We’ve likely all heard about codependency and how becoming overly reliant on another person can leave you vulnerable to repeating cycles of behavior. But what about counterdependency?
Here we discover what counterdependency means, the impact it can have on your life, and signs that indicate you might be counterdependent.
What Is Counterdependency and Why Is It Unhealthy?
By and large, in any healthy family, workplace, or relationship, having some dependency level is positive.
A reasonable degree of dependency means:
- Relying on people to have your back.
- Being able to share a problem and trust that you’ll get the help you need.
- Contentment and confidence in your life, career, or relationship, knowing that you can share responsibilities.
Being counterdependent is quite the opposite, and something in stark contrast to codependency, but just as potentially damaging.
Therefore, the definition of counterdependency is the refusal of attachment, intimacy, and any kind of reliance on other people.
People who are counterdependent are adverse to trust. They shy away from intimacy or friendships and feel exposed and unhappy when relying on anybody for anything.
This can be described as ‘avoidant attachment‘ – i.e., making concerted efforts never to be attached to anything at all.
Often, counterdependency is a personality trait arising from childhood trauma or being forced to become independent at far too young an age, leaving a person highly resistant to feeling reliant on other people, often to extremes.
What Is the Difference Between Autonomy and Counterdependency?
Of course, sometimes, being self-sufficient and not needing to depend on anybody else is a great thing!
Everybody wants to have their own level of autonomy to make decisions, manage situations, and carve out their life path.
However, autonomy is about recognizing your confidence and self-reliance, but having no resistance to seeking support when you need it.
Some of the impacts of being counterdependent include:
- Being unable to form relationships or open up to people.
- Struggling with extreme self-criticism, anxiety, and distrust.
- Finding it impossible to relax, let go, or wind down.
- Feeling lonely and sad but being unable to vocalize those emotions.
- Experiencing shame and embarrassment if you ever need help.
The happy medium is best described as inter-dependence; i.e., you are content in yourself, can make decisions on your own, and aren’t controlled by anybody else’s behaviors.
However, you can form sustainable relationships, and are not afraid to be vulnerable or rely on others when the need arises.
Ten Signs You Might Be Counterdependent
Do you recognize any of these descriptions, and think that perhaps you might be counterdependent?
Here are some of the key signs to be mindful of:
- You are reluctant to enter into a relationship and resist close friendships since you fear that you will lose your sense of self if you let somebody into your life.
- You tend to be extremely independent, even in situations where it isn’t called for, and refuse to ask for support even when you are in dire need of help.
- You think that asking for help is shameful, embarrassing and a sign of weakness – and will avoid ever doing so at all costs.
- You keep your emotions very close to your chest and feel anxiety about letting anybody come into your life who might see through your armor.
- You push people away, even if you like them because it is better to be alone than to feel exposed and vulnerable by having intimate relationships.
- You care more about success and achieving fixed goals than about being happy. You might work excessive hours, pour your energy into your career, or find jobs to do that make sure you can avoid any social interactions.
- You are impatient, goal-driven, and find other people frustrating. If you have to deal with people in a team, you quickly become angry and outspoken and prefer to do all of the work by yourself.
- You are severely self-critical and will spend a lot of time and effort on your appearance and your work presentation. You steer well clear of relaxing or communicating about anything emotional.
- You blame others when things go wrong and expect other people to be less capable, less competent, and less trustworthy than yourself.
- You have always been independent, and so expect it always to be that way. The thought of relying on somebody else fills you with dread.
Some of these traits are quite normal in moderation. From time to time, we can feel like it would be easier to finish a job independently, particularly when working with less experienced people.
However, there is great value in sharing your skills, knowledge, and passion.
It can be a healthy learning curve for everybody to have the confidence to take a step back and understand that you don’t have to shoulder the responsibility 100% of the time.
How to Work on Resolving Counterdependency
For most counterdependent people, this isn’t a sudden change or personality trait; it is a defense mechanism that can be isolating and debilitating.
If you feel like any of these statements apply to you, it is essential to seek help to avoid the risk of harming your relationships and the potential for happiness.
This might be something you can try to work on yourself, or a professional therapist may be best placed to help you.
The key is to try and identify why you have become counterdependent and to gradually make small steps to untangling your knots of anxiety and self-criticism to be able to breathe a little easier.
Other people can – and will – help if only you can let them.
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