Codependent or Simply Dependent: What’s the Big Difference?

Leon F Seltzer Ph.D.

Evolution of the Self

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.

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About S. R. Zelenz 119 Articles
S.R. Zelenz has worked in education for 20 years. Working with students from all walks of life, cultures, races, and social diversity, Zelenz’s research in Educational Leadership led to finding a better way to approach learning for students with trauma histories. Many were juvenile offenders, gang members, diagnosed with varying behavioral disorders, or had family histories of violence, murder, or narcissistic parenting. This research could not be effectively accomplished without further understanding: how epigenetic trauma inheritance may be impacting these students; how brain development from trauma may be impacting their behavioral and emotional development; as well as deep understanding of psychology and its varying classifications for behavioral and personality disorders. The goal is to find solutions for changing the conversation and making a real difference for these students. She has also worked with nonprofits of varying focus areas for the last 25 years. Her undergraduate degree in Arts Administration and Music prepared her for managing nonprofits of any size as well as procuring funding so that they can achieve their goals. Pairing her nonprofit background with her education background, she has been able to make a difference for over 200 nonprofits worldwide, written curriculum for schools across the globe, and assisted many arts organizations through performance and management.