The Masks We Wear... Counterdependency

This week, as a tribute to the Halloween season, we are talking about masks.  Every day we can unknowingly put on different masks that hide us from various things we need in life:  intimacy, self-worth, love, belonging, identity, and freedom.  So far this week, we have discussed the masks of Shame, Codependency and Addiction.  Today we will talk about the mask of Counterdependency. What is the mask of Counterdependency-- what does it look like?

Counterdependents wear a mask that shows the outside world a "tough outer shell" with various traits that represent strength and success (though as you read through this, picture the parts of this "mask" as hiding or covering up a very insecure, needy and vulnerable person underneath).  Some of the main Counterdependent traits that make up their mask include:

  • grandiose, or overly confident (to the point of being cocky)
  • Presenting to others that they are "always right" ( Their way is the "right" way and they are "always right")
  • Controlling
  • Success driven, to the point of being a workaholic
  • Independent-- Not good at being vulnerable and "needy"
  • Non-emotional or emotionally cut off
  • Abrasive
  • Show anger as a main feeling
  • Very visionary-- Counterdependents have great plans for the future to make them more successful, but little follow through
  • Not in touch with their own limitations (Counterdependents aren't good at recognizing when they feel sick and taking care of themselves when they need to go to the doctor, sleeping when their body tells them they are tired, etc.)

How can this mask  impact a Counterdependent's life?

Being successful can be a wonderful thing, but it can also destroy relationships if someone becomes so focused on success and a workaholic to the point where they aren't able to invest in their relationships.  A Counterdependent's difficulty with being vulnerable, expressing the full range of emotion, and allowing themselves to be in touch with even healthy needs, causes them to have difficulty with intimacy, which causes the partner of a Counterdependent to feel alone-- like they don't really "know" their partner.  It also causes a Counterdependent's children to feel a lack of authentic connection with their parent because the Counterdependent is often not present physically (often due to work), or might not know how to "let go" and have fun through play on their child's level.  Their abrasiveness, use of anger, and having to always be "right" and in control doesn't allow for mutual give and take in a relationship, can intimidate the people around the Counterdependent, keeps people at a distance from the Counterdependent, and doesn't allow relationships to be an intimate, two-way street.  Because of these traits, Counterdependents can often find themselves in the position where they lose many relationships and have relationships that are highly conflictual.  Not recognizing their limitations can cause premature death (not going to the doctor because they can "tough it out", when there is really a life threatening illness that eventually takes their life), burn-out, and a loss of relationships.

What Can Help?

It's important for a Counterdependent to recognize that the behaviors they have adopted to protect them early on in childhood, actually keep them isolated and many times, alone.  Addressing the fear that drives the counterdependent behaviors and learning how to be in touch with the full range of human emotion can improve relationships and help the counterdependent realize that they do, in fact, have needs.  Learning how to recognize their limitations and nurture themselves, as well as having intimacy and nurturing their relationships is imperative in their recovery process.  Also, acknowledging that the "mask" of Counterdependency is only just that-- a "mask", and realizing that they really are trying to protect themselves from feeling the fear, vulnerable, insecure parts of who they really are, is very important to moving past Counterdependent behaviors.  Many times, with Counterdependency, professional counseling with a therapist who has knowledge of Counterdependency is needed for healing and growth to begin.

So, which "masks" did you see in yourself from this week's blog?  We would love to hear from you!


Counterdependency: The Flight From Intimacy by Janae and Barry Weinhold

Joleen Watson, MS, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.