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Breaking Down The Model: Part IV -Relational Problems and Recovery

September 6, 2022

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The Meadows

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By: Joyce Willis, MC, LPC

In Part III, we discussed the Secondary Symptoms that are caused by immaturity in the five Core Issues. We know that trauma in column I (The Nature of the Child) leads to immaturity in the Core Issues. Trauma and immaturity then lead to Secondary Symptoms, as discussed in Part III. All three — trauma issues, immaturity, and Secondary Symptoms — lead to Relational Problems.

Developmental Immaturity Issues Model

In this last installment of Breaking Down the Model, we will explore those Relational Problems, which can stem from an extreme in any of the five Core Issues, as well as from the Secondary Symptoms. In other words, due to trauma, immaturity and issues with addiction, intimacy, spirituality, rage, and more we can develop relational problems. Let’s explore each of the relational problems one by one.

Due to trauma, immaturity and the secondary symptoms, we can develop relational problems.

Relational Esteem

Relational esteem can be a problem in one of two ways. We may overvalue our partner or the relationship when we believe we are “less than.” We may overvalue ourselves and undervalue our partner when we believe we are “better than.”

Enmeshment and Avoidance Issues

Enmeshment and avoidance have to do with boundary issues. When a person has no boundaries, they may try to enmesh or use the partner in some way. Conversely, when a person puts up walls, they will avoid intimacy. This can lead to relationships that are either stuck in love addiction or stuck in love avoidance.


The simple truth of relational problems when it comes to dishonesty is that we are living in a lie when we believe we are better than or less than someone else. In other words, when a person cannot be real because they believe they are worthless, they will not be truthful with their partner. When a person believes they are one up or better than, they may believe they are a god, which distorts the truth of who they really are.

Problems with Interdependence

Interdependence has to do with allowing yourself self-care before taking care of someone else. When you cannot care for yourself in a proper and functional manner, you cannot be functionally interdependent. Self-care creates the necessary energy to ask for help and give help appropriately.

Intensity Issues

When a person has no boundaries or is walled off, they are draining the relationship. This can create either chaos or a sense of deadness in the relationship. Chaos in a relationship is created when the person is out of control or not containing their spontaneity as a functional adult. Deadness in a relationship is created when the person is controlling.

Now that you have learned about the Model of Developmental Immaturity, let’s consider what recovery looks like. As Pia Mellody says, “There is no recovery without Core Recovery.” Characteristics of a healthy person begin to emerge as a person gets into recovery. These characteristics are:

  • Having a sense of self-worth is based on the concept of inherent worth. This means believing you are of equal value to others in your strengths and in your weaknesses. Being in recovery means esteeming yourself from within and realizing your humanity.
  • Setting and maintaining functional boundaries. This means allowing yourself to be vulnerable, yet not too vulnerable. Being in recovery allows you to be intimate and vulnerable — with protection.
  • Trusting yourself by owning your own reality and being true to yourself. This incorporates expressing yourself in a diplomatic manner. Being in recovery means being able to be real and accountable for your imperfections and being willing to look for a higher power for help with imperfections.
  • Taking care of yourself and attending to your needs and wants, while being able to ask for help when needed. This involves being able to hear “no” to a request for help without taking it personally. This, also, involves being able to say “no” to a request when it will enable the other person or when you think complying to the request will lead to resentment. Being in recovery means being responsible for your own self-care and being interdependent.
  • Having the ability to contain yourself, with functional spontaneity and having an attitude of moderation in all areas of life. Being in recovery means being able to experience your life moderately and maintain a sense of functional spontaneity.

Finally, let’s take a look at things you can do to support your recovery. These are suggestions for you to consider:

  • Attend 12-Step Meetings

Support meetings or 12-Step meetings are an opportunity to talk about all experiences, negative and positive, that you are having throughout recovery. This allows you the opportunity to be with people who are talking about their illness and how it operates in their own lives. Meetings can also help you focus on your own progress and improvement and allow you to give hope to others.

  • Do a Written Step One

This helps you see the disease in action in your own life. When you can be honest about the unmanageability in your life, you can stop sabotaging your life. Writing helps you to see the patterns of codependency and addiction. Pia Mellody’s book, Breaking Free: A Recovery Workbook for Facing Codependence, is a great resource for how to write out all the steps.

  • Get a Sponsor

Choosing a sponsor who has time in recovery and who demonstrates functional adult behavior will help keep you on the path of recovery. Choose someone who is honest and willing to be confrontational in a nurturing manner.

If needed, consider the option of seeking out more intensive therapy, such as an intensive outpatient program or inpatient treatment.

Recovery is not a destination. There is always work to do. It’s important to keep confronting the Core Issues and growing. It is not humanly impossible to be functional on all five of the Core Issues all the time, but we can continue to work on our self-esteem, boundaries, own our reality, meet our needs and wants, and operate in moderation. Recovery is about staying in the center in each of the Core Issues as much as humanly possible on any given day. In doing that, we can live our lives with hope and happiness!

Source: Pia Mellody’s book Facing Codependence.

Joyce Willis is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is currently a therapist at The Meadows Outpatient Center-Scottsdale. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Akron. After teaching for several years, Joyce earned a master’s in counseling from the University of Phoenix. She has been in the counseling profession since 1996 and in that time has worked extensively in the addictions field. Her specialties include treatment for addictions, bereavement, trauma, depression, and anxiety. Joyce has a special interest in mindfulness and helping people connect their emotional, spiritual, mindful, and physiological selves with compassion and respect.