Due to their lack of self-esteem and the inability to self-care, codependents become enmeshed with others easily. They work on the idea that all the while they are like this, they do not have to face their own acute issues. They seek their validation from outside and react badly when this is not forthcoming in terms of “return” for their sacrifice. This could be in the form of the “drama triangle“, a concept that plagues the behaviour of codependents. This states that codependents try to fix, become angry when it doesn’t work and then rely on victimhood and distance to force return, starting the cycle again. In my experience, this can potentially happen as much as several times an hour, day or week. As these “tactics” are used on people who are mostly emotionally distant, the endless quest for connection continues.
However, sometimes when codependents have had “enough” bad experience, they might develop a fear of relationships and intimacy which will drive them to the extreme of counter-dependency and emotional distancing. I have observed this many times when dealing with codependents and they often see counter-dependency as the antidote to their issues. I have seen people move across the globe to escape their feelings of codependency. In these cases, they have physically detached but stay emotionally locked in the relationship. They often define themselves further with short, superficial relationships that last a few months and are often based on sex.
They are, however, still dependent on others for validation. They just don’t allow themselves to become involved beyond a certain level for their own protection. They are not independent and setting healthy boundaries or taking the time to develop a relationship. They are working with fear and this fear keeps them away from closeness and intimacy. It is, of course a reaction to the many disappointments they have suffered after giving all to people who have generally taken advantage. It is the ultimate in avoidance behaviour and people afflicted have decided not to feel so they can protect themselves from hurt and pain.
However, the problem is that they end up believing their own lies. They don’t think they have a problem. In fact, they often believe the opposite: they think they’re better than everybody else. It’s a compensation mechanism they rely on to be able to deal with their own vulnerability. At the same time, they tend to be quite hard on themselves and harshly judge their own mistakes. Many counter-dependents will end up alone and isolated when the fear of closeness grips them. For someone who was once a codependent and defined themselves with enmeshment, this can have a devastating effect. Any relationships they do have are usually highly conflictual and toxic. Given the right conditions, a flight back into codependency is also possible.
The following list shows the difference in characteristics of co and counter-dependency.
Co-dependent Behaviours: Clings to others; acts weak and vulnerable; is overwhelmed by feelings; is other-centred; is addicted to people; is easily invaded by others; has low self-esteem; acts as incompetent (learned helplessness); has depressed energy; feels guilty; craves intimacy and closeness; acts self-effacing; has victim behaviours; is a people pleaser; suffered child neglect.
Counter-dependent Behaviours: Pushes others away; acts strong and invulnerable; is cut off from feelings; is self-centred; is addicted to activities or substances; is armoured against others getting close; has a false inflated ego; has to look good all the time; has manic energy; acts strong; blames others; avoids intimacy and closeness; acts grandiose; will victimise others first when able; is a people controller; suffered child abuse.
I firmly believe that the above traits can co-exist in the same person and will manifest themselves as a reaction to relationships and the environment around them. As with codependency, professional help is probably needed to heal the wounds of childhood inflicted by neglect and abuse.