In terms of dependency, adult relationships generally follow our parental relationships. As infants we are totally dependent on Mom for nourishment and cleanliness (grooming) and other behaviors of love. As we start to walk, we become co-dependent with Mom and Dad. When we begin to talk, we become counter dependent: a.k.a. “the terrible twos.” When allowed to go through this, within boundaries, we become independent and in familial relationships followed by interdependency. To some degree or another, this is common behavior among mammals.
At one time it was proposed by Ernst Haeckel that fetal development was along the line of our evolutionary ancestors, from single cell on up. Haeckel’s phrase was “ontogeny (fetal development) recapitulates phylogeny (evolutionary stages of our remote ancestors).” It was disproven and discredited long ago. What is being proposed now is the adult development of relationships “recapitulates” our childhood stages of dependency.
When we hear the word “relationship,” the mind automatically jumps to intimate sexual relationships. The word is much bigger. We have relationships with everything! We may not notice or pay attention to the trees we drive by, yet we have a relationship with them. They are CO2 eaters and O2 producers. We take them for granted. We have a relationship with the car we are driving. Like the intimate sexual relationship, it takes maintenance. Even minimal maintenance, such as checking tire pressure and changing oil, is essential to keeping the car in good running order. We have relationships with institutions, like your bank and government. Strangely enough, most of these relationships are either dependent or co-dependent.
When it comes to definitions, everybody has their own idea of what a word means. Me too. You may have a slightly different definition and that is perfectly all right. By the time you finish this article, you will see how these definitions are woven together, and you are welcome to do your own weaving.
Dependency. Think of a fresh infant. They are dependent on mama for everything: nourishment from breast milk, grooming, diaper changing, placing them on their stomach to sleep, and holding and burping them. (All of these are behaviors of love.) As the child grows, walks and speaks a few words, they are still mostly dependent, but co-dependency begins to creep in.
Co-dependency. With small children this is when we have to cajole to get them to behave. It is when we play the spoon is an airplane so they will eat. With adults, this can be dangerous. With adults, usually one is enabling addictive behavior in order to get their needs met. Addictive behavior is more broadly defined than sex, drugs and alcohol. One can be addicted to processes such as religion. A woman may go to church with her husband so that her sexual needs are at least partially fulfilled. Or visa versa. It is usually deadly when drugs and alcohol are involved. There is much written on codependency, so I won’t bother too much with it here.
Counter dependency. There is segue to this step of the dance from co-dependency. With children, then comes counter dependency: the “terrible twos.” This is when the child is attempting to establish their identity and it is usually contrary to the social expectations of the parents. As adults, we are left with a socially acceptable illusion of our identity, which grows and may change with time. We wear different uniforms. In intimate relationships. one or the other becomes first sorrowful (angry) at the way life is going and finally speaks up about it. If the receiving partner has violent tendencies, this can be very dangerous. If they are passive-aggressive, they may sulk and the next time, become violent. There are many scenarios that will be explored later. The reality is this is a time for growth!
Independency. No, this is not when he or she leaves you, but it may come to that if you are not willing to grow. This is when one or the other or both no longer “need” the other to satisfy their addictions or illusions, but can do very well by themselves. Most of the time in healthy growth, they still want each other rather than need each other. I should point out here the pre-Christian definition of a virgin was an independent woman. One who could grow, gather or hunt her own food and find or build her own shelter. She did not need a man to “take care” of her; she wanted a man with whom she could bond.
Interdependency. This is the final step in the dance and there are segues throughout. The dictionary definitions of interdependence read much more like co-dependence than the interdependence with which I am familiar. Co-dependence is tit for tat; I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. The definitions of interdependency leave out the “magic” that can only be attributed to love.
For me, dependency is very clear. The “clinging vine” is an example in intimate relationships.
I have copied some material off the net which I have put in quotes. It is a consensus of those in the business of “curing” codependency. They both agree there are many definitions of codependency and they also agree on this one:
“Codependents are people who let the feelings and actions of another person affect them to the point that they feel like they have lost control of their own lives.”
I have two problems with this definition:
- I would substitute “entity” for “person,” and
- Codependency is part of a process in relationship development and we have relationships with everything. Therapists get so focused on interpersonal relationships, they seem not to see the big picture.
