We live in a culture that idealizes independence to the extreme. Movie heroes, for example, are never dependent on others. And heaven forbid they should venture into codependency. This highly independent stereotype is even more idealized for men. But, here’s the deal: Art does not always imitate life. Human interactions are far more complex than anything you see from a two-dimensional fictional character.
Independence has its value. Some people think codependence has been overly demonized. Interdependence may be the ideal compromise. Sometimes, the lines get blurred and it can feel useful to dip your toe in each pool. So, let’s take a closer look at such dynamics with a specific eye on interdependence.
What is Codependency?
To some degree, no one can be truly independent. Therefore, we develop different degrees of dependence from situation to situation. Codependency is a term used to describe when we go too far and rely on others for our perception of self-worth. Here are some common signs that you may be codependent:
- You formulate opinions and choose behaviors on input coming from the outside.
- External praise is your compass.
- Your self-worth is founded on the approval of someone else
- You don’t feel like you have an inner voice guiding you.
- Personal needs are sacrificed in the name of focusing on or “fixing” others — particularly a romantic partner.
- You suppress emotions and self-awareness is limited, at best.
- Your relationships are punctuated with conflict, poor boundaries, and control issues.
Is All Codependency Bad?
After reading the bulleted items above, you’d probably assume the answer is a conclusive yes. But another line of thinking exists. Since humans require and are hard-wired to be dependent, codependency is just one version of that inherent bond. There is something important about acknowledging our need to connect but empirical evidence shows codependency to be dysfunctional. Perhaps the healthiest way to honor our humanness is to embrace interdependence.
What is Interdependency?
Let’s start by saying there can be a thin line between interdependency and codependency. Both require partners to be intertwined but interdependency is a term used to denote a healthy blend of dependence and independence. Individuals exist as individuals within a relationship. They stay bonded without losing their own identity.
Like all relationships, there is some sacrifice and compromise but it is done openly and fairly. Codependency, as currently defined, requires at least one partner to surrender some or most of their autonomy. An interdependent relationship is:
- Feels safe
- Built on mutual trust and respect
- Encouraging your growth and evolution
- Healthy communication
- Based on wanting each other more than needing each other
Steps to Heal From Codependency
It begins with taking a huge step. You must actively invest in yourself, e.g.
- Break old habits
- Explore your interests and discover what excites you outside of activities with others
- Find a healthy balance between alone time and social time
- Try new hobbies and start new projects
- Dedicate time and energy toward prioritizing yourself
While you reimagine your own life, you can still be a kind person who is willing to help others. The key is to avoid the trap of trying to “fix” everyone. You can be incredibly supportive simply by holding space to listen to people in need. Quite often, what they want is a compassionate ear more than a solution.
What If You’re Not Sure Where You Are on This Spectrum?
To repeat, there can be some very fine distinctions between the above concepts. It’s not unusual to miss red flags or not appreciate what you’ve got. A great way to explore the dynamics of your attachment style is through therapy. Therapy can help you get clarity around the boundaries that work best for you in relationships and move your relationships in that direction. I’ve helped clients work on these issues in their romantic and familial relationships. If you have questions or would like help with this please contact me.
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