“I am a co-dependent. There is no way I am like those
counter-dependents. I cling to people in relationships;
I don't push them away.”
It is possible to be both a co-dependent and a counter-dependent at the same time. Each person has their “preferred” way of relating, but there are times when what is going on at an unconscious level may tell a very different story.
Co-dependency and counter-dependency work together in your mind to protect you from harm. In a relationship, they work to create a safe space where no one will get hurt.
It Is Better To Be Alone
Let’s take the example of Laurin. She looks like a typical counter-dependent. She is distant and thinks that it does not bother her to be alone. She finds her own company very interesting and entertaining. She is successful and self-confident. She has lots of friends and is very well liked.
She is an executive for a large company and needs to travel for her job. It is one of the aspects of her job that she likes the best. She enjoys the peace and quiet of the hotel rooms and the long hours alone. She does not miss her husband and friends when she is away.
When Laurin first came to see me, although she was married, she believed she would do better single. When she tried to relate to her husband she felt that he was displeased with her. She felt all she did was make her husband mad at her. She found her marriage confusing and painful.
Co-dependent or Counter-dependent?
After she entered therapy, her husband gave her an ultimatum: if she did not change or he was out of the marriage. She chose to go to therapy rather than take her freedom and run. It appears that how she lives on a conscious level did not agree with what was going on in her unconscious mind. When given a choice to be single she did not take it. Instead she chose to face painful feelings. That does not sound like the behavior of a counter-dependent.
What is inside of Laurin?
On the inside, we find Laurin has a very different story. She wants to be loved and makes a lot of misguided attempts to please her husband. She works long hours so that they can have extra things, nice vacations and security. On all special occasions, she buys expensive gifts and tries to do special things for her husband.
Somehow she never quite hits the mark. Her husband likes the gifts but feels something is missing. It feels to him that the gifts are what she wants to give him rather than something he wants. He has a feeling of emptiness, and always wonders, “Where is Laurin?”
This leaves Laurin always feeling hurt and pushed away. It reinforces the feeling of not being good enough and that love is dangerous. All she gets in return for her efforts are pain and disappointment.
Laurin finds conflict unbearable. She would rather say yes to what her husband asks of her because saying no will cause her husband to be angry with her. She gives far too much and is left with the feeling of not being noticed and like no one cares about what she wants and needs. Internally, she clings to the relationship and will do anything rather than displease her husband.
What about Laurin’s husband? On the outside he is the perfect co-dependent. He clings to her. Asking when she will be home. He is afraid that she does not care about him and tolerates her irritable behavior. He waits at home by the phone for her calls.
How does he look inside? He is as afraid of abandonment as he is of closeness. He and Laurin are equally afraid of love and real feelings. Love means being hurt and abandoned. Although, it looks like he is doing everything he can to get close, all his behaviors are designed to push her away and keep her close, without letting her be too close.
Clinging While Making Distance
Just because someone wants to cling, it does not mean they want closeness and intimacy. It means they do not want to be alone. They are kept in a constant state of pain and confusion, yet the other person is never out of their mind. They hold the other close by obsession, not by knowing them and being known. What they see in the other is a reflection of their own needs and wants.
It is true that co-dependents show their feelings on the outside; the question is what feelings? They show the feelings they know and the feelings they find acceptable, but do these feelings match their internal experience. There is a lot of feeling substitution (replacing a real feeling with an acceptable feeling) happening. Is this a way to avoid knowing their true feelings? Probably
As you can see, co-dependency and counter-dependency work together inside to keep the dance going and the distance steady: not too close and not too far. This is the distance inside of you as well as the distance with others. The unconscious belief is that the way to protect and keep yourself safe is to not know yourself and your feelings. It is difficult to know who you are and what you want and need when you are always in the midst of this kind of dance: clinging and chasing, hiding and dodging.