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Interdependent V. Codependent Relationships

What is an interdependent relationship? It is simply a relationship comprised of at least two mentally secure people who are intimately involved with each other in ways that preclude sacrificing themselves or compromising their values in harmful ways in favor of the whole. 

Why is this important? Because when individuality is chronically sacrificed to perserve the whole, partners without a strong sense of self and limited autonomy have less to offer each other. This lack of resources creates internal and relationship distress that is regularly found in CODEPENDENT RELATIONSHIPS. 

How do we know codependence is bad? In studies examining codependency, there are reported patterns of people-pleasing, projection, self-criticism, low self-esteem, controlling behaviors, dysfunctional communication, anxiety, and high reactivity. These are not quallitites people put on their dating profiles to describe what they want in a relationship., so you maybe are wondering...

Why does codependence happen so often?

Well, its complicated. If you feel you have never had an independent relationship, the answers to your relationship style can be traced to our attachment experiences in childhood. 

When we are children, we are totally dependent on our caregivers to meet our basic needs.  As we grow, our needs change and our caregivers are ideally sensitive to these changes and able to offer support in a consistent way. This helps us feel secure in a chaotic world, and gradually gives us the skills required to self regulate as we develop. 

Here is a pictoral representation of being totally dependent on caregivers to have our needs met in childhood: 

So what are our needs? A good perspective on needs is described by Maslov's Hierarchy., which posits that we have primary survival needs of psysiological, and safety varieties as our basic needs. As we mature into middle and late childhood, caregiving abilities must also mature in ways that promote belongingness, self esteem, and independence so that might persue self actualization in adulthood. 

DEVELOPMENT OF NEEDS: Maslow's Hierarchy

As you can see, our needs get more complicated as they develop; while it may be relatively easy to identify our basic physiological and safety needs (food, shelter, water, love and protection), what they heck does belongingness look like and what is exactly 'self actualization?  When we start to reach for belongness, these complex internal emotional needs that are not always know to our caregivers can impact our ability to self regulate and get our needs met. 

Because these needs are experienced more internally than externally, a gradual transition of personal power over our needs meeting is needed and generally occurs in late teen years and early twenties.  But this process can be difficult; when the parent/caregiver finds it stress, they often employ rescuing or abandonment defenses to manage the complex emergent needs of their offspring, which may be in competition with their own needs. 

Here is a pictoral representation of appropriate gradual autonomy building in transition year: 

 If we have a lot of unmet needs entering adulthood, our self esteem and feelings of belongingness are likely to be low and our attachment styles insecure, which can stunt our emotional development and make self actualization very difficult. 

This is when we will seek CODEPENDENT RELATIONSHIPS as a way to regulate our insecurities and unmet unmet needs. We ill often partner with other insecure persons since many securely attached and Interdependent types will have good enough boundaries to say no to anything other than healthy relationships. 

So how do I know if I am CODEPENDENT?

  • You tend to love people that you can pity and rescue
  • You feel responsible for the actions of others
  • You do more than your share in the relationship to keep the peace
  • You are afraid of being abandoned or alone
  • You feel responsible for your partner’s happiness
  • You need approval from others to gain your own self-worth
  • You have difficulty adjusting to change
  • You have difficulty making decisions and often doubt yourself
  • You are reluctant to trust others
  • Your moods are controlled by the thoughts and feelings of those around you

 Co-dependency can be described as unconscious or conscious attempts to use connection  to regulate emotional experiences and meet some practical needs (those emoitnal needs of the higher order are simply ignored or supressed). This can also be seen in anxious attachment style in which closeness is desired and separateness creates anxiety, as well as disorganized attachment in which closeness is sought and then pushed away in a push-pull fashion. 

If you still are not clear on what we are talking about, I recommend Therapy Chat podcast's episode on codependent relationships regulalry, LISTEN HERE. Relationship researchers have pinpointed four elements that primarily earmark codependency (SOURCE): 

  • External focusing: when the person draws opinions, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors from situations outside self
  • Self-sacrifice: when people overlook personal and intrinsic needs in order to focus externally on the needs of others 
  • Emotional suppression: referred to as an avoidance of feelings and living in a state of constraint with limited self-awareness of one's own emotional needs 
  • Interpersonal conflict and control: when people engage in relationships that foster self-sacrificial behaviors and lack of emotional expressivity

Here is a pictoral representation of the lack of autonomy and self regulation in a relationship:

In my work with codependency I have consistently ran across two interesting patterns in which codependency varies fro the typical presentation: antidependent types and wounded bird types.

