In my last post, I wrote about the characteristics of counter-dependency and how this is defined by projection of a “strong” personality that hides the fear of true intimacy and commitment. Many people who identify as counter-dependent see themselves as exhibiting healthy autonomy and this is often the impression they give to others. However, there is a big difference in the two concepts. Counter-dependency is still codependent behaviour. They just fear dependency on others which drives them to engaging in short, superficial relationships which end when they sense “neediness” and connection from the other side. As with codependency, its roots lie in childhood trauma or an escape from codependency. Many codependents who have had bad experience (especially with narcissists), see counter-dependency as a natural antidote to their codependent behaviour. The emotional distancing associated with counter-dependency seems a welcome change from enmeshment for a while.
In my work with codependents, I often come across a question that crops up from time to time. Many claim to not know what a healthy relationship looks like and would like me to tell them what it looks like. Of course, that would be a healthy relationship view through my eyes. However, there are some general rules that define the difference between counter-dependency and interdependency that might give us a clue.
We must first state that for anyone to practice interdependency they must first be independent. That means having a healthy sense of individual autonomy. That is a good sense of personal ambition, self-acceptance and indeed self-love. I once heard it described as being the “author of your own life, free of emotional entrapment from an outside source”. The issue with most relationships is that we are not independent when we start or are in a relationship. We are either dependent, codependent or counter-dependent. Sometimes worse in the case of narcissism. We mistake enmeshment with love and feel guilty when we take time for ourselves.
Once independence is established, (I accept this might take work, sometimes lots of it), it is the perfect platform for interdependence in a relationship, ideally with another independent person. Interdependent relationships contain the following elements and truly define a “healthy” relationship.
- A healthy sense of self based on a value system that is maintained when in a relationship.
- Recognition of the emotional bond that is shared and the value of vulnerability.
- Actively seeking out opportunities to create emotional intimacy and honesty without their value system being compromised.
- Sense of being “healthy self” and “who they really are”.
- Healthy boundaries, clear communication and active listening.
- Create a safe place to allow vulnerability and emotional connection.
- The taking of personal responsibility for behaviour
- Healthy self-esteem exists on an individual basis
- The couple do not feel threatened when individual interests are pursued.
One of the key elements of this process is that the couple allows the above to happen while maintaining the same for each individual. As Stephen Covey classically wrote:
“Interdependence is a far more mature, more advanced concept. If I am physically interdependent, I am self-reliant and capable, but I also realise that you and I working together can accomplish far more than, even at my best, I could accomplish alone. If I am emotionally interdependent, I derive a great sense of worth within myself, but I also recognise the need for love, for giving, and for receiving love from others. If I am intellectually interdependent, I realise that I need the best thinking of other people to join with my own.”
― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change