Are You Counterdependent? Understanding the Traits of Counterdependency


Counterdependency is a psychological term that describes a person’s aversion to trust and reliance on others, feeling exposed and unhappy when depending on anybody for anything. This behavior is often linked to an avoidant attachment style, where individuals consciously avoid forming attachments or connections with others.

By refusing to rely on others, counter-dependent individuals may inadvertently isolate themselves, leading to increased feelings of loneliness and vulnerability. Mental health professionals can help individuals understand and navigate these complex emotions, guiding them toward healthier relationships and an improved sense of well-being.

Signs and Signals of Counter-Dependence

There are several signs and signals that may indicate counter-dependence in an individual:

  • Difficulty in forming close relationships: Counterdependent people tend to maintain an emotional distance from others, avoiding intimacy or deep friendships
  • Avoidance of help or support: They may have an aversion to seeking or accepting help from others, preferring instead to manage all problems independently.
  • Emphasis on self-reliance: Counterdependent individuals often pride themselves on their independence and self-sufficiency, dismissing the need for emotional or practical assistance
  • Fear of rejection or abandonment: Behind their strong facade, counterdependent people may harbor deep fears of being rejected or abandoned, leading them to push others away before they can be hurt.
  • Difficulty in expressing and processing emotions: Counterdependent individuals may struggle to express their feelings or understand the emotions of others, further complicating their relationships.
  • A clear pattern of pushing people away in intimate relationships as well as more casual social ones

Dependent Versus Counterdependent

It’s not difficult to distinguish between dependent and counter-dependent individuals when understanding these behaviors. Dependent people tend to rely heavily on others for various emotional or practical needs.

They may seek constant reassurance and approval, often at the expense of their own identity and autonomy. You may be familiar with the term ‘co-dependent’: a co-dependent person is someone in a relationship who is needy and clingy, and whose life revolves around the person they love.

In contrast, counter-dependent individuals strive to prove their independence and self-sufficiency, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. They may resist forming authentic connections or asking for help, even when faced with genuine difficulties.

Both dependency and counter-dependency can be detrimental to one’s emotional well-being and relationships. The balance between connection and self-reliance is important in leading a healthy, fulfilling life.

Origins of Counterdependency

Counterdependency has its roots in the age-appropriate negativism of two-year-olds and teens, where it serves the temporary objective of removing one from parental figuress. The two-year-old “says ‘no’ with splendid authority to almost any question addressed to him…as if he establishes his independence, his separateness from his mother, by being opposite,” as the author Selma Fraiberg phrased it.

If the mother is unable to recognize the child’s need for active distancing, the child may be locked in the counterdependent phase of development as a result of developmental trauma.

Similarly, the teenager must be able to establish the fact of their separate mind to their parents, even if only through a sustained state of cold rejection; and, once again, unresolved adolescent issues can lead to mechanical counterdependence and unruly assertiveness later in life.

Family Dynamics and Structure

Family dynamics and structure also play a crucial role in the emergence of counterdependency. Families with rigid rules, structure, and a pervasive sense of control can create an environment where children feel the need to assert their autonomy in an extreme manner.

Conversely, situations of abuse or lack of proper family ties may also contribute to the development of counterdependency. In cases where children are forced to fend for themselves or protect themselves from harm, they learn to rely solely on themselves, pushing away any potential support from others.

Impacts of Counterdependency

Counterdependency can have a significant effect on individuals and their ability to form strong connections in relationships. People who exhibit counterdependent traits may find it challenging to engage in close relationships, often displaying a fear of intimacy.

Janae and Barry Weinhold, authors most known for their writings on codependency, have lately written on counter-dependency. They describe it as a “flight from intimacy.”

This fear may cause individuals to avoid or sabotage healthy relationships unconsciously. As a result, their romantic relationships and marriages might lack emotional depth, causing communication problems and frequent fights.

In addition, counterdependent persons may also find it hard to express love, leaving their partners feeling disconnected or emotionally unsatisfied. The cycle of distancing perpetuates, further weakening the emotional bond in these relationships.

Emotional Connection and Trust

A common result of counterdependency is the difficulty to establish an emotional connection with others. This can affect all aspects of their life, from personal relationships to work associations.

They may appear cold, distant, and unable to engage in emotionally charged conversations, leading to misunderstandings and mistrust among their peers.

Moreover, trust is a crucial component of interpersonal relationships. Counter-dependent individuals often struggle with trusting others, partly due to their fierce desire for independence and inability to express vulnerability. This lack of trust creates isolation, as the person appears unwilling to depend on others, even in appropriate circumstances.

Self-Esteem Issues

Low self-esteem is frequently associated with counterdependency. Due to their constant attempts to prove their independence, these individuals may experience a constant inner struggle, trying to maintain a sense of self-worth.

They often grapple with feelings of incompetence or unworthiness, which can further perpetuate their tendency to avoid emotional attachment and support from others.

Addressing Counter-dependency

Having some degree of dependency is beneficial in any healthy family, workplace, or relationship. An appropriate level of reliance entails having confidence in receiving the help you require when sharing a problem, knowing you can count on others to support you, while having pride and assurance in one’s life, profession, or romantic partnership.

A skilled therapist can help individuals find the right balance, identify the root causes of their counter-dependence and develop coping strategies to overcome it. This may include exploring childhood traumas, addressing any fears associated with vulnerability and intimacy, and building trust in oneself and others.

Another important aspect of addressing counterdependency involves moving from an avoidance mindset to an approach mindset. People with counter-dependent tendencies often have a flight from intimacy, fearing vulnerability and dependency in relationships. A healthy individual does not require human companionship on a constant basis or avoid it at all times. Instead, they embrace the concept known as interdependence.

By adopting an approach mindset, individuals can acknowledge these fears without allowing them to dictate their actions. This involves cultivating a willingness to face emotions, experiences, and challenges head-on rather than resorting to avoidance or escape. In this process, it’s key to recognize the need for a balance between independence and dependence.

  1. Fraiberg, Selma H. The Magic Years: Understanding and Handling the Problems of Early Childhood. Scribner; (1996) ISBN: 978-0684825502
  2. Gordan, Robert M. I Love You Madly!: On Passion, Personality and Personal Growth. CreateSpace (Jan. 1 2008) ISBN:  978-1419623547
  3. Stewart, William. An A-Z of Counselling Theory And Practice. Nelson Thornes; 4th edition (July 1 2005) ISBN: 978-0748795925
  4. Weinhold, Janae B.  and Weinhold, Barry K. The Flight from Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship of Counter-dependence – The Other Side of Co-dependency. New World Library (2008) ISBN:  978-1577316053

Last Updated on April 5, 2024