Co-Dependent, Independent, or Interdependent?
- Dependence says, “I need you.” It’s the paradigm of “you.” You take care of me; you come through for me. You didn’t come through for me; I blame you for this problem.
- The next level is independence. It’s the paradigm of “I.” I can do this, I don’t need you, I’m responsible; I’m self-reliant. I don’t need anyone.
- On the other hand, interdependence is a healthy combination of the two. It is a paradigm of “we.” Interdependence is a realization that life works better when we are involved in healthy relationships with others. Interdependence says we can do this, we can cooperate, and we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together than we could alone.
God created us to live in community. The very first thing God pronounced as not good is in Gen. 2:18 when He stated, “It is not good for man to be alone;” therefore He never intended for us to do life alone. God created us in love, for love and to be loved. We can blame our lineage, parents, grandparents, or our environment at any given moment…a spouse, a boss, a coworker, children, teenagers, health, financial issues…these are responsible for my situation and my misery. “If it wasn’t for this, that, or them…things would be just fine!”
If I’m independent, I operate from the other extreme, but no less dysfunctional. My expectations rule my thinking and again I’m reactive. My decisions are fear-based, driven by concern that others cannot be trusted. “I’ve been hurt in the past and I’m sure I will be hurt again.” Once again, my emotions drive my behaviors, with little consideration of your thoughts or your feelings. It may look different from dependence in that when you ruffle my feathers I’ll say, “I can’t stand to be around you,” and I withdraw. Again, I learned this independent stance in my family of origin perhaps by spending a lot of time alone as a child and being responsible for myself. If there is no one to rely on, I learn to take care of me, and am now determined that I will not allow what someone else does or thinks about me to determine my self-worth or my feelings. The problem is that this is a cover-up. In reality, I am very insecure on the inside since I wasn’t important enough for others to take care of me when I was young. I get what I want through my own effort and I’m not too concerned about your toes if I happen to step on them. This result is decisions that end in heartache when the independent person decides what they want is more important than family relationships. “I know what chaos looks like and I’m done with that. It’s now my turn to be in control.” There is a place for everything and everything in its place. I may have a very strong opinion about how things “should” be done, when they “should” be done, and being determined not to be hurt again, I stay emotionally disconnected. These people find themselves addicted to short-term relationships, substance abuse, sexual addictions, pornography, and use a host of other ways to satisfy their longings apart from real intimate relationships.
Interdependence is a much better and more mature option. Interdependence says we can combine our efforts to create something bigger and better together. I am no longer dependent on you, and I’m no longer independent, relying on myself. I realize my worth is because God created me in His image and my identity is in Him. I’m free to be me; you are free to be you. I can combine what I have with what you have and together we can create something better. We relate to one another as open, honest, and responsible partners in our relationship. I can derive a sense of worth in myself, as I embrace God’s view of me, who he created me to be and His sacrifice for me. All of that makes me important and worthy, and I can treat others with kindness and express love and acceptance, forgiveness and grace to you, not expecting you to meet all my emotional needs. Working from interdependence, we look for solutions to problems learning to negotiate and compromise so both parties come away with a win/win solution.
God uses marriage as the catalyst by which we must grow up and learn to manage the dance of separateness and togetherness in an emotionally committed relationship. Give and take is a reflection of what scripture tells us in Ephesians 4…“submit yourselves one to another.” Being willing to cooperate, “regard others as more important than yourself,” (Phil 2:3b) and not expecting to get your way all the time. It takes effort and energy to seek to understand before being understood. Clear thinking operates from a foundation of knowing who you are, speaking out of that knowing and being able to state in a calm clear manner what you will do and will not do, and the ability to keep from being defensive or critical, nor acquiescing and giving in. There is a difference in peacekeeping and peacemaking as Matthew speaks of in Chapter 5, but this is for another blog. This stance enables me to act rather than being acted upon. I live my life from clear thought-out principles, beliefs, standards, values, and priorities based on who I want to be and where I am going. This results in not expecting others to take care of me (dependent) nor me taking care of them.
Emotional interdependence states I care about you, I’m sorry you are feeling badly, but I will not own nor take responsibility for your feelings. Each person takes responsibility for communicating his or her own thoughts, positions, and beliefs, viewing the other as capable and adequate to function in a given situation, in an open, honest, separate and equal stance, aware of how God created us. He established relationships because He ordained relationships necessary for our own well-being. Love is the oil that makes relationships function according to His guidelines. Since I John 4:18 states perfect love casts out fear; therefore could we conclude that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear? God’s plan is that we become connected to Him in such a way that we get our internal value and worth from Him first, trusting Him to provide our ability to function in a position of dependency on Him not on others.
When we operate out of either a dependent stance or an independent stance, fear drives the behavior. It’s easy to point our finger at anything that impedes our goals. Here’s the real problem…if you think the problem is out there…that’s the problem. I realized later in life that’s what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Get the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clearly how to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41). Interdependence says I know God did not create me to do life alone, but neither did He create me to be so needy that I can’t function without emotional support from another. He created me to get that from Him first and foremost. Learning to function in a balanced interdependent stance where I refrain from attacking others or defending myself smooths out the volatile vicissitudes of highs and lows. It lowers my anxiety, my blood pressure, and gives me the ability to make wise choices for my present situation and my future endeavors. This opens up the opportunity to share myself deeply and meaningfully in open honest communication with those I’m in closest contact. Deep intimacy, and vulnerability and emotional sustenance abound in this relationship of “we.”