House Tearmainn

Co-dependence versus interdependence

by on Sep.26, 2011, under Psychology

Our culture is so big on independence. The expectation has long been for men, and increasingly for women, that you stand on your own two feet and don’t ask for handouts, help, or hugs. I want to explore briefly the way that kind of thinking bleeds over into the way we think about, and live, intimate relationships.

We have in this culture the concept of “co-dependent” which, in addition to its specific meaning in the effects on addiction on family systems, has come to mean anyone who is just “too needy” in a relationship. If you’re “clingy,” or “desperate,”  if you’ve got “abandonment issues,” you get slapped with this pathologizing label.

Well, you know what, i think everyone has abandonment issues!  No one wants to lose an important attachment!  You can cope with that fear of loss in unhealthy ways, by not getting too attached in the first place or by hanging on to an ideal of an attachment when there’s really only lies and illusions. That doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the strong desire for and/or the fear of loss of attachment in themselves.

From birth we are biologically primed for other human beings to help us regulate our states–hungry, tired, cranky, alert–not just with food, which we obviously can’t provide for ourselves, but with rocking, soothing, friendly interactions, body contact. From birth caregivers help infants learn to begin transitioning from one state to another, to subconsciously and then consciously recognize their physiological needs and the effects those needs have on their mood.

As adults, we can experience a far greater range of emotional/physical states. Sub space and top space are kind of obvious examples for this subculture, but there are more or less obvious examples in every day life as well. Being “in the groove” at work or during physical activity; the difference between “I’m feeling social” versus “tonight I want some ‘me’ time”; many spiritual experiences; times when we’re easily distracted as opposed to times when we can focus like a laser. These are all mental states during which the activity of our brain is going to be differently organized.

Some of these states we can get into on our own or provide the correct stimulus for ourselves in order to achieve. Some are much easier with help. And, i think, some are only possible in the context of an interaction with another human being.

For instance, i feel that the place where i am most fulfilled, most actualized, most “me” and yet at the same time least trapped by my “self” is a state i can only reach with Master’s help. (In another post i will try to describe and name this state more fully.)

I believe that it is normal and healthy for folks to help each other regulate various states. I believe it is normal and healthy for people to cooperate with each other so that all their needs–physical and emotional–can be met in a way that is symbiotic.  I’m not even go into the research about how human beings also physically need touch in order to stay healthy and thrive!

I think there’s a certain amount of independence that’s fine for most people, especially at certain stages of life. I think it’s part of healthy development for teenagers to start showing some independence from their family and try to make it on their own for a while–even teenagers who think they might be slaves, because i wonder whether it’s possible to give fully informed consent to be owned if you’ve never had the opportunity/burden of being free and on your own.

And i think our culture here in the US has been chasing that ideal across the edge of sanity into a bizarro-world.

I believe that people are evolved to depend on each other.  Those of us in M/s or O/p relationships know that it can be a beautiful and healthy thing to work together so seamlessly that either or any member of the dynamic feels stuck or lost when the other member isn’t available.

The key here is that each member of the dynamic is aware and on-board with whatever level of “needing” the other(s) has. There are no underhanded games or manipulation going on to develop a deeper need unless they’re already permissible within the agreed-upon structure. There is the proverbial open and honest communication and the requisite self-awareness to facilitate this communication.

I don’t call this co-dependence; i call it interdependence and i love it.


Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!