The Flight from Intimacy: Healing Your Relationship of Counter-Dependency—the other side of Co-dependency by Janae and Barry Weinhold

Have You Ever Done These Things?

  • Attempted to hide normal fears, anxieties, or insecurities from others
  • Felt the inability to identify and/or express important feelings
  • Attempted to always “look good” and always be “right”?
  • Felt a lack of trust in other people’s motives
  • Felt victimized by the actions of others
  • Felt anxious in close, intimate relationships
  • Been reluctant to ask for help from others when needed
  • Preferred to work alone
  • Been in constant fear of making a mistake
  • Had low tolerance for frustration, marked by temper tantrums or fits of anger when frustrated
  • Been unable to relax and had a constant need to be engaged in work or activity
  • Felt afraid of being smothered or controlled by the needs of others
  • Had little awareness of the needs or feelings of others
  • Tended to sexualize all nurturing touch
  • Been addicted to work, sex, activity, or exercise
Co-dependent Behaviors

  • Clings to others
  • Acts weak and vulnerable
  • Is overwhelmed by his or her feelings
  • Is other-centered
  • Is addicted to people
  • Is easily invaded by others
  • Has low self-esteem
  • Acts incompetent
  • Has depressed energy
  • Acts insecure
  • Acts weak
  • Feels guilty
  • Craves intimacy and closeness
  • Acts self-effacing
  • Has victim behaviors
  • Is a people pleaser
  • Suffered neglect as a child
Counter-dependent Behaviors

  • Pushes others away
  • Acts strong and invulnerable
  • Is cut off from his/her feelings
  • Is self-centered
  • Is addicted to activities or substances
  • Is “armored” against others’ attempts to get close
  • Has falsely inflated self-esteem
  • Tries to “look good”
  • Has manic energy
  • Acts secure
  • Acts strong
  • Blames others
  • Avoids intimacy and closeness
  • Acts grandiose
  • Tries to victimize others first
  • Is a people controller
  • Suffered abuse as a child

Pg 6:  What are the causes of counter-dependent behaviors in adults?

Counter-dependent behaviors are caused by a failure to fully complete the two most important developmental processes of early childhood: bonding and separation.

Pg 7:  From birth to about three years of age, children need help in completing these two important developmental processes, bonding and separation….a sense of basic trust and safety….a lot of physical contact, holding and nurturing touch, and pleasant, reassuring messages to the child.  Children need to know they are loved for who they are, and that they are wanted by their parents.  Bonding provides a solid foundation for children as they begin to separate physically and emotionally and to gradually move away from mother and father…The stronger the bond, the easier it is for them to become separate.  Ideally, children should achieve emotional separateness form their parents by about age three…rely on their own internal signals when making decisions…healthy sense of self that allows them to accept responsibility for their actions, to share and cooperate, to handle frustration in appropriate ways, to respond effectively to the authority of others, and to express feelings in healthy ways…emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse, or in some cases, physical or emotional abandonment or neglect…developmental trauma caused by subtle disconnects between parent and child involving the lack of, or loss of, emotional attunement.

Pg 8:  Adults who have been abused learn to construct physical and psychological walls to protect themselves from encountering the feelings related to their unhealed childhood traumas…One reason people deny the impact of these early events is because they believe the abuse they suffered as a child was done to them for their own good by well-meaning parents.  Children often believe they were the cause of any abuse or abandonment they endured….withdrawal of love, verbal abuse, a lack of understanding or respect for the needs of the child, and attempts to over control the child’s activities…fractured relationships, abuse of others, depression, divorce, and addictions are strong indicators of undetected childhood developmental traumas…slapping…giving a child incorrect or no information about sex.  Adults who were physically or sexually abused as children have difficulty being close to and intimate with others.  They often unconsciously reenact their abuse with their own or other children….With physical abandonment or neglect, people had a tangible experience that leaves them knowing “something happened.”  Emotional and spiritual abandonment or neglect are less concrete.  They can result when a parent is physically present but emotionally absent, or when a parent neglects to support the child’s emotional needs for touch, holding and comfort.  These types of abandonment or neglect are more difficult to identify because they are less visible, but they can leave deep scars.

Pg 10:  Most institutions in our society unwittingly support counter-dependent and co-dependent behaviors and victim consciousness…goal…recover our True Self.  Neither our parents’ nor our grandparents’ generation recognized or saw value in having a Self.  They saw those who wanted a Self as selfish, egotistical, and narcissistic, an idea supported by mainstream culture as well, including mainstream religions.  They didn’t understand that wanting a Self is not selfish but is an innate drive toward wholeness that is truly our natural birthright.

Pg 14:  In the addictions field, the term co-dependency and counter-dependency are often used as disease diagnoses.  We refrain from doing this, and instead offer a nonmedical, developmental understanding of the causes of counter-dependent behaviors and present a hopeful, developmental approach to help you experience intimacy.  We identify the social and cultural roots of counter-dependency and their roles in social and cultural evolution.

Pg 20:  counter-dependent people make judgments about needy people…When you review the list of characteristics, you will likely recognize some that remind you more of a two-year old than an adult. This isn’t surprising, because people whose social and emotional needs aren’t met in the first three years of their lives carry them around.  These needs then emerge in adult relationships and interfere with intimacy.  This is the chief cause of counter-dependent behaviors in adults.  When individuals simply do not get their developmental needs met in childhood, they find themselves just “playing grown-up.”…Counter-dependent behaviors help you cope with having unmet needs.

