So much is known and widely discussed when it comes to co-dependency in popular culture, but very little light gets shed on its evil twin, counter-dependency. While co-dependents are weak, needy, and clingy, centering their behavior on what others do, think, and want, counter-dependents are on the flipside of this. Counter-dependency is when someone projects self-confidence, success, and power on the outside, but on the inside they are unsure of themselves, suffering from a poor self-image and low self-esteem. Their picture-perfect exterior hides an inner persona that is needy, scared, and lacking. Counter-dependents take every possible measure to ensure that they are not dependent on others for anything. They tend to accomplish this with passive-aggressive behavior and/or rebelling against authority figures. Counter-dependents can often be quite disruptive and defiant, masking an underlying sense of loneliness and alienation. Counter-dependents are generally high-achievers in the professional, scholastic or athletic arenas, but failures in their personal relationships. Counter-dependency can frequently be linked to love avoidance, intimacy anorexia, and approach-avoidance conflicts, all conditions in which the person fears intimacy. Counter-dependents generally take every measure to protect their hidden vulnerabilities from being exposed. It is important to counter-dependents that others see them as successful, independent, and self-contained. For this reason, counter-dependents often battle perfectionism on some level. Sadly, the results of counter-dependency are very real, as they cause those suffering from the condition to push away the love, intimacy and support they so desperately crave.
Counter-Dependent vs. Co-Dependent
When comparing these two behaviors side-by-side, you can clearly see the marked contrast between them.
|Shuts out others, puts up walls||Clingy|
|Focus on self||Focus on others|
|Projects strength and power||Projects vulnerability and weakness|
|Controls people||Pleases people|
|Exaggerated self-image||Low self-esteem|
|Know-it-all||Plays dumb and remains ignorant|
|“Addicted” to hobbies, work, partying, etc.||“Addicted” to relationships and people|
|Blocks out others||Quickly gets consumed by others|
|Starts arguments with intimate partners when things get too intimate||Starts arguments with intimate partners when things are not intimate enough|
|Is never to blame, victimizes||Is always to blame, a victim|
|Pushes aside their feelings||“Stuck” in their constant torrent of feelings|
What Causes Counter-Dependency?
Counter-dependency is generally a result of abusive behavior during childhood. More specifically, experts believe that counter-dependency results from a lack of bonding in early childhood. In the first 2-3 years of life, it can be very damaging for a child not to feel protected, loved and trusting toward his or her caregivers. It is during this time that a basic trust in humanity and the world is established—a child either learns that the world is or isn’t a safe place. For this bonding to occur, there must be hugs, nurturing, physical closeness, reassurance, and all the things that love includes.
How to Heal Counter-Dependency?
To experience true intimacy, a counter-dependent has to put down his or her protective walls. First, let’s examine what exactly intimacy is: a tight-knit, familiar relationship that is typically romantic or loving in nature. Intimacy means letting your guard down, sharing your deepest feelings, letting someone else into your inner world, and saying (and showing), “I love you.” Talking about their childhood experiences with a friend or counselor can be a good starting point for a counter-dependent. However, for a counter-dependent to heal, often intimacy needs to be redefined. As the counter-dependent and his or her involved co-dependent progress in their relationship, they will struggle over what is the acceptable level of intimacy. These fights can actually lead to healing for both people, especially if they have an understanding that they are suffering from dependency issues. Because true intimacy is based on authentically sharing yourself with your partner, healing requires looking honestly at oneself, getting to know who you truly are deep down. Loving yourself is another huge component; it can be the key to escaping the dependent relationship cycle. If you’re not depending on the other for love but primarily getting it from yourself, then you will truly be free and capable of coming to a relationship for sharing your lives instead of fulfilling each other’s needs.