There is a difference between dependency and co-dependency:


  1. Dependency

Definition: When someone is dependent on something.

It is therefore a maladaptive pattern of substance use with some of the following characteristics:

  • Tolerance (can handle more and more of the substance)
  • Withdrawal (tremors, thirst, redness etc if use of the substance is ceased)
  • Larger amounts is used than intended
  • There have been efforts to cut down or to stop the use
  • More time is needed to find or use it or to recover from the effects of the substance
  • Partake less in important activities
  • Use despite problems caused or exacerbated by substance


  1. Co-Dependency

Definition: When someone is dependent on someone.  (When someone’s behaviour affects you so much, that you change your behaviour to see if somehow it will change their behaviour.)  The characteristics of dependency is also applicable here.  Think for example of the battered wife of an alcoholic: She can handle more and more of his behavior, has tried to leave, misses him too much when she does, does not have any hobbies anymore, stay despite the risk to her physical health, etc.


  1. Roles being played in Co-dependant relationships

3.1       Helper / Saviour / Rescuer

Uses denial and takes too much responsibility for others.

Keeps the situation secret, acts as if it did not happen, lends money, works overtime, etc.

3.2       Persecutor / Attacker

Uses anger and is always on the offence.

Behaviour includes blaming, shouting, screaming, accusing, threatening, hitting, etc.

3.3       Victim / Sufferer

Uses depression and suffers either in silence or histrionically (everyone knows)

Example:    Drunk husband passes out in garden

Rescuer:    Wife puts him to bed

Persecutor: Wife verbally abuses him

Victim:      Wife phones the whole family or silently cries in the bathroom

But: Instead of changing his behaviour, it actually reinforces his behaviour because he now has all the more reason!


  1. Co-Dependency in Relationships


Co-Dependency (and Dependency) starts because of rejection or perceived rejection before the age of 7.


Because of the pain of rejection, people tend to choose either isolation (if I am alone, no-one can hurt me like that again) or fusion / oneness (if I merge / fuse with someone it’s almost impossible to be rejected because I am a part of the other person).


In the isolation option, only “I” count.

With Fusion, only “We” count.

Both these options are unbalanced and destructive.


Possible Relations (All destructive):

There is an interplay between the need for closeness and the need for space, leading to feelings of smothering or longing.


  1. One seeks closeness, the other seeks distance.


  1. One seeks closeness and the other seeks distance but eventually the fuse. This doesn’t last long because the one that needed closeness, now feels smothered and wants distance.  Reject before being rejected!


  1. Both long for closeness and get it. They both feel smothered and distance themselves. This can become a never ending cycle.


  1. Constant bickering. This keeps distance but is also a connection of sorts.  They are angry at each other but still communicating in some way


  1. A linking object (child, work, alcohol, money) connects the two but at the same time keeps them apart.



  1. What is really needed?


Instead of fusion there needs to be good communication.

Instead of isolation, there needs to be individuation or self actualisation for both parties

Thus not isolation


And not fusion


But rather


Each must become the best “I” that he or she can be and communicate the process constantly with each other so as not to leave the other behind.

The stronger the links, the stronger the chain.

Everyone needs to act independently – do the appropriate thing despite the other’s behaviour. Therefore, detach from their manipulative actions.  Remember that a balance is needed between protection and development.  For example: The more you over-protect or under-protect the child, the less healthy development will occur.

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About thatpsychologist

Clinical Psychologist in private practice in George and Mossel-Bay Kliniese Sielkundige in privaat praktyk op George en Mosselbaai.

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