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  • Writer's pictureGrace Beversluis

Interdependence vs. Codependence: What's the Difference?

The term codependent gets thrown around a lot, and many don't understand it, let alone understand it's more healthy counterpart. It's important to know the difference so we can make sure we're fostering the best relationships we can.

An interdependent relationship is one in which both people can express their emotions and rely on each other for support. This relationship is mutually beneficial for both people. This kind of relationship contributes to the resilience and strength of both parties, and each still have their own identities outside of the relationship.

On the other hand, a codependent relationship leaves one person feeling that their desires and needs are less important than the other, and the value is put on the other person’s happiness and well-being rather than their own. Their lives revolve around this relationship, they need it or their lives will begin to feel off-balance.

While the words are similar, two little letters at the beginning make all the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship.

The words "codependent relationship" might bring to mind a clingy person who simply doesn’t want to be alone.

But codependency is so much more than everyday clinginess. So, what is codependency anyways? And where does it come from?

In this relationship, both parties become over-dependent on each other, so much so that it harms their development–personally, socially and professionally. Codependency can stem from childhood when a child is given the message, either verbally or nonverbally, that their wants and needs are not as important as their caretaker’s. This then leads the child to focus less on their needs and more on the needs of the caretaker. This behavior is rewarded by the feeling of being valued by their caretaker. Over the childhood years this idea is programmed into their minds, and is still there when they enter into the teenage years and then adulthood. 

How can this early childhood mental programming translate into adulthood? into life?

Here's a list of symptoms and outcomes of codependency: 

  • Low self-esteem or self-esteem that depends on the validation of others

  • Highly sensitive and vulnerable, showing strong reactions even to small incidents

  • Lowered ability to assert their own needs in a relationship

  • Fears of abandonment

  • To protect or save a relationship, they are willing to give up their own integrity or identity

  • Inability or difficulty expressing emotions

  • Strong need to be liked, make others happy, and take care of others.

This certainly is not a complete list of all the signs and symptoms of a codependent person or relationship. It does however help to identify whether or not you may be in a codependent relationship, or someone you love is in a codependent relationship.

Although codependency is not an official mental illness, it certainly is a complex issue that can cause problems throughout a person’s whole life, from childhood to adulthood.

Sometimes you don’t know that you’re in a codependent relationship until after the relationship is over. But that doesn’t mean it is too late, there are plenty of resources available, such as articles or books, that can help you on your path to healing, as well as many therapists who are more than willing to help. The first step in healing is to recognize that you have been a part of a codependent relationship in the first place. Hopefully this article can help you if you have found yourself in that situation.

It is hard to fully be there for others when you cannot first be there for yourself. It is important during this time to remember to take care of yourself.

You too are important and worthy of love.

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