Theory of Knowledge

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Signs of Counter-Dependency

I just recently asked my class of doctoral students in professional psychology, “What is counter-dependency?” and none of the six knew the answer, which is why I decided to write this blog. Read More

I don't see why counter

I don't see why counter dependency is a bad thing. Perhaps because I am. Co-dependents are annoying and suffocating. But the opposite would seem a good thing.

A bad thing?

As it is framed in the article, it is the case in my opinion that counter-dependency is less than ideal. Why? Because the central motive is one of avoidance--avoiding connection out of fear that it will fail or be ultimately damaging. Operating out of avoidance is generally a less fulfilling way of living. That said, people differ enormously on their dispositional set points for autonomously. Thus, people very high on dispositional autonomy can live very independent lives with few deep connections and report feeling quite fulfilled. The question that I have as a clinician is whether this is a truly dispositional stance or a rationalization designed to protect a fragile core. Of course, really only the person can answer that question.


Hi, Gregg. I'm currently in

Hi, Gregg. I'm currently in therapy and am a counter-dependent personality. To answer your question, it is both a dispositional stance and a realization used to protect that soft center. For instance, I will assume a disposition of aloofness to purposely avoid others, engendering it to keep others away. The more aloof and avoidant I can act--superficial or otherwise--I feel safe; it protects me. By the same token, I rationalize my behavior as such so that I can justify it to myself and use it to protect that fragile course, as you call it. There is no great mystery to avoidance; I sometimes use my disposition to intimidate others to stay away from me as a protect measure. I will keep them away at all costs, if I feel emotionally threatened, or need to protect my vulnerable side from others. Hope this helps.

Can one be simultaneously co-

Can one be simultaneously co- and counter-dependent? I find that I was raised in a co-dependent relationship with my family and while it has become easier over time to develop good friendships, ultimately I recognize these traits of counter-dependency in my relationship with myself and with potential romantic partners. I was just wondering what your opinion is on perhaps the complementary relationship co- and counter-dependency have to one another?

Expanding upon this reader's question

I have the same question, but have experienced co-/counter-dependency in the opposite direction. Due to significant childhood trauma committed by family members (siblings and a grandparent), and the simultaneously inconsistent attachment with my parents, I developed early a deep-seated mistrust of people. Throughout my life (I'm now 50), I have made various attempts to make friends and engage with groups for work or fun, without success. I am by nature extremely introverted, and tend toward isolation. Probably due to my attachment issues, I have consistently selected individuals for friendship who replicated my childhood family relationships, and, due to their dysfunctional nature, these various relationships perpetually reinforced my perception that I could not trust anyone. Thus, I have no close friends, and only a few acquaintances with whom I will share private thoughts and feelings.

On the other hand, I attach very quickly and deeply to love interests. I tend to overshare thoughts and feelings. I tend to focus intensely on the person and the development of the relationship, which makes my love interests anxious and avoidant. I've had two long-term relationships, each lasting more than 10 years, in which we were both highly co-dependent. In the past three years, I have fallen deeply in love with three people, all of whom were counter-dependent/avoidant, and who quickly and unexpectedly left me when I became too anxious and needy, wanting constant reassurance that our relationship was solid, and that they were committed.

Given that attachment theory seems to posit (maybe I'm wrong?) that a person develops a singular attachment style, why would I be highly avoidant with virtually everyone I meet, but have low avoidance/high anxiety and preoccupation with love interests? This appears to be an inconsistency in the attachment theory (or just my interpretation/understanding of it).

Dependent/Counter-Dependent Splits

In response to both questions, let me first say that based on my model social/relational motivation (called the Influence Matrix) and general model of the human mind (called 'the unified theory') the answer is ABSOLUTELY YES, it is very possible to have very conflicting self-states regarding dependency and counter-dependency. This spilt can be present in regards to a specific person. For example, some people will sometimes feel very dependent and enmeshed with someone and at different times feel smothered and seek to distance. People described as having "Borderline Personality Disorder" experience this kind of internal struggle or conflict.
It is also the case that we have different "sub-selves" with different motivational profiles. For example, a "lover" identity can be very different than a friend identity. And because humans generally seek what I call relational value/social influence, it is possible that people will radically vary their strategies. That is, if you do not pursue your dependency needs with friends, it potentially sets the stage for pursuing them in love relationships.
The bottom line is that dependency/counter-dependency represents on of the fundamental relational dilemmas we humans are faced with and behavioral patterns can emerge in a wide variety of different ways. One more point re attachment theory, I believe the last way attachment is conceptualized is rather than thinking about it as existing within a person, it really represents a dance between people. And, it is documented that kids will develop different attachment profiles/styles with different caregivers.

see other comment

I elaborate below why it does make sense for folks to be "split" in their dependency/counter-dependency profiles. Thanks for sharing.


Bad, but good

It must suck to be counter-dependent...until it saves your own life. No one else is going to care about you as much as you can care about yourself. No one. Dr. Henriques, do you disagree?

see comment above

I replied to the other comment above. Thanks for your question.


It doesn't feel like it sucks

It doesn't feel like it sucks to me. The therapist, my partner and so forth can go on all day about how I am avoidant, but at the end of the day, it doesn't bother me and I really don't have an urge to change it. I suppose my partner could leave me and I would not really like it, but it would be better than selling my soul to keep her.

I don't feel like it sucks

I don't feel like it sucks for me.

Relationship patterns

After a failed marriage to a counter-dependent, I can tell you the mental gymnastics involved in denial of their traits and insistence that all blame reside with me (the partner) is exhausting. Their avoidance to all things, that do not result in pleasure or forfillment for them is unique. Blame, shame and the need to recruit others that can substantiate their choices is very damaging. If they do not get their way, completely, they "take their toys and go home"! And I choose that childish metaphor carefully. There is no self introspection, only a facade that everything is under control. On the surface, and to most bystanders they are a professional and social success, but the pattern of intense relationships, followed by dispute then release of all these same relationships, shows itself to those that are around the counter dependent long enough to see it. I was married for 14years and only when I started to heal my own co-dependency and set healthier boundaries and demand things from her as a partner, did I then join the ranks of those that no longer served her needs, and I was ultimately "cast" aside too. She attached to another man in three months and was married again 3 months later, with no apparent emotional attachment to the previous 14 years. The "ice Queen" successfully goes through life, using everyone around her, then uncoupled when things get to demanding, she doesn't trust herself to hold up her side of any relationship. Her alcoholism is another side of this same coin.

you didn't marry a counterdependent Max

You married a narcissist. There is a difference. Counter dependents can recognize their culpabilities.

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Gregg Henriques, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at James Madison University.


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