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Why Counter-Dependency Can Drive a Wedge into Intimate Relationships

Many people have heard of the term codependency but not necessarily counter-dependency. Codependency is finding self-worth from making others happy or pleasing others. The lesser-known word counter-dependency can be a problem just the same. It masks certain insecurities around a fear of intimacy. People who struggle with it dread dependence on people so they don’t trust or “need” anyone and don’t let others step in on their behalf. Intimate relationships depend on connection and trust. That is why counter-dependency can create disruption in relationships.

Signs of Counter-dependency

Counterdependents can seem high functioning, socializing and going out to meet people on a regular basis. They seem average and able to maintain relationships with some semblance of normalcy. However, the signs of counter-dependency are more obvious than people might think. This can look like:

  • Pushing away people without warning
  • Fear of rejection
  • Feeling trapped in relationships
  • Date “over giver” and codependents
  • Anxiety and fear rise up if relationships are too deep
  • Tend towards sexual relationships that avoid deeper connection to emotion
  • Complain and sulk in relationships

What lies underneath all these things is a lack of trust. They struggle to connect with trust as the foundation. They rarely ask others for help, don’t trust other people’s motives, and want to avoid conflict. Children who experience neglect or have to parent themselves often experience these feelings. They are sensitive to criticism, are hard on themselves, self-critical, filled with shame, and feel lonely and empty when dealing with memories or feelings of childhood. 

Mental Health Concerns

Counter-dependency is a real challenge for people who struggle. It relies on mostly hidden feelings. These feelings can spiral into depression and anxiety. If the loneliness doesn’t cause severely low moods, it can hide low self-esteem that counter-dependents may suffer from as a result. Clinging to the idea that nobody can help or it is not needed can develop an inflated sense of superiority, which may cause people to lose empathy for others. From this comes a lack of cohesive relationships or the ability to let others in. This isolation builds because, while they desire intimacy, they also fear being too connected because they value their independence. They may be seen as less humble or able to see others’ points of view, which turns people away from them in relationships.

Counter-dependent Thoughts

The mind of someone with this way of seeing the world can feel contradictory to how they behave. They may say things like they don’t need to be loved, people are draining, or they don’t want to get too close to someone and feel disappointed. The reality is they are trying to keep people at a distance so they do not get hurt. The fear and shame runs deep through their stories and can make it difficult to recover from addiction if they refuse to face it. The connection between codependency and counter-dependency is close because they are both linked to self-worth. However, they both manipulate other people in different ways. It might sound like the last person a counter-dependent person would choose if someone attentive to their needs, but they sometimes find them warning and welcoming even when they struggle to receive what they offer. 

Origins of Counter-dependency

Childhood can be very hard for people. It can be tragic and full of trauma. Sometimes things happen that challenge a person’s trust and make it dangerous to need others. This might be from a parent leaving, a person dying soon, or any number of other issues. Counter-dependency can come from the style of parenting offered early on. The connection a person forms, or doesn’t form, helps them know how to relate to the world and others in the future. Attachment theory looks at where parents are sensitive to a child’s needs and how they are likely to grow up. Parents and caregivers play a vital role for people who struggle with these issues and maybe a healing part of the journey of recovery as adults. While there are some roots in childhood, there may be biological or other environmental factors that play a role in how a child grows up into an adult who desires intimacy but keeps people at arms length. Counter-dependency can look different for people in all circumstances, so it is better not to judge their past, rather work to understand them now and how to best support their individual journey of healing.

Healthy Transitions

To transition from counter-dependency to healing, it takes a village. It takes people recognizing their own need for healing and to care for themselves. They need to take ownership of their own healing to find interdependence. With interdependence. People can take care of themselves and get their own needs met. They know healing is not a one-way street and they acknowledge the need to care for themselves. Some things to do that might help are therapies, interpersonal counseling, treatment for substance use disorders or mental health conditions. Working on self-care is important, including personal wellbeing. Because women tend to suffer abuse and trauma early on in life more than men, they typically develop attachment disorders, including counter-dependence. This is a barrier and a safety mechanism that can be worked on with the right therapists and support. Women can find the right help with gender-specific treatment programs that are tailored to women or treatment programs that are trauma-informed and focus on healing from traumatic histories, including neglect and abuse. Women who are able to work on healing some of their counter-dependent behaviors often find a sense of peace in recovery, even if it is an ongoing journey of discovery.

Casa Capri designed our rehab with women in mind. We know women’s issues and challenges. We are here to help you face them head-on. Whatever they are, we will be there with you every step of the way. For more info, call Casa Capri today: 844-593-8020


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