Codependency: Toxic Traits or Cultural Differences? 

Codependency, culture

Relationship dynamics can vary significantly across cultures, and understanding these differences is crucial for building successful and fulfilling relationships. 

Cultural values, beliefs, and norms can influence how individuals perceive and approach relationships, and can also shape the roles and expectations of individuals within relationships. 

In this article, we will explore the concepts of codependency, interdependence, and independence, and examine how these dynamics are viewed in different cultural contexts.

Codependency, Interdependence, and Independence: Unpacking Relationship Traits

Codependency, Interdependence, and Independence have become common terms used in Western Psychology and media to describe and unpack certain relationship dynamics.

Each of these dynamics has distinct characteristics and impacts on individuals and their relationships.

What is Codependency?

Codependency is a very popular description in Western psychology for a relationship dynamic in which one person excessively relies on another, often neglecting their own needs and well-being. It involves a lack of boundaries, prioritizing others’ needs over one’s own, feeling responsible for others’ happiness, and neglecting self-care.

Codependency can have negative impacts such as unhealthy power dynamics, loss of self-identity, resentment, and negative effects on mental health.

An example of this looks like:

”Imagine a couple where one partner constantly sacrifices their own interests and happiness to fulfill the other’s desires. They gradually become another version of that partner. They start to adopt their hobbies, music, dress sense, behaviours, even mindsets. They may feel they need permission to do things for themselves or that don’t involve the other partner. They easily drop what they are doing, or need to do, to tend to their partner.”

This can lead to an imbalanced and unhealthy dynamic, where the codependent partner becomes emotionally drained and loses their sense of self.

To read more about codependent relationships specifically, along with how to overcome being codependent – head over to this article. 

What is Interdependence?

Interdependence refers to a healthier relationship dynamic where individuals rely on each other for support while maintaining their own autonomy and sense of self.

It is characterized by mutual trust, respect, and collaboration, with open communication, shared decision-making, and a healthy give-and-take dynamic.

Interdependence has positive impacts such as balanced power dynamics, mutual consideration, personal growth, and the ability to overcome challenges together.

”Think of this as a dance between two partners moving together in harmony. Each partner maintains their own rhythm and style, while still being connected and supporting each other. There is a balance between pull and push, give and take. One isn’t trying to outshine, compete or submit to the other. Together, they create more stability and complement one another.”

What is Independence?

Independence, on the other hand, is the ability to make decisions and take actions without excessive reliance, if at all, on others for validation or approval.

It involves making decisions based on one’s own values and desires, pursuing personal goals, and taking responsibility for emotions and actions. Independence can have positive individual impacts such as personal growth, self-esteem, maintaining a healthy sense of identity, and fostering mutual respect and self-reliance in relationships.

Something to note: Being independent doesn’t mean isolating yourself from others. It means having a strong sense of self while still being able to engage and connect with others in a meaningful way.

However, there can be negative impacts with the excessive use of independence in personal relationships. When independence is taken to an extreme, it can lead to a loss of close connection, reduced support, and a sense of isolation.

It can also lead to others in that person’s close circle feeling emotionally distant, unconsidered, and nervous about asking for help or giving and receiving emotional support.

This is why it’s important to find a balance between independence and healthy interdependence in relationships.

Comparison of Codependent, Interdependent, and Independent Behaviors in Group and Collective Cultures

Codependency: Toxic Traits versus Cultural Differences

In group and collective cultures, such as those found in many non-Western societies, interdependence is often highly valued. Individuals prioritize the needs of the group over their own individual needs. In these cultures, codependent behaviors may be more accepted and even encouraged, as individuals are expected to rely on each other for support and assistance.

However, there is a delicate balance between the level of closeness that fosters a sense of belonging and purpose in coexistence and too much influence, coercion, and control leading to a lack of self-confidence and feeling stuck.

For example, in some cultures, families and communities play a crucial role in decision-making and support systems.It is common for individuals to consult their extended family or community members before making important life choices. We can see some of this in many Indian cultures traditionally are very involved in the dating, coupling, engagement and wedding process of members of their family.

The ideals and narratives we a told about relationships often stem from mainstream Western media and the ideology of what is considered ‘healthy and ‘normal’. But it’s important that cultures and communities that approach relationships differently are not assumed of, judged or critiqued. There is a lot to learn from another’s way of approaching relationships, love and connection.

Why Are Western Understandings of Relationship Dynamics in Mental Health So Prevalent?

Western understandings of relationship dynamics have gained significant prevalence for several reasons, including historical, cultural, and societal factors.

Here are a few key factors that have contributed to the widespread influence of Western perspectives on relationships:

1. Colonialism and Globalization:

The history of colonialism and subsequent globalization played a significant role in spreading Western ideas and values across different parts of the world today. Western powers established colonies and trading networks, disseminating their cultural norms and influencing local societies.

This shaped the lens through which we view the world today, including how we view certain cultures and races due to hundreds of years of oppression, propaganda and dehumanisation from dominant cultures and countries.

