The Eight 'Flavors' of Codependency/Counterdependency
Written By: Mark Smith
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I have been meaning to re-visit this topic for many years. I wrote our original Counterdependency article "Counterdependency-A Manly Dysfunction" about 10 years ago and I have learned a lot about the topic that I have wanted to share since that time. That original Counterdependency article flies off of our shelves at the office far faster than any of the other articles that we have available for the taking. Our clients have also been asking for additional information about codependency as well. I am going to attempt to have some fun in coming up with some nicknames for these different "flavors" of dysfunction. I do so not to be disrespectful or to make things too complicated, but rather to try to make it easier to understand and remember the concepts. The "flavors" I'll elaborate on here might sound a little convoluted and long-winded in their descriptions, but that is not unlike how my favorite order sounds at Starbucks-"Decaf Breve Venti Latte."
Flavor #1 "Macho Donald Trump 100% Counterdependents"
These folks are frequently referred to by other names that aren't real nice which I can't really share in our very nice family oriented newsletter. Use your imagination. Stereotypically, this would be a white male in his mid forties. (Hey, it just hit me; I'm a white male in my mid forties?) He would exude a great deal of confidence, which frequently goes over the line into arrogance and grandiosity. He is highly independent; he does what he wants when he wants to do it and he bucks at and resents any form of accountability. He is oblivious both to how his abrasive personality impacts other people, and to the needs of the people close to him. He is very self-centered by nature. He did not get his needs met growing up and he learned that if he didn't take care of himself then nobody else would do so. He has a very addictive personality with Workaholism being the top of the list. Other favorite addictions include control, sex, alcohol, adrenalin, money, possessions, and power. He is extremely controlling. He had very little control growing up due to either an overly controlling parent or due to parents who were not very competent and thus were unstable and lacking in their ability to provide security for their kids. I hear a lot about this guy during therapy sessions; he seems to be everybody's boss. At home he is on Wife #3. The first two eventually got too angry to put up with his many unloving traits. He makes a lot of money, he accomplishes great things, he builds empires and you want him on your side during warfare. He fancies himself as Tom Cruise, Patton, Superman and Donald Trump rolled into one. As a father, many times he deludes himself into thinking that he is a great dad, but the truth is that he really doesn't have time for his kids. This gentleman needs to be humbled and broken. He needs to discover that he is just a fragile human being like the rest of us. Many times it takes either a near divorce, a major professional setback, a life threatening illness, legal problems, the death of a loved one or the mellowing effects of old age to melt the defenses of such a strongly defended individual. Unless his fanny is in some sort of frying pan we rarely see this guy down at the therapy office. However, his wife and kids come so often that they end up funding our kids' college educations
Flavor #2 "Doris Day On Steroids"
This would be a sweet, insecure, dependent, other-centered, passive codependent woman who takes so much crap through the years that she eventually develops into a bitter, seething, angry, raging, controlling, critical person who is on a mission to exact a pound of flesh from every man who makes the mistake of involving himself with her. She feels as if she has been victimized by men and by life; she has not been, however. Basically, she grew up being overly controlled and shamed which molded her into a relational doormat. She then unconsciously, but deliberately chooses a string of men who are also controlling and critical. Rather than using the marriage as an opportunity to grow, she snaps one day and then tries to use Counterdependency as a shield to protect herself from the world taking advantage of her codependency. She figures, if you can't beat them, join them. I warn my oblivious Counterdependent men that their sweet codependent wives are ticking time bombs. This gal needs a major paradigm shift, from "I'm a victim of the bad men" to "I'm responsible for my choices and I have never been victimized by a man in relationships; I pick men like my dad in my unconscious efforts to work on those unresolved issues with him." Such a paradigm shift creates a tremendous change in "Doris"; it opens up her soft side and it makes her feel her non-victim like pain.
Flavor #3 "Sickeningly Needy Counterdependents"
Yuck, my stomach gets a little queasy just thinking about these guys. This would be the pure Counterdependent with enough of a crack in his defenses to have him feel his desperate abandonment issues. His mother and/or father abandoned him as a child and he is famished for love, touch, affection, praise, acceptance, connection and sex. He generally focuses all of his primitive neediness on his significant other, not unlike how a duckling imprints on Momma duck during the first moments after hatching. He is clingy, victimy, whiny, smothering, demanding and insanely jealous. If a breakup occurs, he will stalk his object of affection. In the worst-case scenario he is the kind of guy you read about in the paper who shoots his wife and then himself. His brand of "love" is very sick. He is addicted to his relationship, but he really doesn't know her and he doesn't really want her to be a separate person; she is there to meet his considerable needs, sexual and otherwise. This guy needs to have an epiphany regarding just how ugly his extreme neediness is. He needs to get beyond himself and get his focus on studying exactly who his spouse really is as a person. He needs to learn how to love. He needs to heal his childhood abandonment needs; no relationship should be under the pressure of having to meet way too many infantile dependency needs.
