What Is Counter-dependency?

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Many of my recent posts have delved into some of the root causes of codependency and how developmental trauma plays a major role. This puts parenting (or the lack of it) at the centre of discussion. As I discussed recently in a post The Roots Of Codependency, we all go through a codependent phase, just after full dependency where we are exploring the world presented to us. This is a time when parents have to create a safe, growth inducing environment that teaches children healthy boundaries and appropriate behaviour. I also surmised that the “terrible twos” could be a reaction to this sudden sense of autonomy and a possible need to return to dependence. This could be the first time that children start to believe that their parents cannot be trusted. Counter-dependence is characterised as follows:

Only intimate to a point where it then becomes uncomfortable leading to distancing

Often feel trapped and push people away, exhibiting a general sense of coldness

A mantra of “Fear of abandonment so abandon first”

Can wear different “masks” for different people (to avoid revealing real self) and often have many superficial relationships lasting a short time

Anxiety and fear when things get too deep

Will concentrate on sexual side to avoid tenderness, often having “emotionless sex”

Are mostly always “too busy” to engage in intimacy

Will be attracted to people they “know” they will not fall in love with often using sex as the “connecting” factor

Are perfectionists (and expect perfection in others) and have the strong need “to be right”

Lack of trust leaves them “second guessing” others motives

Will feel continually “let-down” and can be very critical and judgmental

Will not seek help from others, stating that “they need to do things alone because nobody can help”

Counter-dependents are sensitive to the criticism of others but are also hard on themselves and see mistakes as “weak”. They see vulnerability and victimhood as a weakness to avoid and will be hyper-critical of others who they deem as needy or seek attachment. Shame is often a factor when they, themselves, feel needy and this will often instigate a parting of the ways with a friend or partner, or at least the “cold shoulder”. Counter-dependency can produce extreme feelings of loneliness that can spiral into depression. In some cases, counter-dependents can develop a “sense of narcissism” if they allow their feelings to move to an inflated sense of being and feeling superior. This can often arise from thoughts such as “I don’t need anyone” or “I am better than anyone” or “No-one understands me”. At this point, we must say that many of the blogs and articles talking about narcissism are actually describing counter-dependence.

Anyone who has read the countless number of books and articles on codependency will know that it runs on a continuum. This is often called “Co to Counter” and can occur during and in different relationships and stages of life. Many who have been codependent for most of their lives will see the distancing and fear of connection as a solution to their “enmeshment” with another person but in itself, counter-dependency is as destructive as codependency in the fact that it is still dependence. Some counter-dependents have never experienced codependency and live their lives “fleeing connection”. Once again, we can look at childhood for the causes.

If we look at theories of child development, we constantly see the importance of connection and guidance. One of these theories looks at a development as dependency (birth to 6 months), codependency (exploratory phase from 6 months to 3 years), counter dependency (3 to 11, seeking own identity) independence (peers become more important 11 to 18), interdependence (18 to adult, see parents as peers). The theory states that children should ideally separate from emotions dependence at age 3 and experience a “psychological birth” leading to autonomy. During the early stages, parents are very important and are needed to guide and coach children through. If this doesn’t happen effectively, then the baggage from each stage is carried forward and development is stunted. As no parent is perfect, it often happens without abuse and neglect. However, when these are present, even on a subtle basis, it complicates matters. It is thought that neglect promotes codependency and abuse counter-dependency. If both are present, then a continuum is created. Mostly, lack of trust is built up in the child’s mind leading to possible abandonment issues and insecurity. They take this into their adult life continuing the dysfunction and never really separating from it.

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Dr. Nicholas Jenner, a therapist, coach, and speaker, has over 20 years of experience in the field of therapy and coaching. His specialty lies in treating codependency, a condition that is often characterized by a compulsive dependence on a partner, friend, or family member for emotional or psychological sustenance. Dr. Jenner's approach to treating codependency involves using Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, a treatment method that has gained widespread popularity in recent years. He identifies the underlying causes of codependent behavior by exploring his patients' internal "parts," or their different emotional states, to develop strategies to break free from it. Dr. Jenner has authored numerous works on the topic and offers online therapy services to assist individuals in developing healthy relationships and achieving emotional independence.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Good article Dr Jenner.

    Those who may well be counter-dependent may be so self-aware realising they care too much, (often this is only one way) leading to codependency, and are on a knife edge consistently between the “co and Counter”…and they fear they are always too much for others, or they sense within someone that they are too stressful to deal with, and feel they simply have no choice in the matter but to abandon, …because for them its very all or nothing…and often cannot do the inbetween, like others so easily can… .so therefore they may abandon to protect others and protect themselves, despite whatever deep pain this may cause to themselves.
    If they cannot go one way, they go the other way.
    If nothing else, they feel they have saved the other person from the codependency, through their counter-dependency.

    1. Codependency and counter-dependency run on a continuum. Codependents use distancing to control the reactions of their codependent object. This usually means that codependent feelings will probably return in time. They are not really trying to save anyone but themselves.