Pg 21:

  • Have trouble getting close to people?
  • Have trouble sustaining closeness in intimate relationships?
  • Tend to view people as bad or wrong when you leave them or they leave you?
  • Have trouble feeling your feelings other than justified anger or sadness?
  • Have fears of other people controlling you?
  • Tend to say no to the new ideas of others?
  • Rebel against or move away from people who try to get too close to you?
  • Get anxious in close, intimate relationships?
  • Feel constantly afraid you will make a mistake?
  • Try to be perfect and expect others to be perfect?
  • Refrain from asking for help even when you need it?
  • Have a strong need to be right?
  • Have thick layers of muscle or fat across your shoulders, chest, or abdomen that create a kind of body armor?
  • Get afraid of being consumed by the needs of others?
  • Fear that others will reject you if you show your weaknesses or fears?
  • Get bored easily and need to seek new thrills?
  • Make high demands on yourself and others?
  • Tend to see people as all good or all bad, depending on how they relate to you?
  • Work long hours during the week and go into work on weekends too?
  • Keep very busy with hobbies, recreation, or other projects?
  • Find it difficult to relax and do nothing?
  • Have difficulty with free play or unstructured time?
  • Have fits of anger when you don’t get your way?
  • Take outrageous risks in sports or business dealings that you secretly hope will make you rich and famous?
  • Believe you’re entitled to have others treat you in special ways?

Pg 22:  have a sense that they are not whole without the help of someone else.  However, they try to hide this fact from others so they can appear as if they really don’t need other people…In order to maintain this deception, they often sink an enormous amount of energy into fooling themselves and others regarding the depth and range of their needs…almost compulsive adherence to activities that others will value and reward, such as work…hiding from themselves, hoping they won’t have to feel their deep feelings of being rejected, abandoned, abused, or smothered by the people they were close to while growing up…What often interferes with the completion of this very important developmental milestone is the presence of subtle forms of emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse and developmental traumas during the first three years of life.

Pg 23:  When people are in a persistent hyper-aroused state, they have adrenal hormones flowing through their bloodstream that trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response.  This is particularly true when a current conflict in their relationship contains even the slightest hint of an earlier unresolved trauma or abuse…The natural learning style of humans is to repeat behaviors until the lessons are learned or the trauma is healed.  Freud called this the repetition compulsion.  We are drawn to what we fear so we can heal the trauma…still trying to understand and heal traumas from their early childhood.

Pg 26:  children living with parents who are withdrawn and remote, passive or depressed, and neglectful suffer from delayed brain development.  He found that neglect impairs the development of the brain’s cortex, where feelings of belonging and attachment originate…more often the result of neglect than abuse.

Pg 27:  harder to identify, because “nothing happened,” except that the children’s social and emotional needs were neglected by the significant adults in their lives.

Pg 28:  Adults who use violence or abuse to try to control children usually experience a triggering event that causes them to reenact an unhealed developmental trauma that occurred in their own childhood.

Pg 29:  Physical and emotional neglect appear to be the most damaging forms of childhood abuse.

Pg 31:  Because they want to appear grown-up, many adults hide, deny, or ignore their unmet needs that have existed since these stages of childhood.

Pg 37:  But the more complete an adult’s own separation process is, the less difficult this adult will find it is to cope with a two-year-old’s ambivalence.  Aware parents learn to recognize when they are being triggered by their child’s behavior, and work on themselves rather than getting upset with the child.

Pg 38: Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight, children must establish themselves professionally, learn to manage their own money, find jobs, buy cars, rent apartments, secure mortgages, buy houses, and, sometimes, have children.  These young adult children still need a lot of support from their parents during this complicated and challenging phase, which is usually completed by the time they enter their thirties.

Pg 39:  They learn to be superficially pleasant, hardworking, highly successful men and women.  Inside, however, they are afraid of intimate situations, feel insecure when they aren’t in control, and are unable to form or sustain close relationships.

Pg 41:  Historically, women have shouldered most of the responsibility for making relationships work and, therefore, have shouldered most of the blame when relationships fail.

Pg 43:  It is our natural leaning style to keep doing something over and over until we get it right.  If we don’t pay attention to these processes, they will escalate until we do.  Some people actually avoid dealing with their pressing incomplete developmental processes by getting physically ill, getting divorced, or quitting their jobs.

How Counter-Dependent Are You (Scale)

I work long hours and never seem to get finished with my work.

I don’t like to ask other people for help, even if I need it.

I find it difficult to form and maintain intimate relationships.

I have trouble deciding if I want sex or nurturing touch.

I have trouble relaxing, and I have chronic tension in my body.

I like being my own person and fear being controlled by others.

Pg 50: If the mother is depressed, tired, or not available emotionally because she is frightened by the intimacy or stresses of parenting, or anxious because the father is unavailable, this will affect the starting tie and the pace of the process.  If any of these obstacles are present, the child will actually delay these initial moves toward separateness, wanting more bonding before venturing out too far…children eventually move on without the inner security they really need.

Pg 56:  Another important part of this phase is the phenomenon called “splitting.”  There were times when you mastered a task or returned to your mother and found a warm, receptive reunion.  When this happened, you experienced your mother as “good,” and everything looked and felt good during these times.  However, there were other times when you were unable to master a task or when you needed a warm hug, and you found your mother busy cooking dinner or talking on the telephone.  These times you experienced her as “bad,” and this feeling was generalized to everything.  Mother became either “good mother,” when she was available, or “bade mother,” when she was not available.  The healthy resolution to this conflict occurred gradually as you learned two important things:  Your mother had a mix of good and bad qualities and was basically a good person in spite of this.  You had good and bad qualities and were separate from your mother, and this mixture of good and bad qualities was also okay…If you did not resolve this good/bad split during this phase, you will continue to see yourself, other people, and situations in the world as divided into good and bad, black and white, right and wrong….learning how to resolve your inner conflict between wanting to be separate and wanting to be close.  You had to come to terms with the reality that your parents were not “gods” or perfect parents.  And because you were becoming separate, you also had to come to terms with your own humanness.  Here is where you learned the limits of your natural narcissistic sense of omnipotence, grandiosity, entitlement, and euphoria.

Pg 57: psychological birt…During this time period, you made a decision either to become separate emotionally from your mother or to stay co-dependent.

