Codependence vs. Interdependence

“Love must be as much a light, as it is a flame.” – Henry David Thoreau

Many people know the feeling of wanting so much to be connected to another person that they are willing to sacrifice their own sense of self in an attempt to obtain and maintain this connection.  Often times, the person is not even aware that they are subjugating their own needs, wishes, and interests because the intoxicating pull of romantic love is … well, intoxicating.

Before you know it, you wake up wondering who you are anymore without this other person to define you and give you a sense of self.  That very love that was once so alluring and mesmerizing begins to suffocate the soul.  In the throes of codependence, boundaries between self and idealized other are completed blurred.  Enmeshment is the result of this blurring of psychic boundaries.  According to Facing Codependence (Mellody, 2003), there are:

Five core symptoms of codependence:

  • Difficulty experiencing appropriate levels of self-esteem
  • Difficulty setting functional boundaries
  • Difficulty owning your own reality
  • Difficulty acknowledging and meeting your own needs and wants and being interdependent with others
  • Difficulty experiencing and expressing your reality moderately

In order to have a healthy balanced relationship, we must strive for greater interdependence.  In this type of relationship we are able to clearly distinguish between self and other – my interests, your interests – my goals, your goals, etc.  Sharing interests and goals can be healthy and wonderful, but the difference is that there is a clear line between where “I” end and “you” begin.

When a relationship rests on a foundation of interdependence, a couple is able to rely on one another for support, friendship, and love, but each partner also has a sense of self-reliance.  There is balanced support.  The relationship is not based on neediness, but on mutual affection, respect, and choice.

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Mellody, P. (2003). Facing codependence: what it is, where it comes from, how it sabotages our lives. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

Featured image: Exploring the light: hearts by doegox / CC BY-SA 2.0

About Laura K. Chang, Ph.D.

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. I received my M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Boston College in the spring of 2010. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. Mary Ross on April 19, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    I particularly enjoyed this post. Thank you!

    • Laura on April 21, 2011 at 10:15 pm

      I’m glad that you enjoyed this post! I look forward to discussing these types of relationship issues in future posts as well.

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