Codependency, Love Addiction and Counter-Dependency

Posted by Frank Gillespie MA

What is codependency?

Codependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a mutually satisfying, healthy relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive relationships. Robert Subby summarizes the definition of codependency the best: “Codependency is an emotional, behavioral, and psychological pattern of coping which develops as a result of prolonged exposure to and practice of a dysfunctional set of family rules. In turn, these rules make difficult or impossible the open expression of thoughts and feelings. Normal identity development is thereby interrupted; codependency is the reflection of a delayed identity development.”

What causes codependency?

Codependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members or people of influence who display this type of behavior. It can affect a parent, spouse, child, co-worker who has grown up in some form of dysfunction. This could be from the affects of abuse, addiction, separation or divorce. Even people who have grown up in a relatively stable environment can be affected by parents overworking or not spending time generally with children.

What are the types of codependency?

There are generally thought to be three types of codependents:

    1. Caretakers: relate to others primarily through roles that put them in a position of the giver, helper, supporter, nurturer, etc. “Everyone’s needs are more important than my own.”


    1. Romance/relationship addiction: must be in a “relationship” and be “special” to someone in order to be OK with oneself; may use caretaking and sexuality to gain approval/acceptance; goes from relationship to relationship. “You’re no one unless someone loves you.”


    1. Messiah complex: savior of the family, church, world; over-responsible, doesn’t ask for help, tries to make self indispensable. “If I don’t do it. it won’t get done.


What are the symptoms of codependency?

The general symptoms of codependency include:

    • External-reference on other person or people.


    • Trying to control behavior of others through approval-seeking and people-pleasing behavior.


    • Experiencing intimacy by discounting own feelings, and empathizing with feelings of others.


    • Loss of healthy boundaries, generally resulting from doing things for others that violate one’s values, and from accepting unacceptable behavior from others.


    • Frozen feelings, numbness with regard to one’s own feelings. Depression may also result from repressed anger.


    • Low self-esteem. Self is valued according to others’ opinions. Uses martyr, victim, and messiah role to bolster self-esteem.


    • Generalized anxiety, related to lack of control of one’s life.


    • Mental preoccupation. Racing thoughts, inability to enjoy mental silence and serenity.


    • Lack of assertiveness: inability to ask directly for one’s true needs. Inability to confront unhealthy behavior in others.


    • Narcissism. In the absence of healthy, legitimate boundaries, others are seen as for or against self.


Overcoming codependency

As co-dependency has a lot of aspects, there are many forms of treatment which can help to deal with codependency issues. In counseling, a therapist would work on the loss of Self, setting healthy boundaries, assertiveness training and tools to increase self-esteem. Some would even see family therapy as relevant and for those who have sought solace in an addiction of some sort, work on this. In order to make healthy changes for yourself, one must be ready to take action against his/her current behaviors. In addition, the person will need a strong support system in which many different people, well-read on codependency, make themselves available as points of contact to the codependent person. Long-term remediation and recovery from codependency requires the identification of dysfunctional coping strategies that have persisted from childhood, as well as the recognition and acceptance of healthier choices. Left untreated, co-dependency can ruin relationships. There is a danger that when things do come to a head or as another form of coping, counter-dependency can result. In a relationship, there is often one co-dependent and one counter dependent person. Counter-dependency is the opposite side of the coin. Symptoms include emotional aloofness, inflated sense of self-esteem, blaming of others, is a people controller and victimizes before being victimized. Sufferers tend to have been abused as children where co-dependency is usually a result of neglect. Many co-dependents in their need to please see the symptoms of counter-dependency as a potential cure for them and many couples reverse these roles in the life of a relationship.

Frank Gillespie MA

Frank Gillespie has a Master's Degree in Counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia. He is a nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He has provided therapy for over 23 years. During his career, he has helped more than 10,000 people move past their obstacles towards reaching their potential and fulfillment in their lives. He practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a warm and nurturing approach. In addition to being a therapist, Frank has been an adjunct college professor teaching social work, a clinical consultant, a clinical director, and a seminar speaker. Frank has recently retired from his full time practice to focus on a part time online practice. He is married. He enjoys listening to music, watching sports, power walking, swimming, reading and writing.


- Dating - Relationships - Anxiety - Addictions - Anger Management - Bipolar Disorder - Codependency - Depression - Domestic Abuse - Self Esteem - Behavioral Issues - Coping - Divorce - Grief
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