The following excerpt is pulled from Chapter Five of Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency.

What is Prodependence?

As stated at the close of Chapter 3, prodependence is a term I’ve created to describe relationships that are healthfully interdependent, where one person’s strengths fill in the vulnerabilities of the other and vice versa, with this mutual support occurring automatically and without question. As applied to caregiving loved ones of addicts, prodependence refers to extraordinary, loving attempts to care for and help heal a person to whom one is deeply attached and bonded, even when that person has become chronically dysfunctional because of an addiction or some other equally troubling issue.

Rather than blaming, shaming, and pathologizing loved ones of addicts for loving too much, or not in the right way, or for selfish reasons, or as a form of unconscious trauma repetition, prodependence celebrates their need to love and to caretake when appropriate. Prodependence views the act of loving and trying to help an addict or a similarly troubled individual heal (or to make it through the day without creating or experiencing disaster) as an indicator of healthy attachment (or at least the desire for healthy attachment). With prodependence, there is no shame or blame, no sense of being wrong, no language that pathologizes the client. Instead, there is recognition for effort given, plus hope and useful instruction for healing. To treat loved ones of addicts using prodependence, we need not find that something is “wrong with them.” We can simply acknowledge the trauma and inherent dysfunction that occurs when living in close relationship with an addict, and then we can address that in the healthiest, least shaming way.

As with codependence, prodependence recognizes that when a caregiver’s actions run off the rails and become counterproductive— and yes, this happens quite a lot when a person is trying to monitor and assist a deeply troubled loved one—measures can be taken to put the relationship back on track. However, prodependence does not imply that a caregiver’s dysfunctional behaviors arise out of any past or present trauma or pathology. Instead, prodependence views these actions as an attempt to maintain or restore healthy attachment.

Prodependence does not ever consider efforts made to help a loved one get well as pathology. Even if those attempts to help are misdirected and ineffective. Under no circumstances does prodependence imply that love is or can become pathological. Instead, prodependence acknowledges that loving an unpredictable, addicted partner who blames, lies, seduces, manipulates, and gaslights loved ones can make pretty much anyone look crazy over time. Because that is the type of behavior that puts people in crisis. And people in crisis can look crazy.

Interestingly, prodependence recommends and implements the same basic therapeutic actions as codependence—a fresh or renewed focus on self-care coupled with implementation of healthier boundaries. That said, the models approach this work from vastly different perspectives. Codependence, as a deficit-based trauma model, views loved ones of addicts as traumatized, damaged, and needing help. Prodependence, as a strength-based attachment-driven model, views loved ones of addicts as heroes for continuing to love and continuing to remain attached despite the debilitating presence of addiction.

Instead of blaming, shaming, and pathologizing the caregiving loved one of an addict, instead of telling that person that he or she is driven by trauma and needs to deal with that or nothing will change, prodependence says, “You’re a wonderful person for putting so much effort into helping your addicted loved one. It’s possible, however, that you’re not doing that as effectively as you might. And who can blame you for that? It’s hard to worry about loving someone in the best possible way when you’re in the middle of a disaster zone. If the house is burning down, you grab your loved one and drag that person out of the fire, and you don’t worry about whether you’re grabbing too hard, or in a way that hurts. Now that you’re in therapy, though, we can slow things down and figure out how you can help the addict more effectively—in ways that might be more useful to the addict and your relationship, and that won’t cause you to feel so overwhelmed.”

Prodependent treatment with caregiving loved ones of addicts recognizes and accepts, first and foremost, that these individuals are, thanks to the addiction, in crisis, and they are likely to behave accordingly. As such, they will show emotional lability. They may also exert superhuman effort with household chores, childcare, doctor’s visits, home healthcare, and earning extra money to pay for everything. And they behave in these ways as an expression of love, not pathology.

In short, the prodependence model encourages therapists and clients to celebrate the natural and healthy human need to develop and maintain intimate connections, and to provide ongoing, uninterrupted support to loved ones—even in the face of addiction or some other profoundly troubling life issue.

Comparing Prodependence and Codependence

In many respects, the prodependence and codependence models are mirror images. But with one profound difference. The models vary significantly in how we, as therapists, frame “the problem” to our clients (and ourselves). Consider the following graph delineating traits that are often seen in loved ones of addicts. In the left-hand column, I’ve listed the negative-sounding words that we see in discussions about codependence. In the right-hand column, I’ve listed similar traits, but reframed as prodependent positives.

EnmeshedDeeply involved
Externally focusedConcerned about the welfare of others
Lacking healthy boundariesEager to care for a loved one
Can’t say noChooses to say yes
Obsessed with the addictionDetermined to protect the addict and family
Living in denialUnwilling to give up on a loved one
AngryFearful of further loss with no control
ControllingTrying to be heard
HypervigilantAnticipating problems

The expressions of pain and fear that we see with loved ones of addicts are the same with codependence and prodependence. The primary difference lies in how we frame the problem to our clients and ourselves. One model is positive and supportive and meets a loving caregiver where he or she is; the other model is the exact opposite, imposing a pseudo-pathology that may cause the client to feel even worse.

Prodependence validates caregiving as the loving act that it is. Prodependence views caregiving loved ones of addicts, not as innately damaged, but as relatively healthy people responding to an abnormal situation (addiction in a loved one) as best they can.

Do loved ones of addicts always make the best decisions and go about the business of helping in the best possible way? Of course not. Do they occasionally overstep their bounds in ways that are harmful to themselves and the people they are trying to help? Yes, they do. But why would we expect anything different from a person who is trying to love in a house that’s on fire? The simple truth is that loved ones of active addicts are perpetually in crisis mode. Naturally, they try to control the crisis. In the process, they sometimes panic and make bad decisions. They may overdo. They may help too much. They may help ineffectively. They may enable and appear to be pathologically enmeshed. But that does not mean they are psychologically disordered. What it means is they are people in crisis, behaving in the ways that people in crisis tend to behave. And my job as a therapist, when these individuals come to see me, is to meet them where they are, to validate their experience, to value their contributions, and to guide them toward the development and implementation of useful and effective solutions.

Once the crisis stage of healing is past, if a client wants to do deeper forms of inner work (like addressing unresolved trauma), that’s great. And that is often what occurs. When the dust has finally settled and the addiction is being adequately addressed, the client will say, “I’m beginning to wonder if anything about the way I grew up might relate to me choosing this person or tolerating the dysfunction of the addiction.” At that point, the door is open for deeper work. However, in the early stages of treatment, that’s just not where the loved one of an addict is likely to be. And attempting this deeper internal work too soon typically leads a client not to crisis resolution, better boundaries, and improved self-care, but to increased anxiety, self-doubt, and a sense that he or she is part of the problem. This type of shame is counterproductive.

So, once again, loving and caring for an addict is not pathological behavior, even if that love and care occasionally runs off the rails and turns into enabling, enmeshment, and control. Instead, caring deeply and helping fully is a beautiful, wonderful, natural, and life-affirming thing to do. Rather than labeling and pathologizing loved ones of addicts when they refuse to abandon their caregiving roles, I think that my job as a therapist is to thank them for their efforts and encourage them to continue their pursuit of love and emotional intimacy, though in healthier, more prodependent ways.