Grace Ballard, MA, LPC, CST | AASECT Certified Sex Therapist | Colorado, Denver, Boulder

Codependency is a Myth

Codependency is a Myth

Codependency is a word that gets tossed around a lot these days.  It evokes feelings of confusion, shame and judgment, as if getting attached to or needing others is a sign of weakness.  We use it to blame one another for caring too much, for leaning on our partners or friends.

 

In the U.S., we grow up striving toward autonomy, which seems more or less achievable depending on your access to resources.  Sue Johnson, the founder of

Emotionally Focused Therapy, writes in her book Hold Me Tight, “The notion of the invulnerable warrior who faces life and danger alone is long ingrained in our culture.”  When we are unable to be self-sufficient or assertive with others, we get labeled as “dependent,” “fused,” or “enmeshed.”  Conversely, those who have studied adult attachments for decades talk about “effective dependency,” and argue that being able to turn to others for support is a sign of strength.

 

We Need Each Other

We are not wired to be alone, and in fact, we would die without one another.  Loneliness is now recognized as a serious threat to our health and wellbeing, on par with smoking and poor diet.  

We are social creatures!  So quit shaming yourself for getting attached to someone.  Attaching safely and effectively to others is one of the healthiest things we can do.  

 

 

Neediness vs. Unmet Needs

Perhaps the rub in your relationship is not that you’re too needy, but rather you are connecting with someone who needs more autonomy than you do.  Often when we display behaviors that are characterized as codependent, these are signs that our needs are not getting met.  We may feel unstable and insecure in the relationship.  We may worry that it’s not going to last.

 

When we’re anxious in a relationship, we get angry or controlling, or we avoid contact altogether and stay distant.  Bowlby and Ainsworth demonstrated this in their famous research with parents and children, and it has since held true in studies on adult attachments.

 

Due to a history of trauma or not having a reliable and safe relationship, a person’s needs for reassurance may be higher.  This doesn’t make them codependent, although they may need to learn new ways of being effectively dependent.

Being Supported Means Being More Autonomous

 

Get this: The more we’re able to reach out for support, the more separate and independent we can be.

 

When we feel our needs are accepted by our loved ones, we’re more willing to solve problems on our own.  We’re more confidant exploring the world when we know someone has our back.  From this place of security, we also know how to reach out to others and connect more easily.  A sense of secure connection, Johnson asserts, “is key in positive loving relationships and a huge source of strength for the individuals in those relationships.”

 

We still get angry and hurt, but we roll with it and are less likely to lash out.  We attribute less malicious intent to our loved ones.  We express anger in controlled ways and move toward positive goals and reconnecting with our person.

 

If you have struggled with getting your needs met and feeling secure in relationships, fear not.  You can learn how to be “effectively dependent.”  Let’s talk about it.

    8 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    June 19, 2017

    I believe this is so true! I believe being dependent on another is strength in that person. What is more difficult than to give up your control of oneself! What strength it takes to give over to another that which one has been able to do all their life be in controlthanks for the sharing Grace! Joan

  2. J
    June 20, 2017

    There is such thing as co dependency. It is very unhealthy. Once you know the signs you can put up healthy boundaries. To say that co dependency is a myth is a lie. People who are struggling to get out of a co dependency relationship articles like these makes it harder. Don’t get suckered into the manipulation.

  3. June 21, 2017

    Yes! Thanks for sharing.

  4. June 21, 2017

    I agree that establishing healthy boundaries is a critical step toward strong relationships, and that shifting our relational style can be a tremendous struggle. If the framing of codependency works best for you in this journey, then by all means please keep it! Best of luck.

  5. Debra
    March 19, 2018

    Thankyou Grace for publishing this! Unfortunately critiques of this construct are mainly found in published journal articles especially in the late 80’s/early 90’s when this concept was in vogue! Today there are burgeoning blog posts and tips and “hacks” to cure oneself of this pseudo-concept that lacks empirical basis! I am glad to find this blog post that can reach the lay audience! Thankyou!

  6. Trudy
    December 18, 2019

    Yes, I noticed that a lot of codependent info and resources are very shaming. It makes you feel like you have a disease that can’t be cured and you yourself are just damaged. It’s appallingly! To me it just seems as if sometimes they tend to be too nice and need to learn how to be more tough and assertive. To make them feel like “you’re sick for caring and you can change”, it’s wrong.

  7. Tu
    March 14, 2020

    I’m so thankful for this article!!! I ate up all the codependency jargon back in the day and it made me worse!!! If I had read “Codependency No More” and discovered I had a choice and then closed the book it would have been enough. This whole “disease/codependency” model hurts families and loved ones of people struggling with addiction because it makes those wanting to help feel as if they are often “sicker” than the addict! The “shame of caring” drives many loving people to become cold and selfish. They cut away parts of themselves to be “well.” Many partners of sexually addicts are told they are “co sexaddicts”because they suffer betrayal trauma which is a form of PTSD. This happens because the amygdala in the brain goes into shock from finding out they’ve been lied to and betrayed by the very person they love and trust most! The word “Codependency” has become a catch phrase for anyone feeling love or sensitivity for another person. Does being healthy demand we be cold, uncaring, and emotionally distant with people around us are hurting???

  8. August 5, 2021

    The first time I read about codependency I knew it was a lie. My husband had a drinking problem because almost everyone in his family had a drinking problem. That’s how they coped with life. It had nothing to do with me. I was trapped because of lack of money, and to be blamed for something that you’re being victimized by is wrong. Period. I am glad that I’m a sociologist and not a psychologist because there is so much baloney in psychology, not based on facts like sociology.

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