Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Emotional Stocks and Bonds: A Metaphorical Model for Conceptualizing and Treating Codependency and Other Forms of Emotional Overinvesting

Academic journal article American Journal of Psychotherapy

Emotional Stocks and Bonds: A Metaphorical Model for Conceptualizing and Treating Codependency and Other Forms of Emotional Overinvesting

Article excerpt

Codependent behaviors are associated with an unhealthy reliance on others for meeting emotional needs. This over-reliance on others often leads to dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. This article presents emotional stocks and bonds (ESB), a metaphorical model for use with clients who disphy codependent behaviors. Emotional stocks and bonds incorporates theoretical tenets from Bowen family systems and attachment theory and aids clients in understanding and changing unhealthy relationship behavior patterns. In addition to an overview of the model's key concepts and its use in clinical practice, we provide a case illustration and a discussion of practice implications and limitations.

KEYWORDS: codependency; attachment; Bowen family systems


Attachments and bonding are core biological needs that affect social and romantic relationships (Bowlby, 1969; Slater 2007). Early attachment relationships, usually with biological parents, shape later relationship functioning (Dinero et al., 2011; Sable, 2007; Salzinger, Feldman, Hammer, & Rosario, 1993). However, the influence of these early relationships can lead to positive or maladaptive behaviors in adult relationships (Johnson, Myers, Webber, & Borris, 2004). Family systems, similar to attachment theory, influence the navigation between emotional togetherness and individualism (van Ecke, Chope, & Emmelkamp, 2006). Bowen family therapy espouses that individuals must examine family-of- origin behavioral and emotional patterns or else they will repeat in future relationships (Gladding, 2007). "The possibility of repeating certain behaviors in interpersonal relationships is particularly likely if family members, especially between generations, are characteristically either emotionally over-involved (i.e., fused) with each other or emotionally cut off (psychologically or physically) from each other" (p. 141). Key goals of Bowen family therapy include increasing an individual's level of differentiation and decreasing emotional reactivity (Gehart, 2010). Bowen uses the term "differentiation of self" to describe the important process of maintaining closeness and emotional connection in relationships while functioning from an emotionally autonomous standpoint without emotional dependence (Klever, 2005; Murdock & Gore, 2004). However, some may experience family-of-origin environments that are distant, inconsistent, or emotionally over-involved, which will cause subsequent challenges in adult romantic relationships.

Attachment and Bowen family theories provide approaches for understanding the influence of early relationships on current relationship functioning and considerations for interventions (van Ecke et al., 2006). However, the two theories prove complex and oftentimes require longerterm interventions (Daly & Mallinckrodt, 2009; McBride, Atkinson, Quilty, & Bagby, 2006). Further, Bowen family systems and attachment theory focus primarily on intimate and familial relationships. Therefore, we present emotional stocks and bonds (ESB), which integrates aspects of Bowen family theory and attachment theory into a brief model for conceptualizing, treating, and addressing various types of emotional overinvesting (e.g., relationship, work, hobby) through a five-step treatment approach.

A paradox exists within relationships in that emotional connection can bring great joy and great pain. At times, relationships can be rewarding and satisfying. Other times, they prove unhealthy, unsatisfying, and potentially destructive. Early attachments and relationship experiences play a pivotal role in the development of relationship norms and behaviors (Hinnen, Sanderman, & Sprangers, 2009). When attachment needs are not met, activation of attachment behaviors occur that include feelings of anxiety and distress along with irrational thoughts, beliefs, and activities (Bowlby, 1988; Hinnen et al., 2009). Resulting attachment behaviors include emotional distancing, e. …

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