Anti-dependence is a resistence to having emotional needs and aknowledging other peoples' needs.  This can also be seen in avoidant attachment in which closeness is desired but connection creates anxiety that activated "pull- away" defensive strategies. 

So this lends itself well to those seek unavailable partners and to those who are unavailable trying to coregualte their relationship distress, it is doomed to fail. Mosty because these to really know nothing about each other. And if the unavailable one were to change, the seeker no longer finds them attractive and if the seeker changes, the avoidant one will pull away and be unable to provide the intimacy desired by the other. 

Here is a pictoral representation of not being able to be helped or help others meet needs: 

The woundedbird type tries to repeat the early childood experience to regulate internal needs, in which there is a savior and injured person. The savior plays the parent role o nurturing and trying to guide the wounded bird to thrive. This pattern seems to lend istelf well to extremely close relaitonships but oncethe savior is exausted or the bird is healed the relationship collapses. 

Pictoral representation of enmeshed wounded bird pattern (replace child with Bird, caregiver with Savior): 

Even though the codependence patterns described above are slightly different manifestations of the main isues, this way of managing relationships is still codependent and insecure at its core. Thus using the same strategies below to improve relationship style and create Interdependence will likely be effective.; however, it needs to be said that it is extrememly difficult for two people to heal codependency at the same time alongside each other as these patterns run deep and our ability to change is not usually synched up. 

So what does an INTERDEPENDENT RELATIONSHIP look like?

What seems to work best in adulthood is to be interdependent; to be able to manage the majority of our emotional needs with self compassion and personal responsibility, while showing interest in and having compassion for others' needs. 

PLEASE NOTE:  these models are based on neurotypical and physical wellness and therefore may notcapture the full rage of possibility for interdependence available. 

Here is a pictoral relationship of adult needs in a healthy relationship:

Interdependent Relationships

Notice the overlap in the middle between the two persons' spheres; this is the amount of shared emotional needs we retain in neurotypical adulthood that we bring to our partners in interdependent relationships. But we should not expect each other to guess at our needs the way our parents did because we can actually name it and advocate for our needs now as adults. This is a critical difference in how successful we might be i getting our needs met by others. Here are some signs of a healthy interdendent relationship: 

  • Active listening
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Time for personal interests
  • Clear communication
  • Taking personal responsibility for behaviors and emotions
  • Creating safety for one another to be vulnerable
  • Engaging and responding to one another
  • Open and approachable body language
  • Not being afraid to say “no”
  • Not keeping parts of yourself hidden to please your partner(s)

Source: 

So how do you know if you are having a personal or relational need?

I have found using a ratio helpful to assess clients needs and make sure they are not ignoring the self, neglecting partner's needs, or becoming 'needy' in some kind of avoidable way--from this perspective 'neediness' is neglecting to meet one's own needs and unnecessarily relying too much on others' to get those needs met. While the exact ratio can cahnge based on a person's ability and cultural norms, I find a 70/30 split a good startign point to recnstruct and rewire codependent impulses:

  • 70 % of internally created emotional needs belong to the SELF to explore and meet, they are unknown to self and/or others, unobservable, and unique to a person's experience and personality, but when met, increase a person's sense of independence an capability to survive
  • 30 % of emotional needs, although still often unknown to others', are relationally created and respond well to involving others in the exploring and meeting process as a way to generate intimacy and belongingness, which create a sense of human strength and increase our species' survival. 

What we need from our partner(s) is a willingness to support us in our personal needs meeting, and help us meet our relational needs when we articulate them. I find it helpful to conceptualize these two different needs meeting activities using a 70/30 model. 

Since  a partner is likely to feel bowled over by having to meet more than half their needs and more than half of yours. If this is a simple matter to correct, using a 70-30 model, to ensure I am meeting as many of my emotional needs as possible to self regulate and improve my emotional experience. In addition, it helps me not overwhelm my relationships with my needs. Conversly, the ratio helps me remember to save some energy for meeting some portion of others needs and aknowledge my needs that only others can met, to encourage compassion, vulneribility and connection in healthy and sustainable ways. 

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

1. Did I learn to identify and meet my emotional needs as I grew up?

2. Do I think my caregivers had interdependent, codependent, or anitdependent relationships when I was growing up?

3. What sort of relationships do I have? With friends? With family? With partners?

4. What do I think my current ratio of needs meeting looks like in a pie chart?

5. Do I have any influential factors on needs meeting that make my ratio different than 70/30?

MANTRA

I am capable and worthy of having my emotional needs met and of being in healthy relationships.

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