We toss out codependence like we know what we are talking about these days. It started with the term co-alcoholic. This person was not necessarily drinking with the alcoholic they were wrapped up in the struggle because of family or emotional ties to the alcoholic.
Al-anon became the saving grace of many families struggling to understand the behaviors of loved ones dealing with alcohol. As this group consisted of mainly women who were often financially if not emotionally dependent on their alcoholic husbands the term co-dependent surface.
Codependence Anyanmous one of the latest 12 Step Groups chose very carefully not to define Codependence but rather list the characteristics of the behaviors person might find themselves practicing
Low Self Esteem Patterns
(Click here for the list of characteristics that fall under each heading)
For many, I think the picture of the classic codependent is the doting wife that just keeps over-functioning and taking care of her inattentive alcoholic husband and unruly children. Her family members might take little notice of all she does until she is unable to keep up the grueling schedule and either collapses or leaves.
My picture of this person is the “needy” codependent. They find fulfillment in managing others lives and not managing their own lives. In fact, they do not trust themselves to manage their life separately from caretaking another person.
With a counter-dependent in walks a person who appears to be totally self-assured. Someone who manages their life without help, a truly self-made person. On the opposite end of the trust spectrum, this person does not trust others.
What looks like strength is really fear. Fear that trusting another will lead to failure or pain or abuse. A counter-dependent superficially handles relationships mainly by avoiding deep intimacy. They will handle most things in their lives themselves, rarely asking for help or showing any sign of weakness or inability to manage their lives.
While this looks like a healthy autonomous adult they lack several key characteristics according to Psychology Today.
Healthy autonomy is a state of confident self-reliance in which an individual a) recognizes their interdependency with others; b) has an agentic sense of self (i.e., a sense that one can effectively control one’s destiny) and c) is not unduly controlled or influenced by others.
George Hendriques PhD, April 11, 2014
Dr. Hendriques goes on to say that on the surface the counter-dependent displays similar characteristics to the healthy autonomous person. The counter-dependent seems to be able to regulate themselves in relationships, enjoy long term intimate relationships, share vulnerabilities, rely on comfort from others and return this with comfort without losing self.
While the relationship with the counter-dependent looks positive on the surface that is all there is… surface. The counter dependant does not trust other people enough to form a deep relationship that requires real lasting vulnerability and trust.
Janea and Barry Weinhold in their book Flight from Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship of Counter-Dependency the Other side of Codependency ask the following questions.
-Has trouble being close to others?
-Has a strong need to be right — all the time?
-Acts self-centered and egotistical?
-Never asks for help?
-Has to look good all the time?
-Works long hours but never finishes?
-Expects perfection in self and others?
-Seldom appears vulnerable or weak?
-Has difficulty relaxing?
All a Matter of Scale
Before you start to rethink all your relationships let’s put this in perspective. We all fall somewhere on the intimacy/ avoidance attachment scale.
Plus there are age appropriate times for more attachment and less. Mother and infant, elderly and caregiver, temporary episode of crisis or recovery.
We are constantly shifting in our relationships and the is a good thing. The problem comes when we establish patterns at one end of the scale or the other. Neither pattern of codependency or counter dependence works in the long run.
Does this sound like your relationship?
- I need you, you run and hide.
- I go away at least emotionally and then you come looking for me.
- You find me all is well.
- Then I need you again and you hide.
- Rinse and repeat!
Both partners in this push- me- pull -me relationship are struggling with trust. How the partner shows up just looks different. This month on the podcast we are exploring how this looks in close relationships.