Flavor #4 "Sweetie Pie, Wouldn't Hurt a Fly"
This, of course, is the across-the-board codependent. They are very insecure about a whole host of issues-body image, self worth, professional confidence, etc. They tend to be in relationships where they are dependent financially on a man. They live to serve others. They do not even seem capable of a mean thought or deed. This lady was much more prevalent in the 50's than today. Edith Bunker comes to mind. Generally, women have been empowered enough in our society to know that they have every right to relational equality. Where I see this nowadays is when the wealthy 100% Counterdependent 54 year-old marries the beautiful 100% codependent 32 year-old trophy wife. It usually doesn't take too many years until these codependents get in touch with their anger. That is why they married such strong Counterdependents-to work on resolving their issues with a strong Counterdependent from the previous generation.
Flavor #5 "White Knight Rescuers"
This is a strong Counterdependent who is so driven by their need to rescue a damsel in distress that they become so other-centered as to simply forget to protect themselves from that very same and many times quite deceptively dangerous damsel. I could write a whole book on this topic. Many times Counterdependents are so out of touch with their own childhood pain and vulnerabilities, that they have no memory of them at all. However, when they see the pain of another (especially if she is gorgeous), they actually feel their own buried pain. The relationship then begins with him having all the power, competency, and money while she exchanges her looks, her body and the irresistible attracting power of her emotional pain. He would do anything to help her, including marrying her. It is only long after the wedding that he discovers that she is actually many times an emotional terrorist. In a matter of years, the tables turn and he is reduced to a fearful errand boy who stumbles all over himself in his efforts to attempt to please her. This fellow needs to gain a clue as to what was hurtful in his childhood and he needs to resolve those issues. If he continues to go through life with his white knight illusion he is actually walking around buck-naked with a ring in his nose that can be pulled by any damsel in distress who crosses his path.
Flavor #6 "The Guy With the Most Toys Wins"
This is the strong Counterdependent whose walls are down in the area of insecurity. His need to be grandiose is actually a reaction to his deep-seated feelings of not really being good enough just as he is. He desperately needs the latest, greatest, biggest and the best things to prove and to validate his significance. He was not given enough unconditional love in his childhood. Life is a competition for him; he can't stand losing at anything. Possessions aren't blessings to be enjoyed; they are trophies to be displayed. His worst nightmare is to be seen as a failure. He is especially miserable when a brother, a friend, or a neighbor is seen as more successful or prosperous. This guy misses out on relationships. He is too busy competing in the game of life to have time for his wife, his kids, his God, or any friendships. He needs to heal his childhood wound of parental lack of acceptance. He would be so much happier if he learned to accept himself as he is. The ironic thing is that his obsession with getting ahead often times is the thing that gets him behind; between expensive divorces and high credit card interest rates, he knows what it is like to feel squeezed.
Flavor #7 ="Knock, Knock, Nobody's Home"
This condition is a little rarer than some of the others. It is a codependent that is so oblivious, self absorbed and addictive that they sort of seem like they are in their own world. They just aren't quite all there; they are blank, numb and a maybe even a little ditsy. Favorite addictions include reading romance novels, buying presents for other people, eating, work, volunteering, religion, and collecting massive numbers of pets. These women don't have a lot of relationships and many times they have never had any children. They are almost always on some form of anti-depressant, but rarely do they stick with therapy for long. They have been hurt so much in relationships that they have sort of just given up on all of that. This is everybody's favorite aunt. These women need to awaken to their anger and to themselves. They need to deal directly with their addictive behaviors before they make much progress in therapy.
Flavor #8 "I am a Rock; I am an Island"
This category is similar to #7, but there is a slight difference; they are closed off even from connection with pets and they don't even spend time rescuing people like the #7's do. They don't need anybody. They don't even need false intimacy. It is very difficult to have a relationship with somebody like this. These are people who never go home for Christmas. If they do have hobbies, they do not include people. They can either be codependent or Counterdependent, although this is a Counterdependent trait. Those folks are disconnected even from their sexual neediness. To them, if you need something or somebody then that allows them to control and possibly hurt you, so the internal message is clear: "DO NOT NEED." These people do not come to therapy; coming in and pouring out your heart to another human being would definitely be an unacceptable and unsafe form of neediness to these folks. To me, this is the saddest flavor going. They don't allow themselves to feel their own sadness, however. They lose track of their family over the years and perhaps the saddest thing is that few people even attend their funeral.
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