This influence extended to various aspects of life, including relationships and family dynamics. Research has since shown the effects of racial, colonial and generational trauma associated with this, including its impact on mental health and our relationships with each other and our communities.

2. Media and Pop Culture:

The dominance of Western media and popular culture has had a profound impact on shaping societal perceptions and norms, including those related to relationships. It’s the reason for the great success or domineering presence of consumerism and capitalism.

Western films, television shows, books, and music are widely distributed and consumed globally, portraying certain relationship dynamics and ideals that become ingrained in people’s minds – this is called subliminal messaging and we consume this ALL the time, whether we consciously know it or not.

For example, we can look at Hollywood’s romantic comedies that often depict independent characters who find love and happiness through personal growth and self-discovery. These narratives can shape individuals’ expectations and aspirations when it comes to their own relationships.

It also shapes how we see different races and cultures, assumptions or stereotypes about their style of attachment, their intentions or relationship values.

3. Individualism and Capitalism:

Codependency: Toxic Traits or Cultural Differences? 

Western societies have long emphasized individualism, self-reliance, and personal achievement. These values place importance on autonomy, independence, and personal freedom, influencing how relationships are perceived and valued.

The pursuit of individual happiness and personal goals often takes precedence over collective or familial considerations. This taints the ways we can view collectivism when seen from a Western perspective, undervaluing the importance of belonging to a greater group, community or tribe.

In fact, our need to belong is one of our most basic needs and many countries that value community over individualism have shown signs of increased happiness and purpose.

4. Research and Academia:

Western countries have been at the forefront of psychological research and academic studies on relationships. This has led to the development of theories and frameworks that have become widely accepted and integrated into professional practice around the world.

This has also been impacted by the dominance and controlling history of Western culture and countries – meaning who gets to decide what is considered the correct information and the ”acceptable” academic content in education.

The dissemination of these theories through academic publications and international conferences has further solidified Western understandings of relationship dynamics.

Though there can be – and has been – helpful and solid learning from Western research and academia, It’s important to remember to view these understandings through a critical lens. In fact, this is encouraged in order to understand what, or who, was missing in historical studies or research, since this can change the strength of those research findings if they weren’t inclusive enough.

5. Cultural Hegemony:

Cultural hegemony refers to the dominance of one culture over others, shaping norms, values, and perceptions. Western cultures, particularly those of Western Europe and North America, have wielded significant cultural influence globally, contributing to the widespread adoption of Western understandings of relationships.

It is good to note that while Western understandings have gained prevalence, they are not inherently superior or universally applicable.

Each culture has its own unique perspectives and wisdom regarding relationships, and it is essential to acknowledge and respect the diversity of approaches to nurturing healthy and fulfilling connections.

We can see much of non-Western culture has been adopted and tailored to a Western setting or perspective, in order to make it ”digestible”, as in the rise of and ‘white-washing’ of yoga, spiritual healing practices such as Reiki and meta-physics movements. Many are not aware of these practices’ non-Western roots and origins.

Find Balance to Cope: Different Cultural Perspectives on Relationship Dynamics

Finding a balance between the different cultural perspectives on relationship dynamics can be challenging, but it is possible with awareness and open-mindedness. Here are some examples, tips, and educational insights to help you navigate this terrain:

1. Embrace Cultural Diversity

Recognize and appreciate that different cultures have their own unique approaches to relationships. Instead of judging or dismissing cultural differences, embrace them as an opportunity to broaden your understanding and learn from diverse perspectives.

If you’re working on a project with team members from various cultural backgrounds, instead of expecting everyone to adhere to your own cultural norms, create an inclusive environment that respects and values different ways of working and collaborating.

We are naturally drawn to what feels familiar, so get out of your comfort and get yourself familiar with others who don’t speak the same language, who don’t look like you and who are not from the same country as you are.

2. Communication is Key

Clear and open communication is essential when navigating cultural differences in relationship dynamics. Take the time to understand and express your needs, expectations, and boundaries. This requires patience and an openness to always learn something new.

Encourage others to do the same, fostering an environment of understanding and mutual respect. Cross-cultural issues are simply opportunities to further understand one-another cultural points of view, and build a new pathway towards collaborative compromise.

Comms Tip: Use active listening techniques to ensure you fully understand others’ perspectives. Repeat back or paraphrase what they say to show that you are actively engaged in the conversation. Give them an opportunity to clarify if you misheard, misunderstood or if they phrased in a way that didn’t truly reflect they feel.

This can sound like: ”So just to clarify, you feel (x), did I understand that correctly?” or ”when you say (x) do you mean (y)?”

Healthy communication takes time and patience from both parties, so make sure you have the capacity for this kind of effort for an effective and optimistic outcome.

Codependency: Toxic Traits versus Cultural Differences

3. Flexibility and Adaptability

Be flexible and willing to adapt your approach to accommodate different cultural perspectives. Understand that what may be considered normal or acceptable in one culture might not be the same in another. Adapt your behavior and expectations accordingly to promote harmonious interactions and don’t stubbornly hold onto what you know.

