Everyone’s heard of co-dependency, a term originally used to describe the behavior of a person in a relationship with an addict. Today co-dependency is defined by Wikipedia as “having a tendency to behave in overly passive or excessively care taking ways that negatively impact one’s relationships and quality of life… [it] may also be characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, and/or control patterns.” Sounds familiar, right? We all seem to know someone who behaves like this at times. Well, how familiar are you with the other half of this equation, counter-dependency? In their book entitled The Flight from Intimacy, Psychologists Janae and Barry Weinhold (2008) describe a person exhibiting counter-dependency as one who “pushes others away; acts strong and invulnerable; is cut off from his/her feelings; is self-centered; is addicted to activities or substances; blames others; avoids intimacy; acts grandiose; tries to victimize others; and is a people controller” among other things (p. 5). So, you’re probably thinking you know someone like this as well. Unfortunately, in America this kind of behavior is considered somewhat within our social norm. Being in any kind of relationship (professional or personal) with someone who is appears counter-dependent can be extremely frustrating and exhausting. As a therapist at Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando, I do not find myself working with the counter-dependent person. However, I often find myself working with someone who happens to be in a close relationship with a counter-dependent person.
It is imperative that I make clear that these terms are meant to describe patterns of behavior, not to diagnose people. The Weinholds (2008) assert that “Most people are stuck in the co-dependent and counter-dependent stages (of childhood development) and are still struggling to complete the essential developmental processes of these two stages in their adult relationships” (p.31). Basically, we are seeking to complete the unfinished business of our childhood experiences. In other words, a child whose parent was often critical and withholding of affection, will unconsciously seek out in adulthood a partner who will help reenact the scenario of the critical parent and wounded child. Why do we do this? Drs. Weinhold (2008) maintain that while abuse and neglect can be causes of co- and counter-dependent behaviors, their clinical research shows that the most common cause of these behaviors is…subtle disconnects between parent and child…” (p. 7). Perhaps our parents were too busy dealing with their own emotional issues to properly support and attend to us when we need them most…
Drs. Weinhold assert that “people with predominantly co-dependent behaviors will end up in relationships with people who have more counter-dependent behaviors” (p. 6). Most people will attest to this, as we all know that opposites attract. While co-dependent behaviors center on maintaining an intimate relationship at all personal costs, counter-dependent behaviors tend to result in avoidance of emotional vulnerability to another person in a relationship. These oppositional forces connect all too easily and make for an extremely unstable relationship. In case you’re wondering, it is possible for couples to switch back and forth between roles of counter-dependence and co-dependence, depending on the nature of the situation the couple is presented with and their corresponding unmet needs (Weinhold & Weinhold, 2008).
Fortunately for all of us, it is possible to heal our childhood wounds and change co- and counter-dependent behavior in order to create intimate, partnership relationships (Weinhold & Weinhold, 2008). If you found that these descriptions apply to you or your loved one, visit the OUR TEAM page to read about our Orlando therapists at Life Skills Resource Group and then please feel free to contact any of us for a Free phone consultation. Kim
Weinhold, J. B., & Weinhold, B. K. (2008). The flight from intimacy: Healing your relationship of counter-dependency-the other side of co-dependency.Novato, CA: New World Library.