There is great confusion regarding the terms co-dependent, counter-dependent, and dependent. Before we proceed to study the dependent personality disorder in our next article, we would do well to clarify these terms.
Like dependents (people with the Dependent Personality Disorder), codependents depend on other people for their emotional gratification and the performance of both inconsequential and crucial daily and psychological functions.
Codependents are needy, demanding, and submissive. They suffer from abandonment anxiety and, to avoid being overwhelmed by it, they cling to others and act immaturely. These behaviors are intended to elicit protective responses and to safeguard the “relationship” with their companion or mate upon whom they depend. Codependents appear to be impervious to abuse. No matter how badly mistreated, they remain committed.
This is where the “co” in “co-dependence” comes into play. By accepting the role of victims, codependents seek to control their abusers and manipulate them. It is a danse macabre in which both members of the dyad collaborate.
Typology of Codependents
Codependence is a complex, multi-faceted, and multi-dimensional defence against the codependent’s fears and needs. There are four categories of codependence, stemming from their respective aetiologies:
(i) Codependence that aims to fend of anxieties related to abandonment. These codependents are clingy, smothering, prone to panic, are plagued with ideas of reference, and display self-negating submissiveness. Their main concern is to prevent their victims (friends, spouses, family members) from deserting them or from attaining true autonomy and independence.
(ii) Codependence that is geared to cope with the codependent’s fear of losing control. By feigning helplessness and neediness such codependents coerce their environment into ceaselessly catering to their needs, wishes, and requirements. These codependents are “drama queens” and their life is a kaleidoscope of instability and chaos. They refuse to grow up and force their nearest and dearest to treat them as emotional and/or physical invalids. They deploy their self-imputed deficiencies and disabilities as weapons.
Both these types of codependents use emotional blackmail and, when necessary, threats to secure the presence and blind compliance of their “suppliers“.
(iii) Vicarious codependents live through others. They “sacrifice” themselves in order to glory in the accomplishments of their chosen targets. They subsist on reflected light, on second-hand applause, and on derivative achievements. They have no personal history, having suspended their wishes, preferences, and dreams in favour of another’s.
From my book “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited”:
Also called “covert narcissist”, this is a co-dependent who depends exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). If you are living with a narcissist, have a relationship with one, if you are married to one, if you are working with a narcissist, etc. – it does NOT mean that you are an inverted narcissist.
To “qualify” as an inverted narcissist, you must CRAVE to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on you by him/her. You must ACTIVELY seek relationships with narcissists and ONLY with narcissists, no matter what your (bitter and traumatic) past experience has been. You must feel EMPTY and UNHAPPY in relationships with ANY OTHER kind of person. Only then, and if you satisfy the other diagnostic criteria of a Dependent Personality Disorder, can you be safely labelled an ‘inverted narcissist’.”
(iv) Finally, there is another form of dependence that is so subtle that it eluded detection until very recently.
Counterdependents reject and despise authority and often clash with authority figures (parents, boss, the Law). Their sense of self-worth and their very self-identity are premised on and derived from (in other words, are dependent on) these acts of bravura and defiance. Counterdependents are fiercely independent, controlling, self-cantered, and aggressive. Many of them are antisocial and use Projective Identification (i.e. force people to behave in ways that buttresses and affirm the counterdependent’s view of the world and his expectations).
These behavior patterns are often the result of a deep-seated fear of intimacy. In an intimate relationship, the counterdependent feels enslaved, ensnared, and captive. Counterdependents are locked into “approach-avoidance repetition complex” cycles. Hesitant approach is followed by avoidance of commitment. They are “lone wolves” and bad team players.
From my book “Malignant Self Love – Narcissism Revisited”:
“Counterdependence is a reaction formation. The counterdependent dreads his own weaknesses. He seeks to overcome them by projecting an image of omnipotence, omniscience, success, self-sufficiency, and superiority.
Most “classical” (overt) narcissists are counterdependent. Their emotions and needs are buried under “scar tissue” which had formed, coalesced, and hardened during years of one form of abuse or another. Grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and overweening haughtiness usually hide gnawing insecurity and a fluctuating sense of self-worth.”
The Dependent Personality Disorder is a much disputed mental health diagnosis.
We are all dependent to some degree. We all like to be taken care of. When is this need judged to be pathological, compulsive, pervasive, and excessive? Clinicians who contributed to the study of this disorder use words such as “craving”, “clinging”, “stifling” (both the dependent and her partner), and “humiliating”, or “submissive”. But these are all subjective terms, open to disagreement and differences of opinion.
Moreover, virtually all cultures encourage dependency to varying degrees. Even in developed countries, many women, the very old, the very young, the sick, the criminal, and the mentally-handicapped are denied personal autonomy and are legally and economically dependent on others (or on the authorities). Thus, the Dependent Personality Disorder is diagnosed only when such behavior does not conform with social or cultural norms.
Codependents, as they are sometimes known, are possessed with fantastic worries and concerns and are paralyzed by their abandonment anxiety and fear of separation. This inner turmoil renders them indecisive. Even the simplest everyday decision becomes an excruciating ordeal. This is why codependents rarely initiate projects or do things on their own.
Dependents typically go around eliciting constant and repeated reassurances and advice from a myriad sources. This recurrent solicitation of succour is proof that the codependent seeks to transfer responsibility for his or her life to others, whether they have agreed to assume it or not.
This recoil and studious avoidance of challenges may give the wrong impression that the Dependent is indolent or insipid. Yet, most Dependents are neither. They are often fired by repressed ambition, energy, and imagination. It is their lack self-confidence that holds them back. They don’t trust their own abilities and judgment.
Absent an inner compass and a realistic assessment of their positive qualities on the one hand and limitations on the other hand, Dependents are forced to rely on crucial input from the outside. Realizing this, their behavior becomes self-negating: they never disagree with meaningful others or criticizes them. They are afraid to lose their support and emotional nurturance.
Consequently, as I have written in the Open Site Encyclopedia entry on this disorder:
“The codependent molds himself/herself and bends over backward to cater to the needs of his nearest and dearest and satisfy their every whim, wish, expectation, and demand. Nothing is too unpleasant or unacceptable if it serves to secure the uninterrupted presence of the codependent’s family and friends and the emotional sustenance s/he can extract (or extort) from them.
The codependent does not feel fully alive when alone. S/he feels helpless, threatened, ill-at-ease, and child-like. This acute discomfort drives the codependent to hop from one relationship to another. The sources of nurturance are interchangeable. To the codependent, being with someone, with anyone, no matter whom – is always preferable to solitude.”