For example, if you’re collaborating with someone from a group-oriented culture on a project, be prepared for more collective decision-making processes and the consideration of group consensus. Be open to compromising, having patience and finding solutions that satisfy the needs of the entire group.

4. Seek Cultural Competence

Educate yourself about different cultural norms and values. Invest time in learning about the traditions, customs, and relationship dynamics of cultures that you interact with regularly. This will help you develop cultural competence, sensitivity and navigate cross-cultural relationships more effectively. 

If you’re seeking professional help, look for a therapist, psychotherapist, counsellor or psychologist that is informed about white supremacy and the impacts of social and historical injustice. Surround yourself in more social spaces that are diverse and open to conversations about culture, race and international issues.

Read books, take courses, or engage in conversations with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds to gain insights and knowledge about their experiences and perspectives.

Lastly, if you don’t know be open to ask – AND – be prepared to self-educate. Just because someone may not belong to a mainstream culture or race, it doesn’t mean they are obliged to educate you about their customs, history, culture or experiences.

This as an expectation can be taxing for the individual and relieves the mainstream-cultured others from the extra effort and responsibility of self-learning.

5. Balance Individuality and Collectivism

Strive to find a balance between individuality and collectivism in your own life. Recognize that healthy relationships require both autonomy and interconnectedness. 

Prioritize your own well-being and individual growth while still respecting and supporting the needs and goals of the larger group or community. We belong both to ourselves and to others since we cannot survive completely alone and need others, to a degree.

Be open to asking for support, if you’re not used.

Receiving support, if this feels foreign to you.

Taking hold of your own care, if you’re accustomed to always being cared for.

Balance is key, and can be a ongoing quest like a compass needle always moving. We cannot find balance perfectly, but we can point in the direction between interconnectedness and a healthy independence.

Let’s sum it up

Understanding and navigating cultural considerations in relationship dynamics, particularly in the context of codependency, interdependence, and independence, requires sensitivity, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn from diverse cultural perspectives. 

The prevalence of Western understandings of relationship dynamics can be attributed to historical, cultural, and societal factors such as colonialism, globalization, media influence, individualism, academic research, and cultural hegemony. 

However helpful these understandings can be, it is crucial to recognize and appreciate the multitude of cultural perspectives and to promote cross-cultural understanding and inclusivity in exploring and navigating relationships.

Embrace the differences, communicate openly, be flexible, seek cultural competence, and strive for a balance between individuality and collectivism. 

By doing so, you can foster healthy, fulfilling relationships that transcend cultural boundaries and promote mutual understanding and growth. 

Remember, cultural diversity is like a tapestry, and the more we appreciate its intricate threads, the richer and more beautiful our world becomes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: Why is it important to understand cultural considerations in relationship dynamics?

A: Cultural considerations in relationship dynamics are crucial because they shape how individuals perceive, approach, and navigate relationships.

Understanding cultural differences helps promote empathy, respect, and effective communication across diverse cultural backgrounds, leading to healthier and more fulfilling relationships.

Q: Can cultural perspectives on relationships be applied universally?

A: No, cultural perspectives on relationships are not universally applicable. Each culture has its own unique values, beliefs, and norms regarding relationships.

It is essential to respect and understand these differences, appreciating the diversity of approaches to relationships rather than imposing a single standard.

Q: How can I find a balance between my cultural values and maintaining healthy relationships?

A: Finding a balance between cultural values and healthy relationships involves open communication, flexibility, and a willingness to learn from diverse perspectives.

It’s important to engage in constructive dialogue, express your needs and boundaries, and be receptive to understanding and respecting the values and expectations of others.

Q: Can codependency be considered healthy in certain cultural contexts?

A: While codependency is generally viewed as unhealthy in Western psychological frameworks, in some cultural contexts, codependent behaviours may be more accepted or even encouraged.

However, it’s important to differentiate between healthy interdependence, which allows for mutual support and growth, and codependency, which can lead to imbalanced power dynamics and the neglect of one’s own well-being.

Q: How can I navigate relationship dynamics with someone from a different cultural background?

A: Navigating relationship dynamics with someone from a different cultural background requires open-mindedness, active listening, and a willingness to learn.

Embrace cultural diversity, communicate openly and honestly, seek to understand their cultural values and expectations, and find common ground that respects both individuals’ needs and backgrounds.

Q: What can I do to expand my cultural competence in relationships?

A: Expanding cultural competence involves educating yourself about different cultural norms, values, and traditions.

Engage in conversations with individuals from diverse backgrounds, read books or take courses on cultural diversity, and seek to understand the historical and social context of different cultures. This knowledge will enhance your ability to navigate and appreciate diverse relationship dynamics.

Remember, relationships are a constant journey of growth and understanding. By embracing cultural differences and maintaining open-mindedness, you can foster enriching connections and build bridges across diverse cultural perspectives.

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