The psychological concept of codependence abounds with paradox.
Posted Dec 11, 2014
Being codependent is hardly the same thing as simply being dependent. And in some ways, it’s crucial that these two types of dependency be recognized as distinct (as too often hasn’t been the case). Not that codependent individuals aren’t dependent on others. But, paradoxically, they’re primarily dependent on the other person’s dependence on them. So what’s the peculiar dynamic operating in such relationships? For—as this post will illustrate—it’s not very healthy for either party.
It’s also important to distinguish codependent relationships from interdependent ones. For as defined psychologically, codependence is clearly maladaptive and dysfunctional. It may have a certain mutuality to it, but it’s negatively symbiotic in a way interdependency is not. Having dependency needs isn’t by itself unhealthy. We all have them. In an interdependent relationship, however, each party is able to comfortably rely on the other for help, understanding, and support. It’s a “value-added” kind of thing. The relationship contributes to both individuals’ resilience, resourcefulness, and inner strength. All the same, each party remains self-sufficient and self-determining. They maintain a clear identity apart from the relationship and are quite able to stand on their own two feet.
On the contrary, a codependent union is one where both parties are over-dependent on each other. It’s a relationship in which the two individuals lean so heavily on one another that both of them are left “off-balance.” In their desperately trying to get core dependency needs met, their true identities are distorted, and their development and potential—personally, socially, and professionally—is stifled. The relationship is reciprocal only in that it enables both of them to avoid confronting their worst fears and self-doubts. As opposed to healthy dependency (defined here as interdependence), the codependent individual in such a relationship needs to be needed if they’re to feel okay about themselves. They simply can’t feel this way unless they’re giving themselves up, or “sacrificing,” themselves, for their partner. Sadly, without being depended upon (sometimes, virtually as a lifeline), they feel alone, inadequate, insecure, and unworthy.
Let’s now delve deeper into the anxieties—and secret shame—of those who suffer from this malaise.