If you’ve not heard of Counterdependency, you’re actually not alone. Most people I encounter have never heard of this pattern of behavior, which is in a similar yet opposite realm of Codependency. It’s important to note that Counterdependency can be just as detrimental to relationships as Codependency. So before I talk about Counterdependency, let’s talk about Codependency.
What is Codependency?
Codependency is a pattern of unhealthy behaviors relating to rescuing others. Codependents struggle to say “no” due to feeling guilty or that they are letting others down. They will over-extend themselves to make others happy. They are people-pleasers. Codependents have poor boundaries and take on other’s problems and emotions. They will over-involve themselves in order to “help” others. They neglect their own needs and wants to fulfill the needs and wants of others. Individuals can be Codependent in almost any type of relationship (romantic, work, family, friend, etc.). For more information about Codependency, click here.
Codependents tend to seek out relationships with other Codependents. They become enmeshed and unhealthy. They are over-involved in one another’s lives. Sometimes it’s hard to know where one person ends and the next begins. They are overly reliant on each other and never apart.
In addition to being in a relationship with another Codependent, sometimes Codependents find themselves in a relationship with someone who is a Counterdependent. This looks very different and is a whole other type of unhealthy relationship.
What is Counterdependency?
In some ways, Codependents and Counterdependents are opposites. Counterdependents control Codependents. They seek out a certain type of personality that they can manipulate and exert power over. Counterdependents (whether consciously or unconsciously) look for Codependents who have low self-esteem and low self-worth. They dictate what Codependents wear, how they act, and what they do. Their control can be both covert and overt, meaning sometimes it is very obvious, and sometimes it is not.
Counterdependents are arrogant and oftentimes come across as narcissistic. They have a need to be right all of the time. When others question them, they become reactive or they withdraw. They do not trust others at all. This makes it very easy to distance themselves from relationships with others.
Counterdependents have extremely rigid boundaries. There is one right way to do something, and it is their way. There is no gray area with them. They expect perfectionism in themselves and others around them. They have unrealistic expectations of everyone in their lives.
Those with Counterdependency are emotionally cut-off. They are unable to get close to others. They subconsciously have a fear of abandonment or rejection, so they may reject or abandon others before others have the chance to harm them. Counterdependents do not understand empathy, and cannot put themselves in other’s shoes.
Those with Counterdependency look out for #1. They are all about themselves, their needs, and their wants.
What is interesting is that Counterdependents can flip-flop roles. Sometimes a person may be Counterdependent in their personal relationships but struggle with Codependency at work. Or a person who is Codependent in personal relationships may be Counterdependent in the work environment.
What Causes Counterdependency?
Those who are Counterdependent are usually so because of childhood experiences. Sometimes Counterdependents have experienced trauma in their lives. Maybe they have been neglected, abandoned, or hurt by someone who should’ve protected them. They often learn early on in life that they cannot trust others or let them in.
Sometimes Counterdependency can be traced back to the attachment (or lack thereof) to a primary caregiver. Attachment theory says that how we attach and bond to a caregiver when we are young will indicate how we attach and relate to others when we are older. If we don’t attach in a secure way (meaning our emotional, physical, and basic needs are not met), then we may have an insecure attachment. Insecure attachments can occur for a variety of reasons, including having a parent who was emotionally and physically unavailable, having a caregiver or parent who was unresponsive or ignored your needs, or even one who harmed you.
For example, imagine you are 5 years old, and you fall down and skin your knees. You come to your caregiver crying, wanting to be held and comforted. If your caregiver is dismissive, not nurturing, insulting, or pushes you away, you may develop an insecure attachment. You learn early on that people are not trustworthy or able to meet your needs. This follows you into adulthood, where you keep people at an arm’s length because you don’t believe that they will take care of you.
If you are Codependent or Counterdependent, there is a middle ground that you want to work towards. Interdependence is what we want to aim for in our relationships in order to be healthy. Interdependence allows us to be independent, and yet healthily dependent in a relationship. It means an equal balance of power, good and healthy boundaries, and a give-and-take relationship. Interdependence means that you don’t rely on others because of fear, but rather because of shared interests and beliefs. It is doing life with others because you enjoy them, not because you are dependent on them.
If you are reading this and believe you may be Counterdependent, please reach out for help! Therapy can help you identify where your unhealthy patterns of relating may come from, and how to work towards allowing others in.
If you are reading this, and believe you’re in a relationship with someone who is Counterdependent (and you are possibly a Codependent), please reach out for help! Therapy can help you work towards setting appropriate boundaries and saying “no” without feeling pressure or guilt.
Here are some of my favorite resources for Counterdependency and Codependency:
“The Flight from Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship of Counter-Dependency” by Janae B Weinhold and Barry K. Weinhold
“Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie
Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW
*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling in Carmel, Indiana. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.