Bradshaw suggests our relationship development as adults follows our family development. As infants we are dependent on mother’s milk. Nourishment is a behavior of love as are touching, grooming, play, and protection. The child grows from dependency into codependency. It is “I’ll do this if you’ll do that.” It is behavioral in nature rather than verbal. Codependency is more comfortable to both, so here we are.
Government is an entity with whom we have a relationship. They manipulate us into being good citizens which they define as taxpayers, submissive to their policies. We in turn are given security against outside criminal behavior… except theirs. This can also be an analogy for our interpersonal codependent relationships. The web site lists these common characteristics of codependency:
- “Excessive Care-taking: Codependents feel responsible for others’ actions, feelings, choices and emotional well-being. They try to anticipate loved one’s needs and often wonder why others do not do the same for them.
- Low self-esteem: Codependents are people who need to be needed. They will only feel important and valuable when they are helping others, and blame themselves for anything that goes wrong.
- Denial: Codependents typically ignore, minimize or rationalize problems in the relationship, believing that “things will get better when….” They stay busy to avoid thinking about their feelings.
- Fear of anger: Codependents are afraid of both their own and their loved one’s anger, because they fear it will destroy the relationship.
- Health problems: The stress of Codependency can lead to headaches, ulcers, asthma and high blood pressure.
- Addictive behavior: Codependents may themselves develop addictions in an attempt to deal with their pain and frustration”
Codependency usually involves an “addiction” of one sort or another. I use a very broad definition of addiction: use of any substance or process that appears to cover the pain of childhood loss or trauma. The loss could be our identity and having to wear that damn uniform! I was once addicted to my own intellect, but gave it up when I found I could not pronounce Intelloholic correctly.
Counter dependency from a loving partner can be the best thing that ever happened to us. It is not fun. A loving partner may see our essence, our real identity. When we behave in a contrary fashion to that essence, they say, “Cut the bullshit.” And then it hits the fan because we are comfortable with being not who we are. There is also “counter dependency” from a manipulative partner. This simply plays on our addiction in order to support their addiction. This gets old. Of course we believe what we want to believe and what we are accustomed to believing. Counter dependency with love leads to our independence and becomes a sign of self-love.
As adults in relationship, counter dependency is an important part of development! Bobby Burns said,
And would some Power give us the gift
To see ourselves as others see us!
We don’t have that gift. We can only see the reflection of our parent’s view of us and our own view in our mirror. The problem is, we are comfortable with that reflection.
In “The Eden Project,” Hollis correctly speaks of fear as being the source of our relationship problems. He cites three who discuss the “management of fear.” I find this humorous. We cannot manage fear, for in so doing we create an illusion of no-fear, when in fact it exists and controls us.
Karen Horney (1885 -1952, psychologist):
- Become submissive to the partner, diminishing one’s own power, rationalizing this as congeniality and concern. Actually becoming more co-dependent.
- Become abrasive or hostile, seeking domination, believing the other is only interested in self. Hostility is a demonstration of fear. Includes passive aggressive behavior. [1/2 Counter-Dependence]
- Flight, avoidance, emotionally not present while physically present. Withholding of intimacy.
Fritz Riemann (1902-1979, psychologist):
- Distancing from the fear of nearness.
- Depression from the fear of abandonment.
- Fear of change leads to OCD, seeking control of the environment since control of the other is not possible.
- Fear of engulfment and permanence leads to disassociation. “If I’m not there, he/she can’t hurt me.”
Fritz Kunkle (1889 – 1956, theologian): Power.
- The “star” seeks admiration and validation from outside, rather than from within.
- The “clinging vine” resigned responsibility for self and seeks identification with the other. [Dependency]
- The “turtle” seeks protection and security at all costs. Takes the path of least resistance to identify with wealth and status of the other. [Dependency]
- The “Nero” overtly seeks power to cover his own inadequacies.
From the above, we see how these early investigators mish-mashed the dance of dependency. Counter dependency requires a good, strong “No!” This can be said with love rather than hostility. No matter who we are today, or who we think we are, we all have fears that must be confronted rather than managed. Intimate relationships can be either the best or worst place to do this.
