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.