nightmare (or you want to be). But just know that whatever you do – however small the step and however few steps you take - each one will take you in a new direction. As I finally came to think about it: what I’d been doing hadn’t worked or I still wouldn’t have kept finding myself manipulated by the master – the disease of addiction – even though I was not the one with the disease, itself.

StairsFirstStep539893_484145031601515_1621960854_n-11But here’s the really good news – after more than 4 decades of being manipulated by the master, through my own recovery from what I call secondhand drinking (aka codependency), my life today is truly “beyond my wildest dreams,” as they say in the rooms. It can and does get better, “one day at a time.”

As always, feel free to call me at 650-362-3026 or email me at if you have specific questions. There is no charge for inquiry-type calls.