Rob Weiss’s latest contribution to the recovery community is his book Prodependence: Moving Beyond Codependency. This book, and the philosophy of prodependence are an alternate take on the idea of codependency that has been rampant in the addiction recovery movement for decades.
Codependence has been defined as “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition, such as an addiction (Merriam-Webster). In the recovery community the spouse, partner or family of someone suffering from an addiction is often labeled a codependent. This term came into the recovery lexicon in the 1980’s and became part of everyday language. A codependency diagnosis was rejected by the APA for the inclusion into the DSM but the “diagnosis” has persisted and there are 12 step meetings for Codependents (CODA).
Rob Weiss’s argument in putting forth the concept of Prodependence is that it codependence is not helpful to the family members of those in active addiction or in recovery from addiction. Family members loved ones or care givers of people with addictions, in the codependency model, are often told that they are part of the problem as opposed to just trying to cope with a very difficult situation.
Prodependence is as term to describe “attachment relationships that are healthfully interdependent, where one person’s strengths support the vulnerabilities of another and vice versa, with this mutual support occurring automatically and without question.” (p53.) Rob prefers this concept as it celebrates a loved one’s desire to help the addict in their life without shame or blame.
Prodependence looks at the behaviors of the partners or family members of an addict as attempts to maintain or restore healthy attachment and not as enabling. Treating prodependence is similar to treating co-dependence in terms of encouraging healthy boundaries and self care. However, it differs by being a strength based, attachment driven model that values loved ones of an addict.
Another key idea behind the concept of prodependence is the idea that a person with an addiction has an attachment disorder and needs healthy attachment to truly heal from their addiction. Encouraging prodependence, treating addicts and their loved ones with kindness, empathy and respect, can help repair earlier attachment traumas and aid healing.
Another key difference between prodependence and codependence is that prodependence looks at addiction as an intimacy disorder. As opposed to the older idea of tough love, intimacy disorders are treated with the pursuit of healthy, intimate and ongoing connection.
While suggesting that codependence may be an outdated concept is risky, it does not feel groundbreaking. This book and the idea of prodependence feels like the natural conclusion when you take into account what we now know from the research about attachment, intimacy and shame. As Johann Hari suggests in his Ted Talk from a number of years ago, “What if all we were taught about addiction is wrong?” Perhaps, instead, we should treat people with addictions and their families and loved ones without shame and blame. We might get farther modeling healthy attachment and boundaries combined with compassion and empathy instead.