-Jonice Webb, PhD
Sophie was excited about her new position. Finally she would have the opportunity to use the marketing skills she had learned in her MBA program. But in the first week, it was clear to Sophie that she was somewhat over her head. With multiple demands coming at her from every direction, she realized that she desperately needed to rely on her immediate supervisor for help and support. But instead of letting her supervisor know her situation, Sophie simply continued to struggle, falling farther and farther behind.
James was packing up his apartment to move into his new condo. Every day after work for a week, he packed boxes, sorted and stacked for hours. By the end of the week, he was exhausted. With moving day fast approaching, James could not bring himself to ask any of his friends for help with packing or moving.
Everybody needs help sometimes, there’s no way around it. For most people, it’s not a big deal. You ask someone for assistance and usually, presto! Help is delivered.
But not so for many other people. These are the ones who balk at letting themselves even need help, much less ask for it. To these folks, relying on another person feels scary, and it may even feel just plain wrong.
These are the ones who are living with the curse of counter-dependence.
Counter-Dependence: A deep discomfort with any form of reliance on others.
In reality, the word “discomfort” is probably an understatement. I have seen many counter-dependent folks in my time. For a significant number, it’s a fear of depending on anyone, and that fear can reach the level of a phobia. It’s a fear that can keep you stuck in a bubble of self-sufficiency, and also hold you back from opportunity and growth.
3 Ways Counter-Dependence Hold You Back
- It prevents you from receiving the help and support that others get, putting you at an automatic disadvantage to everyone else.
- It keeps you isolated, feeling unsupported and alone in the world.
- It holds your relationships back, since you don’t get to experience the richness and depth of a truly mutual, trusting relationship where each party relies on other.
Exactly what is the source of the curse over Sophie and James? How did they each become so averse to depending on another person? It all goes back to how they were raised. It was Childhood Emotional Neglect.
13-year-old Sophie tiptoes carefully up to her sleeping mother, afraid of the reaction she might receive if she wakes her. She has no choice but to do so, because she needs her mother to sign a permission slip for tomorrow’s school field trip. After silently watching her mother sleep for a few minutes she loses her nerve, and silently tiptoes out.
13-year-old James lives in a bustling, active and loving family. The family is so active that talk of schedules, soccer games and homework rule the day, from the moment of waking up to the dinner conversation. James’ parents and siblings have no idea how to respond to emotion or talk about anything difficult, so as a family they just don’t go there.
Why is Sophie afraid to wake her mother? Perhaps she’s an alcoholic who is passed out from drinking and whose responses to Sophie can be highly unpredictable, or even violent. Perhaps Sophie’s mother works two jobs to support the family and will be exhausted if Sophie wakes her up. Or her mother might be ill or depressed, so that Sophie feels guilty asking her for anything.
Interestingly, the specifics of Sophie’s predicament do not matter. The lesson for her is,
Never burden others with your needs.
Many would envy James for his family. Yet James’ family is unwittingly searing an important message into his developing brain:
Your emotions and needs are bad. They are to be hidden and avoided.
These messages we receive in childhood are powerful, even if they are never stated outright. Sophie and James will walk through their lives unaware that they are controlled by fear. A fear that a normal, healthy part of themselves (their emotional needs) will be exposed. A fear of chasing away the people they want in their lives by asking them for something. A fear of feeling or appearing weak or needy.
4 Steps to Reverse The Curse of Counter-Dependence
- Become aware of your fear, and how it holds you back from allowing others to help and support you.
- Work on accepting that it’s okay to have needs. You are human, and all humans have needs. Make it a point to pay attention to yours, notice them, and treat them as valid.
- Know that those who care about you want you to depend on them. They want to be there for you and to help you, and they are probably frustrated and feel shut out by your counter-dependence.
- Start taking risks. Make it a point to ask for help. Step-by-step, try to increase your comfort level with depending on another person.
Just like James and Sophie, the fear of depending upon other people may be seared into your brain from childhood. But that does not mean that it’s permanent. You can reverse the curse by directly challenging and over-riding it.
The curse will only run your life as long as you allow it. Why should you fight it? Yes, it requires perseverance and work. But deeper relationships, less exhaustion, more support and less alone.
It definitely pays to reverse this curse.