Pg: 82:  Those with Co-dependency Issues must Learn to:

  • Become more independent
  • Focus on the self
  • Build boundaries
  • Cope with strong feelings
  • Identify personal strengths
  • Be intimate with the self
  • Be autonomous
  • Defend against projections
  • Avoid unhealthy commitments
  • Master the world of work
  • Develop compassion for the self
  • Create sexual boundaries

Those with counter-dependency Issues must Learn To:

  • Become more dependent
  • Focus on others
  • Remove walls
  • Identify and express feelings
  • Identify personal weaknesses
  • Be intimate with others
  • Be cooperative
  • Take back projections
  • Make commitments
  • Master the world of relationships
  • Develop compassion for others
  • Separate sexuality from nurturing

Pg 83: The Steps to Recovery of the Self Include:

  • Remembering what happened to you as a child;
  • Identifying the characteristics of counter-dependent behaviors;
  • Feeling your feelings;
  • Learning re-parenting skills;
  • Becoming an autonomous person;
  • Learning to take charge of your body;
  • Developing a spiritual life; and
  • Learning to live interdependently.

Pg 169: Once you decide you want clear boundaries, you will likely experience more conflict, because you’ll find yourself informing people when they cross them…when you let someone know where your personal “fence” is, this person will become more aware of his or her own.  Your kind but clear manner of informing this person that he or she has inadvertently crossed your personal boundary will be instructional.  You may be one of the first people this person has encountered who recognizes the importance of boundaries and understands how to create them.  If you frame your boundary work as a “learning” experience, for yourself and others, then there’s no need for shame about not having boundaries and having to learn about them.

Physical boundaries help us feel in charge of our own bodies.  These boundaries protect us against invasions such as abuse, sexual aggression, and people coming too close physically.  When people lack boundaries, they learn to armor their bodies against potential violations of their space by adopting protective postures or growing more muscles or even fat.  Emotional boundaries allow you to have feelings and to express them, and to know the difference between your feelings and the feelings of others.  Mental boundaries permit you to have thoughts and perceptions that you know are different from the thoughts and perceptions of others.  Spiritual boundaries help you know the part of yourself that seeks transcendence or a connection with some Power higher than yourself.

People with counter-dependent behaviors often struggle with creating appropriate boundaries.  Their need for protection while growing up was so strong that hey had to create walls instead….counter-dependent individuals are often less in touch with their feelings. When clients with counter-dependency issues begin therapy, we start by supporting their need to maintain rigid boundaries.  This approach, which looks at what is right about their behavior, is important for two reasons.  First, it supports their need to look good and reduces the anxiety they typically have, when entering psychotherapy, that they will be judged or found lacking in some way.  Second, it helps develop safety in the client-therapist relationship so that they can slowly remove the mask of the inflated False Self.  Gradually, they feel safe enough to reveal their wounded inner child.  Reframing the problem is especially important for people with counter-dependency issues, because, like most clients, they expect eh therapist to take the “critical parent” role and tell them what they are doing wrong and how bad they are.

We’ve found that clients with counter-dependency issues initially need this support, rather than confrontation and criticism, because it helps create the kind of safe environment they needed during childhood and never got.  In a safe and supportive environment, they can explore the circumstances that originally created their need for rigid boundaries.  As safe environment also helps validate people with unmet counter-dependency needs who experienced abuse and violation during their childhoods….it’s also important to help people with unmet counter-dependency needs recognize that their decision to erect walls very early in life was done out of necessity.  They lost their ability to create boundaries when they were violated so early and so often….Just speaking this fact causes many clients to visibly relax some of the tension in their bodies and softens layers of armoring. We go very slowly, encouraging them to keep their walls up until they feel safe.  We acknowledge their history of violation and do all we can to avoid playing the perpetrator role in their lives…people with narcissistic wounds stemming from the counter-dependent stage of development were always in a reactive state, ready at any moment to respond to a potential threat of physical or emotional harm or invasion.  Going slowly, building trust, creating safety, and establishing rapport as an ally, rather than as an authority, are essential in the development of a successful therapeutic relationship with clients who suffer from wounds during the counter-dependent stage of development.

Pg 172:  Releasing Anger

  • Release the stored and repressed feelings about your early childhood violations and/or abandonments.  This will reduce your fear of accidentally exposing them.
  • Release your anger in therapy or a safe relationship, rather than while you are alone.
  • Learn to discriminate between real and imagined threats.
  • Use perception checks to sort out what is real and what is imagined.
  • Remember hat no one makes you feel angry.
  • Take responsibility for creating your feelings.
  • Monitor your impulse to protect yourself by crossing the boundaries of others.
  • Learn defensive martial arts techniques to protect yourself, without harming your attacker, when you’re being physically attacked.
  • Remember that revenge escalates and leads to further violence.
  • Ask your loved ones to help you stop invading or attacking others.
  • Make amends as soon as possible when you become aware that you have crossed someone’s boundaries.
  • Demonstrate your willingness to address problems peacefully.

Pg 173:  Physical boundaries allow you to have dominion over your body and over your possessions.  They determine how physically close others can come to you.  Physical boundaries allow you to say how and when you want to be touched and who you want to touch you.

People with counter-dependency issues often had their physical bou8ndaries continually violated through some form of abuse.  They might have been spanked, hit, beaten, slapped, ridiculed, or shamed to intimidate and control them.  Their parents may have even invaded them in the guise of love and affection by teasing, touching, tickling, kissing, and roughhousing with them without giving them a choice…Children typically learn two kinds of responses as the result of such invasive experiences.  The first is to avoid all physical touch.  They do not allow people to get very close to them and they avoid getting too close to other people.  As adults, they usually don’t enjoy snuggling, cuddling, and other kinds of nurturing activities unless it’s associated with sexual foreplay.  The second type of response is to cross the boundaries of others.  This allows them to maintain their offensive, one-up position, which serves them in two ways.  Crossing boundaries, especially in an abusive manner similar to what they experienced as children, allows them to unconsciously pass on their own pain.  This transmission of child abuse and pain to others is called the “vicious cycle of cruelty.”  People with unfinished counter-dependent issues learn that it’s not safe to express their true feelings to their abusers.  Instead, they express their anger to someone they perceive as weaker (helping/fixing).  The second way that invading others serves people with unmet counter-dependency needs is by helping them repress old feelings and avoid facing their neediness.

