“Codependent” is a word that comes up frequently… Being dependent in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a component of healthy relationships. Some people fear dependency, interpreting it as a sign of weakness or helplessness, or out of a fear of intimacy. In healthy relationships, this is not the case. It is altogether possible to be an autonomous person and yet be able to be dependent on another. If you exhibit healthy dependency you are willing to admit the need for others in your life, and to let them need you. After all, we all start out life as completely dependent on our caretakers. If we grew up in a family that encouraged a sense of autonomy and independent growth, with parents who praised our achievements and showed us love, we will reach adulthood with a sense of security about ourselves and our internal worth and our ability to move through the world as successful people, in whatever way we define that for ourselves. Setting emotional boundaries, giving someone space (and taking it for ourselves) is acceptable. We can allow people to be who they are, not who we want them to be. We understand that we can’t change other people, and balance feelings of closeness with feelings of separateness. Yet we also know how to care for others and let them care for us – we’re able to ask for help when we need it. In other words, it’s ok to need and be needed, because we know and feel good about who we are independently of another person if that person happens not to be around. We are able to form healthily interdependent relationships without losing our sense of self. Sometimes things don’t go the way described above, and what’s experienced growing up is criticism, rejection, conditional love (often based on achievement that validates the parents’, not the child’s, sense of self-worth), over-dependence promoted as valuable, making it impossible to feel adequate without another person around to shore up self-worth. In this scenario you are unable to take responsibility for your own sense of adequacy. You expect your good feelings about yourself to be validated from outside yourself – usually from another person. You feel weak and vulnerable. You depend on someone else to feel secure, comforted, nurtured, supported, lovable, or worthy. You can’t make a decision without the approval of the other person. Your relationships tend to be enmeshed rather than engaged, and the other person in your relationship probably complains about feeling suffocated. More than likely you’ve been called “clingy.” Since it’s hard to set your own agenda, you’re often at a loss, looking to the other person to fill in what’s missing for you. From an on-line article by Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

“If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.” – Fritz Perls

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