Most of us have worked very hard to craft some illusion of our identity: our personae dramatis, the face we show to others. I find it interesting the prefix per- means through and sonae is sound. Dramatis refers to actors who in ancient times spoke through a mask. Here we are. Our goal, should we have one, is our authenticity. I point out in FORBIDDEN: The Alchemy of Erotic Love, fear creates methyl groups on our genes modifying or preventing their full expression. I further define “authenticity” as being able to express all our required genes under the appropriate circumstances. Of course, we are each genetically unique and the behavior associated with this expression will be different for each of us. As long as this behavior is loving in nature, it is in my estimation acceptable.
Having worked so hard on the illusion of my identity, I like it. I am comfortable with my inability to fully express my genes: with my inauthenticity. I will fight to keep it! So will you! And when we think about it, we see how silly we are. The price of love is the comfort of our limitations, for as we become more authentic we lose our limitations.
The first three steps of dependency are based in need. The last two are based in want. Independency implies the individual is self-sufficient. We tend to think of this in financial terms, but it also implies emotional self-sufficiency. I suggest better relationships can be found when a mutual wanting and a mutual desire for unity with the other is present. It is a want based on the essence of the other, rather than a need for security. You are independent now. You are secure in yourself. You don’t need security from another. (Don’t worry. Nothing is perfect, including us trying to live by the standards of another. We just get better.)
There is very little written on interdependency, the last step in the process of relationship development. Perhaps this is because social scientists cannot get their head around the psychic “knowing” that comes with it. (Those who work with their heart can.) It seems like society is trying to keep us codependent to make money off of us. Team work out of a mutual desire to accomplish some objective can be an example of interdependence. In a team, each has their own place. This is not a place determined by others, but by the individual. An offensive guard on a football team knows he is a guard and not the quarterback. He knows his job and he has fun doing it, contributing his unique skills to the team effort. Teamwork under the lash doesn’t work for long and only reflects the desire of the lash holder.
There is a more important aspect to interdependence: our “knowing” not of an intellectual source. This knowing has at least as many facets as there are people for we are all genetically unique. We each know something important to our lives or the lives of others. There are a lot of names for it, depending on what facet we are talking about, or where we think it came from. Interdependence goes beyond intimate personal relationships just as codependency does and just as love does. But, intimate personal relationships are a good place to start.
I only have one example from my life, and today I wish there were more. It has nothing to do with sex or intimate relationships, but love is definitely involved. It is about racquetball. When teaching before I was an associate professor, I in many ways loved my students. Some I loved enough to fail recognizing they would not survive in the commercial diving world. When I say “love,” I mean I exhibited many of the attributes of love toward them: respect, admiration for their qualities, appreciation for their work and what they taught me, and compassion when called for.
I had one student that I admired for his mechanical skills and also learned he was at least a high B, possibly an A international class racquetball player. I was working my way up to becoming a D class player. Ed was a hustler. He would bet you $20 on a game, spot you 20 points, take the serve, and you were very fortunate to return the serve, much less score! He would pocket your $20 bill and call, “Next?” When not hustling, he just enjoyed the game. As we played, I grew in the number of points I was able to get against him. Our mutual respect grew in the game.
But this is really about doubles. The first time we teamed up in a doubles match was magical! There was something between us I can only describe as energy. I was making shots I had never made before and covering the court in a way I never had before. Ed, too, was playing beyond his capacity, which far exceeded mine, and it was magical. We won most of the games we played as double partners, and it really wasn’t about winning. It was about the synergy we created where the whole was orders of magnitude greater than the sum of the parts. This is interdependence!
Interdependence did not come from training toward some goal. I was simply the end of a process, based in love, around a single task: racquetball. As I pointed out in the beginning, we have relationships with everything. I suggest the most important relationship is the intimate one we have with our beloved. Of course, there are far more issues in an intimate relationship than there are in racquetball. It is possible that we will go through the dance for each of them, but as they are resolved in an atmosphere of love, the synergy will grow.
The conclusions of these thoughts are:
- Love is necessary through all of the process.
- Codependency is a part of the process. It is when we are stuck there that problems arise.
The question arising from these thoughts is, “Does it work?” Only you can answer.
 Bradhaw,J., Homecoming, Bantam Books , New York , NY 1990
 Hollis, James, The Eden Project: In search of the Magical Other, Inner City Books, Toronto, 1998, p.68