Healing emotional wounds caused by physical abuse, and learning to create healthy boundaries, begins by paying attention to your body and the bodies of those around you.  Notice how your body responds when you anticipate a violation coming. Do you recoil, stiffen, or withdraw?  Do you hold your breath?  As soon as you notice this kind of cue, you can pause for a moment and examine what real choices you have.

Pg 174:  Old choices might include making an escalated attack to overpower your opponent quickly, or throwing up a wall of defense based on fear and anger, or running away.  These are primitive responses wired into us as part of the adrenal stress response, to fight, flee, or freeze.  New choices might include using assertive “I” statements that protect you and also allow you to stay in a relationship with the other person.  For example, say: “When you borrow my car without asking, I feel angry and violated.  What I want from you is for you to ask permission before you use or borrow any of my belongings.  Are you willing to do that?” or “When you touch my body…”

Pg 175:  Defining another person’s ideas as crazy or stupid is a common way that people with counter-dependency issues violate people’s mental boundaries.  Paraphrasing a statement by Carl Rogers, we can say that, if we accept as a basic fact of our human lives that we all live in separate realities; if we can see those differing realities as the most promising resource in the history of the world for learning about each other; and if we can live together while seeking to learn from one another without fear; then a new age could be dawning….developing a stronger sense of object constancy: the ability to know that you’re worthwhile even when others attack your thoughts or ideas or when you make a mistake.

Pg 176: Developing object constancy and healing old wounds requires creating a safe space inside yourself where you can explore your own ideas, beliefs, perceptions, and experiences.  Here you can begin to construct your own way of looking at who you really are and how the world operates outside your family of origin.

People with counter-dependent behaviors often have trouble with both parts of agreements.  First, they often make agreements they can’t keep, because they want to look good.  Then they don’t keep agreements, because they don’t want to be controlled.

Spiritual boundaries also help you to develop spiritual object constancy and to love yourself unconditionally even when you feel imperfect.  When children are violated spiritually, they often blame themselves for their abuse or neglect, fall out o love with themselves, and then disconnect from their spiritual selves.  Spiritual violation is often experienced as terror.

Terror is a combination of shame and fear that involves highly controlled behavior, demands perfectionism, and contains a threat of death.  Statements such as “God will punish you!” and “You’re going to burn in hell for that!” are common forms of spiritual terrorizing that many people with counter-dependency issues experienced in childhood.

Pg 177:  People with unmet counter-dependent needs can see God as an ally only when they’re attempting to control others….Transforming spiritual violations usually takes longer than any of the other kinds of boundary violations, because they traumatize people’s souls…When the wound is finally healed, there is room for an influx or flow of love from the Divine.  In twelve-step programs, this is sometimes described as a “spiritual awakening.”



In this exercise you’ll learn how to create appropriate boundaries rather than walls.  You’ll also be able to experience what it feels like to be both the invader and the one being invaded and determine which role you feel most comfortable in. Toward the end of the exercise, you’ll learn how to raise and lower your boundaries, which will allow you protection when you need it and intimacy when you want it.  It’s important as you do this exercise to remain fully aware of what’s happening in your body at all times.

DIRECTIONS: This exercise is best done on a floor with a pile carpet or other surface where you can make an imprint on the surface with your finger.  You need a partner for this exercise, and each of you needs to take turns, following the set of instructions given below.  Choose a partner and sit on the floor across from each other.  Decide who’s going to begin acting the part of the invaded person, and who will play the one who invades.  The person being invaded will complete the exercise first.  Your partner will play the invader.  At the end of this exercise, you’ll exchange roles so that each gets to experience both roles.  You’ll find directions for each role in the exercise.

Step 1. No Boundaries

This part of the exercise is designed to let you really feel what it’s like not to have protective boundaries.  Partners sit across from each other about three feet apart.  Your partner should start making some sort of aggressive or threatening nonverbal move toward you.

He or she should move toward you slowly, with awareness.  Notice how it feels to have someone approach you without warning.  What feelings emerge?  What reaction do you notice in your body? What thoughts come into your mind?

Step 2. Boundaries, No Protection

In this part of the exercise, you’ll learn what it feels like to have a boundary.  Knowing what it feels like heightens your awareness in building boundaries.  This time you’ll know where the boundary is between yourself and your partner, and you’ll notice what you experience when someone crosses your boundary without permission.

1. Partner 1: Draw an imaginary circle around yourself while sitting on the floor.  Use your finger to trace the circle in the carpet, if possible, or use string, magazines, pillows, or whatever you have handy to form a circle.  Feel what it’s like to have the circle (boundary) around you.

Partner 2: Feel what it’s like to be outside this circle and not have a boundary like your partner has.

2. Partner 1: When you have your boundary (real or imaginary) created, tell your partner outside the boundary to begin playing the invader.

Partner 2: Using one hand, gently cross your partner’s boundary.  Each partner should pay attention to how it feels to play the particular role (invader or invadee).  Ask yourself if you like the role you are playing.

Step 3. Creating Boundaries with Protection

This part of the exercise is for developing an awareness of what an appropriate boundary looks and feels like.

Partner 1: Using the boundary created around you as a base, now create an imaginary egg-shaped sphere that completely surrounds you. As you mentally set the sphere in place, notice how it feels to have this imaginary protection around you.  Next, charge your egg with your own energy by breathing it full of breath, through quick bursts of breathing, by radiating out energy from your whole body, or by imagining it full of some color, sound, or other kind of comforting support.

Partner 2: Notice what it feels like when your partner begins to isolate himself or herself from you in this protective egg.  Do you notice any emotions rising in you?  Do you have any other kind of response?

Step 4. Protecting Your Physical Boundaries

In this part of the exercise, you’ll learn how to protect yourself against physical boundary violations.

