Is It Interdependence, or Really Just Co-Dependence?
The idea of interdependence is an important and necessary one for us to embrace in modern life. We’ve moved beyond the days of subsistence, where we produce and make nearly everything we need. This gives us the ability to express our individuality and uniqueness in ways that we never could if our survival depended upon raising our own food, creating our own shelter, and managing everything that goes along with doing that ourselves. And, people working together, each sharing their gifts, is what allows us to accomplish new and bigger things that allow us to move forward as a society.
One way I’ve heard interdependence described is that it is the way our bodies work. Everything in our bodies works in complete sympathy with everything else, and yet each cell and component is self-sufficient on its own. When it comes to human self-sufficiency, I believe that means that healthy adults are meant to be able to rely on themselves for their own basic emotional and physical needs. The basis for self-sufficiency is that we have everything within us that we need to provide what we need and want in life. When we come from that place, we have a stable platform from which to share our gifts with the world and work with others to create something bigger than we could do on our own.
Contrast that with co-dependency, which is sometimes mistaken for interdependency. Co-dependency has more of a crutch feeling to it. It is based on the feeling that one doesn’t have everything they need within themselves to be stable and gather the resources they need, so they lean on someone else for those things. People express co-dependence in different ways, so that one person may be very dependent on others financially, while another is very dependent emotionally. There’s often a subtle (or not so subtle) manipulative factor to co-dependency, also. The co-dependent person is often good at determining and becoming what someone else wants them to be, so that this other person will provide what the co-dependent person feels they need.
You can see how interdependence comes from a place of inner strength, while co-dependence comes from a place of inner lack. I hesitate to say weakness, because the potential for inner strength is within us all, and it’s just that this potential is blocked for those who behave in co-dependent ways.
This internal block is caused by what I call Learned Distress, the feeling we all absorbed early in life that there is something wrong with us being exactly the way that we are. This negative feeling becomes embedded in our sense of self, and it becomes the automatic, generating force behind our negative situations. Everyone absorbs a different flavor of Learned Distress. Those who develop co-dependent behavior absorbed the feeling that they can’t depend on themselves in one arena or another; they have to depend on others in some way in order to survive.
My clients who have unlearned the source of their co-dependency usually experience shifts in several ways. First, they feel more capable and confident in their own abilities. As a result, they feel less dependent on others for their basic needs. They also are able to uncover their unique gifts and find ways of sharing them with the world. And, they often find themselves either seeking or being sought by others to collaborate in making bigger things happen in the world in ways that fit perfectly with their uniqueness. A great example is a couple who are both clients of mine, and are both artists. They’ve always collaborated with each other on projects, but as they’ve both unlearned in this arena, they have found themselves branching out and working with others on their projects. They’re finding strengths they didn’t know they had, uncovering new ways of expressing themselves, finding others who fill in skill gaps they had experienced when trying to work on their own, and reaching out in whole new ways with their artistry, as a result.
The world needs all of us, sharing our uniqueness and working together with others to help the world shift in good ways that would be impossible if each of us worked alone. We’re meant to work together, but co-dependency often gets in the way of us really being able to do that effectively. I hope that this has helped you understand the difference between co-dependence and interdependence, so that you can move toward more fully making your vital contribution to our world.
Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.