Say it loud and proud, “COUNTER-DEPENDENT!” That is how I am feeling right now. It began a couple of months ago when someone insinuated I should work toward eliminating my counter dependent issues. The person happened to be a fellow therapist and counter dependent. Recently my feeling was reinforced when I introduced myself during a group therapy session. Family Tree therapists who facilitate groups also participate, which includes introducing themselves along with their issues when a new person attends. Introductions often include the verbiage “recovering counter dependent or codependent”. I identified myself as a counter dependent, intentionally not in recovery. There were a few surprised looks and the comment from my co-facilitator “Really?” Yes, I am a proud and happy counter dependent.
Now, I do realize counter dependency in the purest form is the extreme opposite of codependency and equally unhealthy. The counter is grandiose, the co is insecure. The counter is independent to the point of emotional cutoff and the co is needy. Counter indicates obliviousness and control. Codependency offers an apparent other-centered and passive stance. Both are commonly considered to be the result of early attachment issues and a lack of appropriate detachment during either toddler or adolescent years. They are also viewed as opposite reactions to childhood abuse.
Envision a continuum with codependency on the far left and counter dependency on the right. The previously mentioned traits would exist on the ends. Far right would be grandiosity, emotional cutoff, obliviousness, and control. Moving toward the center the characteristics change. Grandiosity becomes confidence. Emotional cutoff and isolation can morph into healthy independence and relational interdependence. Relational obliviousness may re-manifest as resistance to obstacles and limitations. Finally, controlling behavior may become well-managed protective instincts. These healthy changes are achieved when the extreme counter dependent is ready to do the recovery work in therapy. It is work well worth the effort.
I spent the majority of my younger years as an extreme codependent for all the reasons mentioned earlier. My codependence left me insecure, needy, fearfully passive, and always in search of approval. Codependents sometimes see the characteristics of counter dependency as a way out of their issues and subsequently move to the other end of the continuum. My change was prompted by a traumatic emotional experience when I was 16. Also the case with codependence and counter dependence, is the possibility of being something different in certain relationships. Those relationships can be with a lover, friend, parent or child. After my change, I continued to behave as codependent in most existing relationships but became primarily counter dependent as an individual. As time went on I became fierce in my independence (emotional cutoff) and need to control. This lasted for several years, but never felt quite right. Eventually and with help, my counter dependence was tempered and I found myself in a healthier place, closer to the middle of the continuum. Finally, I had discovered my real self and my healthy comfort zone.
Reinforcing the importance of not becoming complacent, it should be explained I have not remained steadfast in this healthy place. Not too long ago I returned to my codependence in a close relationship. Paradoxically, the friendship was with someone who was naturally an extreme codependent but took on the counter dependent role with me. Needless to say the relationship blew up when I became reactive and attempted to take my rightful place as counter dependent. As a person, I cringe at the pain caused to all. As a therapist, I look back with interest and make use what was learned. It is essential that therapists and clients alike understand and acknowledge that recovery and healing are a journey, not an event. On this journey there is movement forward and back and forward again.
All this being said, it seems there is another glaring paradox which you may have noticed. It seems my pride makes the assumption I am resting slightly to the right of the healthy middle. It does not take into account the occasional journey to both excessive counter and codependence. So, while I am happy in my place of temperate counter dependence….it seems I must admit to being in recovery from both extremes of the continuum. As a counter, this is difficult to admit. As a recovering…it feels great.
It is my blessing and honor to work with clients to find their healthy place on the continuum of life.
Mark Smith, Director of Family Tree Counseling Associates, has done extensive work and research on abandonment issues. Learn more about his book at Managing Abandonment Issues Through Recovery