Partner 1: When you have your egg full of protective energy, ask your partner to attempt to physically invade your space by slowly moving one hand toward your egg.  As the hand comes toward you, you can protect yourself in two ways.  First, use the energy in your egg to make it impenetrable by your partner.  Second, if the hand gets inside your egg, make a countering move with your hand to block your partner’s hand.  Use only enough force to stop the encroachment and to assert your strength. If you undermatch the oncoming energy, you set yourself up to be victimized.  If you overmatch the oncoming energy, you set yourself up as an aggressor.

Partner 2: Invade your partner in a way that feels appropriate for him or her.  If you’re working with a stronger partner, then you can use more force.

Step 5. Protecting Your Mental Boundaries

This part of the exercise focuses on mental rather than physical boundaries and involves letting other people define your reality by telling you what you think or by giving you negative messages that cause you to doubt yourself and your abilities.

Partner 1: Think of something that people say to you that causes you to lose confidence in your ability to think.  You’ll share this information with your partner, who will use it in the exercise in an attempt to violate your mental boundaries.  Perhaps it’s some kind of message that says you’re stupid, dumb, or crazy.  Now share this message with your partner while you are standing or sitting outside your boundary.  Then return to the safety of your egg, making sure it’s full of energy or whatever kind of protection you have filled it with.  Your partner is going to repeat the message you just shared with him or her while you stay in the safety of your egg.  When you have your egg ready, indicate to your partner that you’re ready to begin.

Partner 2: Speak the disturbing message that your partner shared with you.  You can repeat it with different inflections, and then begin to add variations of your own that you intuitively sense will fit with the original message.

Partner 1: Continue to keep the shell of your egg impenetrable.  Use the protective devices you have created (color, sound, energy) to repel your partner’s attempts to cross your mental boundaries.  You can close your eyes, look away from your partner, or sing a song to yourself if you need to. When you’re able to do this successfully, you can tell your partner to stop.  If your partner’s words begin to penetrate your shell, ask him or her to stop while you recharge your egg.  Continue with the exercise until you know you can protect yourself against mental violations without difficulty.

Step 6.  Protecting Your Emotional Boundaries


This part of the exercise focus on emotional boundaries and involves letting other people define your reality by telling you what you feel or by giving you negative messages that cause you to doubt your own feelings.

Partner 1: Remember the kinds of things people do or say to you that cause you to give up, modify, or hide your real feelings.  These could be seductive messages, such as “Please rescue me, I’m helpless,” or “You’re so important; we really need you to do this job,” which appeals to your need to be important.  Now share this message with your partner while you’re standing or sitting outside of your boundary. Then return to the safety of your egg, filling it again with protection.  When your egg is ready, give your partner the signal to begin the invasion.

Partner 2: Speak the message your partner shared with you.  Use body language and voice inflections that amplify the emotional part of the message.  For example, if your partner’s message had a victim tone in it, look and sound like a real victim.

Partner 1: Continue to keep your egg impenetrable as your partner gives you your message.  Give yourself comforting messages if you need to, saying things like: “my feelings are mine, and they are okay.”  When you can successfully resist your partner’s message, tell him or her to stop.  If you have difficulty at any point, stop the invasion and recharge your egg.  Continue until you can protect yourself against violations of your emotional boundaries.

Step 7. Moving in the World with Protection and Boundaries


In this part of the exercise, you’ll learn how to take your egg with you as you move about in the world.  Both partners should make sure they have their eggs positioned around them.  If you were the first Partner 1, take the time to firmly reestablish your protective egg.  When both partners have their eggs in place, they should stand up, each imagining his or her egg as a hoop with handles.  Picking up your egg-hoop, begin to move around the room.  Notice how you react as you encounter your partner and as he or she comes close to your egg.  Do you have an impulse to make your egg stronger and invade your partner?  Or do you find yourself giving up your boundary?  As you move around the room, try to keep your boundary intact.  Stay out of your partner’s egg, and keep yourself totally separate.

Step 8.  Raising and Lowering Your Boundaries


This is a very important step for people with counter-dependent issues, who have little experience in allowing other people inside their boundaries.  It’s important to go slowly and experiment with this step.

As you walk around the room with your partner, notice when you feel safe and when you feel unsafe.  When you can identify people whose energy feels safe, try opening and closing your egg as you come close to one of these people.  To envision how you might let others inside your egg, you can imagine having a sliding door in your egg’s shell, or a window blind with a pull string, or little lens-type holes that open and close.  Become aware of what it feels like to actually be in charge of deciding who enters your space and how far they can enter. It’s the ability to open or close the shell of your protective egg that really allows you to be in the world safely and still be intimate.  For many people with unmet counter-dependent needs, this kind of exercise will provide the first experience of both safety and intimacy.

Step 9.  Touching and Maintaining Boundaries


This can be the most difficult part of the exercise, for it requires you to actually let someone completely penetrate your egg while you still maintain your boundaries.  This exercise also requires that you learn to give off nonverbal signals congruent with your desire or lack of desire to be touched.  And it requires that you learn to read the nonverbal signals of other people that indicate their desire or lack of desire to be touched. This kind of knowledge is valuable for the person with counter-dependent issues who never had an opportunity to develop these skills.

As you walk around the room, nonverbally let your partner know whether or not you want him or her to touch you. Use your face and body to give off clear signals about your position on being touched.  Also, notice when your partner invites you to touch him or her.  Learn to read the nonverbal signals that indicate how much and where to touch.  Approach your partner slowly and cautiously, so that you can stop quickly if you reach the limit.

Step 10. Discussion and Interpretation


Now discuss with your partner what you learned by doing these boundary exercises.  Talk about ways you can use this information in your life – how you might use what you learned to create healthy boundaries for yourself in your relationships.


  • People with unmet counter-dependency needs often had their boundaries violated when they were children, and they built walls to protect themselves from further harm.
  • In order to protect themselves, people with unmet counter-dependent needs often cross the boundaries of others.
  • Healthy boundaries are an important part of sustainable intimate relationships.
  • It’s never too late to learn how to create physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual boundaries.

