Have you ever wondered what’s up with the man who spends all his time in the office instead of with his partner? Or that girl who never has a relationship longer than six months before she ends it and runs away? They could be counter-dependent and fear commitment and intimacy. They are on the other end of the spectrum to a codependent.

People are becoming more and more aware of the general symptoms of codependency. As this awareness increases, so the chances of recovering to a healthy place increase as well. Codependency is one of the consequences of the failure of one of the most important developmental processes, completion of the bonding process with caregivers. This causes the very typical codependent behaviours that are quite easy to recognise. A list of these behaviours is listed on What Is Codependency.

Counter-dependency signs can include a fear of intimacy, commitment and a resistance to monogamy.

Codependents have the tendency to enmesh themselves with others in order to feel valued and respected. They do this by martyring themselves and sacrificing any needs they might have. They are sometimes needy, demanding people who use tactics such as the Drama Triangle in order to control all around them. They please others and become a caregiver, rescuer and victim to fill the self-esteem void they have. If others feel good, they feel good and they dysfunctionally feel that their needs are being met and this becomes almost like an addiction. It is often with people who are emotionally aloof, like counter-dependents.

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Counter-dependents also have needs, of course, but tend to hide them in workaholic activities and overachieving. Many counter-dependents are very driven people but can be aloof and distant. They prefer relationships with codependents and they make a perfect dysfunctional match. In these cases, it can be hard for some to tell the difference between their counter-dependent partner and what they read on the internet about narcissists. I am certain that many people have used the word “narcissist” to describe a distant partner when counter-dependency is truly what is happening.

Counter-dependents might be aloof and fear intimacy but they do show empathy and care, something a narcissist cannot.

Some other symptoms of counter dependency include:

Good at relating to a point where it gets difficult.

Feeling constantly trapped in relationships

Pushing people away and becoming “cold” without warning

Fear of abandonment or rejection (so abandon and reject first)

Tendency to have relationships with needy codependents

Might have different personalities for different people to avoid being seen

Always busy people, overworking or filling time with hobbies

Are often not tender sexual partners to avoid tenderness and emotional intimacy

Might have relationships withe people they know will only be friends

A counter-dependent will avoid anyone getting close to them so dependency will not be an issue. Due to this, communication is based on a lack of trust and suspicion of motive. This manifests as:

Walking away from or avoiding conflict

Second guessing of people’s motives based on lack of trust

The constant feeling they will be let down so asking for help is difficult

Counter-dependents will also display a specific mindset that mirrors a childhood where they were often left to fend for themselves emotionally. This mindset will include:

Being oversensitive to criticism but being hard on themselves

Have a strong inner critic and hate making mistakes

Not relaxing easily and will suffer guilt when not productive

Will experience guilt when they feel needy

Will often feel lonely and isolated

The roots of counter-dependency:

Babies and children have a deep inner need to be close to caregivers. Yet they can quickly learn to stop or suppress these outward expressions if they become aware that their need to express will be rejected. When their inner needs for connection and physical closeness aren’t met, children will develop an avoidant attachment to their caregivers and will stop seeking closeness or expressing emotion.


Counter-dependents often have an avoidant attachment style that developed in childhood. This is often the result of trauma due to a parent leaving or dying, widespread abuse or the feeling that the people around the child could not be trusted. More often, it will be the attachment formed with primary caregivers. An “avoidant” attachment style (the basis of counter-dependency) is formed when a caregiver is not emotionally available for the child.

This means that the child was pushed to be more “independent” than it should have been at a young age. Caregivers often foster this avoidance by having an expectation of practical and emotional independence for their children, even at a young age. Avoidant attachment can also develop through parental behaviour such as shaming emotion, active suppression of emotion in their child and non-awareness of distress and fear.

Babies and toddlers who have access to warm, responsive caregivers will develop a strong healthy relationship to them and subsequently others, limiting the chances of counter or codependency.

Children and adults who have an avoidant attachment style will often find it difficult to connect with others and will consciously avoid closeness with the feeling that “they shouldn’t need others”. Adults will often find it difficult to express needs and will often project this by finding fault with others. It is often difficult for them to reach out for help so needs and emotions are often suppressed with a range of self-soothing distractions. All of which will likely not include others. Counter-dependency in relationships is very often the result and can also be termed “the refusal of attachment”.

Aims in recovery from Counter-dependency:

The main aim of any therapeutic intervention with counter-dependency is to foster what is known as interdependency. This means that we acknowledge that we can take care of ourselves and have a desire to be in charge of our lives but we acknowledge also that we can be interconnected with others in a healthy way.

It must be recognised that change will take time as counter-dependency is often embedded deep in the mind and is associated with automatic thinking patterns and behaviour. Therapy works on the basis that the closer adult relationships become, the more they will trigger memories and trauma from childhood. This is the place to start and it is a question of redefining intimacy and feeling comfortable in conflict and showing vulnerability.

This means building trust by finding consistent “team” solutions and sharing emotions and views. Ultimately, it means being willing to share with a committed partner everything mental, emotional, spiritual and physical while defining “me-time” in a healthy manner.

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