The Coaddict: Loss of Identity a sex addict’s life becomes isolated, lonely, and singularly focused on the addictive stimuli. The disease of sex addiction however, is crowded and complex, and it affects every person the addict had a relationship with: family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Some of the addict’s relationships are affected more severely than others, such as the addict’s caretaker–spouse, parent, etc. The caretaker can become what is called the, “coaddict,” or person that becomes so involved in the addict’s life that his or her self-awareness and identity is lost, and his or her reality is distorted. The coaddict aims to stop the addict and protect their secrets from outside knowledge. They go to drastic measures to prevent people from finding out about the addict and the things he or she has done, to control the addict, and to avoid facing their own pain. It is important to note that while the sex addict’s problems seem to exist solely within himself or herself, other people in his or her life are affected and need treatment too.
One way the coaddict loses his or her identity is by becoming consumed in trying to control the addict. Coaddicts might follow the addict to see what he or she is doing, or might demand to know where the addict has been. He or she might even try to throw away the addict’s pornography or take his or her keys so the addict can’t leave the house. Sometimes coaddicts will attempt to use sex as a control mechanism. For example, the coaddict might withhold sex to punish the addict. These attempts to control the addict might work at first, but won’t for long. It is an especially bad idea to use sex to control the sex addict because it influences the addict’s beliefs about sex, which are already problematic. Also, be aware that it won’t help the addiction to add an association between sex and punishment and/or manipulation by a loved one, to the existing distorted associations.
If you are the coaddict, you will find it hard to accept that you don’t have control over the addict or the unmanageability of the addict’s life. In fact, as you try to gain control, you lose the manageability of your own life. Please ask yourself if someone in control would need to spy on someone? Did you ever think you would steal a person’s car keys? Or, demand to know where a person is? Or, to use sex as a manipulative way to get what you want? Have you compromised your own values regarding sex? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not in control of yourself or the addict and may benefit from support at Sex Therapy in Philadelphia / the Center for Growth, Inc.
Loss of control is frightening, and you might believe that doing those things gives you a small amount of control over the situation. However, by occupying your mind and time with the addict’s life, you are able to avoid being alone with your own thoughts and feelings. What I mean is, you don’t have to feel the pain that comes from grief and loss; self hatred because you did things you feel are wrong in order to protect your loved one, yourself and your family; anger at yourself because you retaliated against your loved one and did things you feel are wrong and never thought you would do; anger at the sex addict; and fear for the future.
Another way the coaddict loses his or her identity is by compromising values. Someone compromises values when he or she does something that goes against his or her beliefs of right or wrong. The coaddict may do this to protect the addict or other people, or to get even with the addict for betraying him or her (as in a marriage where the husband or wife has had an affair). Coaddicts may lie, retaliate, or cover up their loved one’s actions to protect him or her from scrutiny or punishment. After they do many things that they never thought they would do, they begin to forget who they are. After all, we are live day to day with set ideas of right and wrong. While these ideas can be challenged or unclear, the basic beliefs remain. Coaddicts betray those beliefs, and end up feeling like a different person.
Protecting loved ones is an instinct that we have as human beings. It’s a great instinct, and it shows that it is human to love other people. Parents often say they would do anything for their children, and mean it. The problem with lying to protect loved ones in terms of sex addiction is that you are endangering the addict, the community, and yourself. If you can explain away the incident that happened last night, that’s fine, but there will be many more incidents to try to explain away. Not only does it get difficult to lie all the time, but to stop lying would be one of the first steps to stop the addict.
If you are reading this and you feel that you are a coaddict, or could become one, please read the following tips:
- Don’t be in denial. Recognizing that a problem exists must happen in order for it to be addressed. Sometimes people notice that a person’s behavior or routine has changed, but they choose to ignore it. They think, maybe if I don’t say anything it will go away. That is denial. As a general rule, much of people’s lives become habitual and routine, so if you notice a sudden change in a person’s habits, ask questions. For example: Nancy calls her husband Bob every day after work. In the last two months, she started to call every day after work except Mondays. Bob asked her about this, and Nancy said Monday’s are stressful days at work and afterward she forgets to call him. Bob let the issue go. Overtime, Nancy stopped calling on more days. Bob didn’t know where she was or what she was doing and Nancy would always come up with an excuse. Eventually Nancy was fired from her job for having affairs with different married men after work at her workplace. It wasn’t until she was fired that Bob found out. Now, keep in mind, Nancy’s explanation could have been true. The point is, changes in habits indicate just that: something has changed.
- Don’t blame yourself. Once sex addiction has been recognized, don’t begin to think of all that you should have and could have done differently to have prevented this. Don’t tell yourself you are a bad person, or that you deserve bad things. Remind yourself that thinking you have that much control over another person is grandiose.
- Don’t compromise your values. It’s natural to be angry at the addict at times, but it will only make your self esteem lower if you begin doing things that go against what you believe is right. If your wife had an affair, don’t try to get even by having one too. This will only make you feel worse about yourself and lose your self-awareness and identity. Remember your values, and don’t act out of anger. Before doing anything impulsive out of emotion, take four deep breaths, count backward from 10, suck on something sour or sweet, and change your position. This is a relaxation technique that will help you control your impulses to retaliate.
- Don’t blame the addict. I know that sounds strange to many of you, but when a coaddict thinks that if the addict would only stop the behavior, all their problems would be solved, he or she is wrong. The reason all family members should be involved in treatment when one person has an addiction is because the entire family system is off track. Blame needn’t be placed on anyone at all because it won’t help, and the goal is to get the addict and the addict’s family back on track.
- Don’t avoid. Don’t avoid expressing how you feel, or lie about it to people, or yourself. Don’t go to great lengths to avoid admitting that you are a wreck. It’s ok to feel helpless and sad, and it’s normal to be a wreck when you are taking care of a loved one with sex addiction.
- Journal. If you’re not sure if you are a coaddict, keep a journal and write down all that you did that day. How much of it was for you, for your goals, for your life? How much was for the addict? If you see that you are trying to control the addict, and avoiding dealing with your own feelings, it’s time to change things.
- Treatment. Even if the addict refuses to get treatment at Sex Therapy in Philadelphia / the Center for Growth, you still can and should. If you have spent a lot of time being involved in the addict’s life, you probably haven’t spent much time alone with your own thoughts about the situation. It can be hard to face those thoughts, and a sex addiction therapist can help.
This tip was developed for Sex Therapy in Philadelphia / The Center for Growth, Inc an organization that specializes in working with people recovering from sex addiction / coaddiction.