Pg 187: Counter-dependent people tend to be more aware of others’ flaws and insufficiencies than they are of their own unmet needs and flaws.  Counter-dependent individuals use projections to protect themselves from encountering the reality of their own unmet needs.  If they are in a relationship with someone who has co-dependent behaviors, they see this person as the sick or needy one in the relationship.  This one-up position allows the person with counter-dependent behaviors to project his or her own shadow and look like the “good,” or “healthy,” partner….Your shadow consists of all those aspects of yourself that you hide form others and from yourself.  These are usually aspects that your parents, teachers, or society told you were wrong, deviant, bad, unruly, or uncivilized…By the time most people are nineteen or twenty, they have split off their most vital parts and stored them in this bag, including their creativity, their passions, their sexuality, their ability to have deep feelings, their energy, their spontaneity, their hungers, their enthusiasms, their dreams, and whatever else was deemed frivolous, unattractive, or otherwise unacceptable by others.

People with counter-dependency issues usually become overidentified with their False Self.  This keeps them trying to look acceptable enough, or nonthreatening enough, to others, all in the hopes of meeting their unmet developmental needs.  They hope that if they conform enough they’ll get the respect, love, and recognition they’ve always wanted.  Of course, this doesn’t work. Instead, they find themselves on a treadmill, doing as much as possible to look good to others but feeling empty inside.

Pg 189: One of the core beliefs of people with unmet counter-dependency needs is that they are not enough.  They are not lovable enough, not handsome enough, not good enough sons, fathers, daughters, or mothers, and so on….Most people keep the real self, or True Self, from accidentally popping out of the bag by focusing on unacceptable things that others are saying and doing.  Here projection is a useful defense.  Interestingly, when you project a quality of your own onto others, it’s like giving it away, and it becomes difficult to reclaim if you ever want it back.  For example, a man projects his ability to express feelings onto his wife, and lets her feel all the feelings in the relationship.

The awful closet full of monsters, or the bag you’ve been dragging behind you since childhood, contains the juiciest parts of your True Self…It’s necessary to mourn the lost years with your True Self, or your inner child, so that you can begin the often scary and sometimes painful process of reclaiming the parts of you that you gave up in order to be accepted by others.  Breaking free of counter-dependency requires facing your weaknesses, insecurities, fears, and shadow parts and then learning to love each one of them as you would love a hurt and rejected child.

Pg 190: Toxic shame  …hide your inner feelings and thoughts form others…you are shamed in some way, and you quickly get the monkey off your back by shaming someone else.

Pg 192: The third way you may develop toxic shame, according to Bradshaw, is by experiencing profound betrayal and a violation of primal trust when you were shamed as a child.  There was no time to grieve this loss and no support available to help you grieve….one major difference between a developmental trauma and an “owie.”  When something unexpected happened to you as a child, like falling down and skinning your knee, it may only have been an “owie” if someone was there to comfort you and support you emotionally.  If no one was there to support you, you experienced abandonment, an then even a small event like this became a developmental trauma…You can see that toxic shame helps explain why people who have counter-dependency issues split off aspects of themselves.  Until they identify the core shaming experiences that created their original pain (developmental traumas in their trauma drama) and get help in expressing this pain, they won’t break free of the shame and it will continue to color their intimate relationships…When yon find yourself feeling blamed or projecting blame onto others, it’s important to check our perceptions.

Pg 193: They may try to provoke or manipulate their partners back into their False Selves.  The solution that many couples choose at this stage is to have children and project their shadow parts onto them.  Children can’t fight back and are always doing things they shouldn’t be doing, so they make great targets for projections…They may recognize that they’ve diminished themselves through the projection process, which leads them to take inventory of their lives and decide to change them…In stage 5, according to Bly, the task is to “eat” your shadow.  This means facing everything you’ve pushed away from yourself and projected onto others…You have to chew up, swallow, and digest all that you’ve been afraid of.  By reintegrating these split-off parts, you can begin to express deeper feelings, feel more passionate about life, become more spontaneous, and become more healthful and spiritual.

Pg 195: It wasn’t “Jane the angry bitch” talking, but “Jane the scared child” who was yelling at her husband…Later on, Jane’s mother periodically blamed Jane for breaking up her parents’ marriage.

Pg 200:  As adults, unfortunately, people often treat their inner child the exact same way they were parented as children.

Pg 206:  Learning self-parenting skills means taking charge of healing your inner child and actively championing that child.  This requires letting go of the illusion that, if you become perfect enough, clever enough, or obedient enough, your parents or other parent substitutes will provide you with what you need.  The only way you’re going to heal your inner child is by asking directly for what you want from those who have what you need and by providing the rest yourself… “I’m glad you were born,” “You belong here,” “I love you just the way you are,” “You are lovable and capable,” “You can ask for what you want and need,”  “You can trust your inner knowing,” “You can think for yourself,” and “I will not abandon you.”

Pg 207:  You may need to process some of your anger and resentment in order to let in positive support


Mary: John, when you raise your voice in the middle of an argument with me, I feel scared like I did when I was a little girl. I was never able to respond to my father when I was little.  I know now what I would have like to have said to him when he did that to me.  Would you be willing to play my father for about ten minutes and help me finish this with my father?

John:  I don’t want to be your father.  I want to be your husband.

Mary:  I know you aren’t my father, but when you do certain things you remind me of my father.  I want to take care of this unfinished business, so that I no longer see his face instead of yours when we get in an argument.

John:  Oh, well, if that’s the case, sure, I can play the role of your father for a few minutes.

Mary (now talking to her father): When I was small and I did things you didn’t like, you would yell at me, and I got scared of you.  You were so much bigger than I was that I felt powerless to tell you how I felt. I want to tell you now. Will you listen to me and not yell at me?

John (as Mary’s father): Yes, I will listen to you, and I won’t yell at you.

