The media and TV often celebrate people who are “strong”. Especially in the western world, strength is indicative of the ability to get things done, have a mindset of ambition, determination and healthy autonomy. The traits mentioned here are positive but could it be that something lurks under the surface that could be less than positive? Some people who display some of these characteristics may struggle in many areas of their lives. They wear a “mask” and project a functional personality to all around them and they could well be counter-dependent, defined as the “refusal of attachment” due to the inability to truly trust and the deep fear of intimate connection. Counter-dependency is the natural “other half” of codependency and can co-exist with codependency within the same person at different times and in different relationships. However, many people mistake counter-dependency for independence or healthy autonomy when in reality it is just as unhealthy as codependency. The main difference between counter-dependency and a healthy sense of self is the existence of an “avoidant mindset” in counter-dependent thinking, fearing the consequences of attachment and possible dependence.
Counter-dependency is the denial of attachment and connection with the thought that the counter-dependent has the “strength” to cope without being needy or attached, without the constraints of a “limiting” relationship. Counter-dependents have an inability to trust enough to enjoy an intimate relationship and have a fear and dread of dependency. This leaves them unable to have committed and authentic relationships and they tend to be defined by a social circle of circumstantial, superficial friends and short term romantic relationships. They often end these once they start to feel attached. The irony is that they are usually very social active people, the centre of attention but feel lonely and isolated even in a group. They often become dependent on people but for just a limited time until the relationship starts to move to a different level. Counter-dependency in relationships is often defined as follows:
- Only intimate to a point where it then becomes uncomfortable
- Often feel trapped and push people away, exhibiting a general sense of coldness
- Fear of abandonment so abandon first
- Can wear different “masks” for different people (to avoid revealing real self)
- Anxiety and fear when things get too deep
- Will concentrate on sexual side to avoid tenderness
- Are mostly always “too busy” to engage in intimacy
- Will be attracted to people they “know” they will not fall in love with
- 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”
- Will not seek help from others
In terms of characteristics, 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”. Sometimes, codependents will “rebel” against type after a number of bad experiences in relationship and turn avoidant.
Counter-dependency, like codependency has its roots in unhealed childhood trauma. It might be the case that something happened that suggested to the child that a parent could not be trusted or it is too dangerous to rely on them. This is often the case where divorce happens, a parent dies or leaves or in cases of neglect and abuse. When parents are either physically or emotionally unavailable for a child, they might develop an anxious or avoidant attachment style which fosters independence far too early in a child’s life, meaning that the child will suppress feelings of upset and the need for comfort and will actively avoid connection with the “dangerous” parent. This refusal of attachment translates into adulthood as a lack of trust and a belief that no-one will be truly there. It fosters a belief that one “must take care of oneself”.