Mary (now sobbing quietly): I really wanted you to talk to me and play with me, but it seemed like you were always too busy, and that the only attention I got was when you yelled at me.  I wondered what I had done to make you hate me so. You were so hateful to me.  I still need you to tell me that you love me.  And I need you to hold me and tell me the things that you like about me.  Will you do that?

John: Yes, I do love you, Mary, and I would like to hold you and comfort you.  (now holding and rocking Mary) You are a wonderful little girl.  You are smart and so full of life and joy.  You are very lovable, and I’m glad you’re my daughter.  I’m very sorry I didn’t tell you these things when you were a child.  I had my priorities backwards then, and I was always too busy for my children.  I regret that deeply.  Is there anything else that you want me to tell you as your dad?

Mary: No, that is all I can think of now.  Thank you, John, for playing my dad and telling me those things.  It really helped.  I could feel myself relaxing in your arms as you said those things.  I think it will really help me to stop seeing you as my father and to see you more as John.

Pg 209:  Many adults attempting to comfort themselves turn to substitutes such as alcohol, drugs, sex, material things, and food.  These don’t work well and often have addictive side effects.

Pg 214:  They began to see how incompatible they really were in many aspects.  Julie, for instance, was emotionally a newborn child.  She saw that she had developmental gaps in her childhood, and that she had never really been autonomous.  She had always been under the care and supervision of someone who played a parent role with her. She had never really been an adolescent or learned how to relate appropriately with boys.

Pg 219: All the things that make conflict a negative experience for people with co-dependent patterns are actually positives for people with counter-dependent patterns, because they are interested in using conflict to avoid intimacy in the first place…When there is too much intimacy, the person with counter-dependency issues may begin to feel old feelings of suffocation.  By moving into the persecutor role, he or she can quickly generate a heated conflict and create separation between the partners.  This promptly diffuses the suffocation and reinstates a feeling of safety.  If there is too much space in the relationship, and the partner with co-dependent patterns begins to feel old feelings of abandonment, he or she can go quickly into victim mode and create a conflict designed to pull the other person back into contact.  This will help diffuse the feelings of abandonment and reassure the person with unmet co-dependent needs that he or she will not be abandoned, at least not as long as the conflict continues…While conflict serves as a valuable tool in modulating the amount of closeness and separation in dysfunctional relationships, it also prevents lasting intimacy and keeps both people from addressing their unmet needs for bonding and separation that are left over from childhood.  For this reason, a growing number of people who want intimacy are no longer able to live with unresolved conflict.

Pg 220:  Only compassion and care for your own wounded inner child and the wounded inner child in others can help you to use conflict situations to learn more about yourself and other people.  Becoming aware of your own wounds and the wounds of others removes a major barrier on the road to intimacy…Next, you need a sturdy vehicle to get you past the ruts and wrong turns – one that can survive the marshy wetlands and the unpaved trails of the high places.  Your vehicle needs gears that allow you to reverse or change direction if needed…close the exits and commit to staying in the relationship while you’re in the process of recovering intimacy….Finally, it’s necessary to develop a vision of partnership conflict-resolution that keeps you headed toward closeness.  This means your vehicle needs a compass or homing device to help you navigate the road to intimacy.

Pg 221: That was an important lesson for us, for we could see the inherent dangers when neighbors do not speak to each other at the global level…the need for effective tools and maps for resolving conflict.. model for working with conflict.

Pg 222: Resolving conflicts effectively brings people closer together and helps them work more cooperatively…Each person involved in a conflict has an important role to play

Pg 234: contract with her to help fill her unmet need for her father to hold or nurture her, for time to play, and for time to talk…We often talk about the difference between a trauma and an “owie.” When you’re hurt either physically or emotionally and there is someone present who understands and comforts you, it’s jus an owie.  However, if no one is there to comfort you, the experience is likely to become a trauma.

Pg 241:  During the first six to eight years of life, children have a natural need to see their parents and other adults as perfect.  This provides them with the sense of security they need to grow up.  Without this, they fear they won’t survive.  When sexual abuse occurs before the age of eight or ten, children tend to blame themselves for the abuse rather than see their parents or other adults as not perfect.  These children believe that they must have done something bad and must deserve bad things that happen to them.

Pg 242: …hide these memories from themselves.  This also helps them maintain the belief that their parents were perfect, which keeps their security blanket intact.  They believe they need this security blanket because they are flawed and unworthy and, as a result of the experience, incapable of changing who they are…The developmental traumas caused by repeated exposure to these forms of sexual abuse and neglect can create the same kinds of sexual dysfunctions in adults that are caused by unintentional sexual abuse and neglect….We have some anecdotal data from our therapy practice suggesting that some gays and lesbians were victims of intentional or unintentional sexual abuse or neglect, and that this abuse or neglect may have affected their sexual preference.

Pg 243: Frequently, those who were abused don’t recognize the acts of unintentional sexual child abuse or neglect that they experienced, even thought they still suffer from the effects.

Unintentional Sexual Abuse or Neglect

  • Parents did not give you age-appropriate information or talk to you about human sexuality while you were growing up.
  • Parents did not give you specific information or talk to you about menstruation or normal sexual development in adolescence.
  • Parents refused to answer your questions about sexual development.
  • Parents gave you very little appropriate nonsexual touching or hugging.
  • Parents walked around the house nude or wearing only underwear and/or skimpy negligees.

Pg 244: Children caught in the dysfunctional drama triangle, for example, are often “parentized.”  They’re encouraged to act as an adult partner to one of their parents and, in turn, may be given special titles such as “Daddy’s little princess” or “Mama’s little man.” This behavior is considered covert incest, since it entails no actual intercourse or inappropriate touching but does involve the presence of active sexual energy.

Intentional Child Sexual Abuse and Neglect

  • A parent or other adult gave you wet or open-mouthed or lingering kisses on your mouth.

Pg 245:  Taking Inventory of Your History of Sexual Abuse or Neglect

  • I have large gaps in my childhood memories.
  • I have trouble maintaining an intimate relationship.
  • I sexualize relationships even when I don’t want to.
  • I am afraid of having children or afraid of being around them.

Pg 250:  Barriers to Sexual Intimacy

  • I have difficulty asking for what I want sexually from my partner
  • I’m afraid to feel my sexual feelings fully and completely.
  • I’m afraid to let my partner know what I enjoy about sex.
  • I’m afraid to initiate sex with my partner.

I’m afraid my partner will disapprove of what I’m doing or feeling sexually.

Pg 289: When the desire for individuation occurs in an intimate relationship. And one of the partners wants to explore the world through new activities or wants to develop friendships outside the relationship, it’s important to frame this as a positive event. If both partners understand that the need for emotional separation and individuation is a normal and important developmental need, the conflicts over oneness and separateness are easier to handle….The process is complex because it involves a replay of efforts to complete the psychological birth during childhood…destructive methods to help him or her separate, such as having affairs, complaining, or developing addictive behaviors, it’s important to frame these as mechanisms for coping with the emergence of repressed emotions and as “unskilled behaviors.”…both partners are doing the best they can…It’s also important for partners to define their relationship as a sacred place for healing developmental traumas without shame or blame.

Pg 292:  Rebelliousness is much more difficult to cope with once children reach adolescence.  They will have upgraded the separation process of their two-year-old selves and increased in complexity. By this time, they are bright, articulate, and fairly experienced at playing adult games that will test parents’ patience to the limits.  And limits are exactly what adolescents need to help them clear away remnants of omnipotence, grandiosity, euphoria, and entitlement. Adolescence is a last-chance opportunity to help children move out of counter-dependency and into independence.  It is important to cocreate contracts with adolescents that clearly identify what’s permissible and what’s not.  When children help set their own limits, they are often stricter than their parents.  Giving them input about limits also allows children to have personal power and prevents them from resorting to oppositional behavior and rebellion in order to feel powerful.  At the time any agreements are jointly created, adolescents should be asked to define the explicit consequences they want if they do not keep the terms of the agreements…When an agreement is broken, it is the parents’ responsibility to see that children take primary responsibility in administering the consequences.  This supports the development of personal integrity and helps them see that the agreement is with themselves rather than with some external authority, which also helps them develop a conscience.  Putting the child in charge of monitoring the terms of the agreement and enacting the consequences takes the parents out of the role of police officer…. “It’s okay for you to have your own beliefs, your own feelings, and your own dreams.  I will still love you when you become your own person.”

One way to know if your old issues are contaminating a current conflict with a child is to look at the size of the issue and at the size of your reaction to it….Parents often find they are reparenting themselves at the same time they are parenting their children…The adults, who make up the system’s core level, must be committed to keeping their own relationship clear and must work diligently to resolve any conflicts between themselves.  Anything not resolved between them will spread into the children’s level of the system and create a family conflict.  One child in a family often plays the “agitator” role and acts out anything that is unresolved, unspoken, or unaddressed in the system.

Pg 294:  parents may deen psychological help in order to separate their issues from those of their children and learn to take back what they have projected onto their children.

13 thoughts on “Counter-Dependency”

  1. Toni,
    I am convinced that this is definitely a book that belongs in my self-help library. What an excellent job you have done to capture one’s interest by extracting key information that anyone can use to aid them on their journey towards wellness and wholeness. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Amazing I appreciate the effort of the author especially considering I need this information to better understand myself and heal this complex defence mechanism. Thank you

    1. Great to hear from you Joy. Keep reading. You will find what you are looking for! Good luck to you.


  3. There is a condition, I believe, that is an intense combination of both disorders. I know because I have it. There is no help for people like this from what I’ve gathered. Stay alone. People judge you for having the wrong feelings. I guess it’s the super co-dependent ones who control you and make you ashamed of every feeling you’ve ever had. A life alone.

    1. Carlos,

      It’s been a while since I received your message. Since then, I have read and highly recommend Pete Walker’s new book about Complex PTSD, called from Surviving to Thriving. I have a recent blog about his book, if you want to know more. Also, if you are interested, you can find it on Amazon. Good luck to you. Though you may not feel like it, you are truly not alone!!

  4. It’s finally becoming a little bit clearer. I’ve clung to my perception of self as being a rock, an island, for over twenty years (since mid-teens) and been quite pround of my perceived independence and capabilities. It’s all unravelling now, but I’m hopefully I can fill these past empty, hopeless years with joy and passion. Exciting times! Hape just bought this book on Amazon.

    1. Margo, I also highly recommend Pete Walker’s new book about Complex PTSD, called from Surviving to Thriving. You can also find it on Amazon, and I have a recent blog about his book. Life changing. I’m so glad to hear from you, and good luck!!

  5. Thanks very much Toni, I’ll check out the Complex PTSD book – I can absolutely relate to the title; I was sure ‘surviving’ was the best I had to look forward to in this life, if I chose to survive at all. I’m so excited that thriving might be an option for me now! The term PTSD is something that makes me instinctively shy away though, I think because I associate PTSD with people who absolutely have something to be very traumatised about happen to them. I feel like a complete fraud/drama-queen even thinking I might be remotely affected. Will check out the book though, thanks very much for responding 🙂

    1. It will make much more sense when you do! Good luck to you. Remember you have needs, and are worthy of having them met. You are entitled to all your feelings, and it’s okay to take the time you need to learn how to care for yourself lovingly and responsibly. Onward to thriving!

  6. I’ll drink to that! (Metaphorically speaking…;)

  7. Toni,

    Thank you for doing such a wonderful job of bringing some of the highlights of this book to public view. I will be buying and reading it starting tonight, actually.

    I found this collection of ideas from the book to be immensely helpful and I haven’t even read the whole book yet.

    1. Toni Rahman says:

      So glad to hear it! Thank you for letting me know, and I hope you enjoy the book. Blessings on your healing journey!

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