Shades of dependence

One of the most common rules for workshops is “Candour”.  “Speak your mind!”  But this is often the most difficult to practice.  To understand this reticence let’s consider our growth process and development from dependence.

We grow in cycles.

  • On entry into the world we see ourselves as part of our mother, “me and mom are one”.
  • From five to ten months of age, we learn to manipulate our environment.  We realise we are separate and stretch out for learning.
  • From ten to eighteen months we just want to practice, leaving mom behind.  This is a time of exhilaration and delight.
  • From about 18 months to three years, we realise that we cannot do everything and the world looks frightening.  We learn to use our anger, we learn ownership and the word “NO”.  We reconnect with our mother.  But this time with a taste of our individuality.

This can be shown in the following diagram.

This cycle is repeated throughout our lives. When we receive the right feedback in the process, with each great turn of the cycle we learn to trust ourselves and build boundaries allowing us to engage effectively with other people.  Challenges by definition are scary and we learn to balance fear with the joy and excitement of discovery.  This is a good way to understand how we deal with change.

Growth also describes a path from dependence through independence to interdependence, where we learn to work together in teams.  But the development process is seldom perfect.

  • People get stuck in dependence, always looking for someone else to provide what they should provide for themselves; physically (feed me), mentally (think this out for me) and emotionally (take away this fear and make me happy).
  • It is easy to see how independence is more effective than dependence.  And, in corporate life, independence and autonomy is elevated and enshrined as the ultimate state, raising authority over team work, decision-making over communication and competition over cooperation.
  • However today leaders recognise the value of independent people, empowered to act, recognising that community is part of our design and that interdependence is built into nature.  Stepping off from the understanding of interdependence I have the opportunity to share myself deeply and meaningfully with others.  Confident in my capacity to understand a situation in my own unique way, I am able to bring my own individual brilliance.  Open to the beautiful intelligence of those around me I am able join with them to find the ideas that none of us would have found on our own.
  • But even in interdependence, there is danger.  In extreme cases, people become overly passive or excessively care-taking in friendships, romance, families, community and at work.  This is co-dependence and may also be characterised by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance, and control patterns.

I created this graphic to illustrate these relationships.

The co-dependence diagram in the figure above is probably more descriptive of a situation termed inverted narcissism in which a co-dependent is intensely attuned to others’ needs, but only in so far as it relates to their own need to perform the requisite sacrifice.

So where are you in your team?  Scroll down to the bottom of  this note and leave a comment in the box provided.

About the Author:

At StrategyWorks we work with the executives and the teams tasked with delivering strategy. Strategy can be set by decree but someone in the organisation must make it happen. At StrategyWorks we work with leaders tasked with executing strategy. Stephen coaches individuals and teams to align their thoughts around relevant information and structures to focus teams on delivery. Stephen is also keen on painting in watercolours.


  1. Albert van Niekerk October 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Hi Stephen – an enlightening and delighthful explanation! You provide a very intriguing picture of interdependance in the work situation. It’s not easy to find a balance between independence and interdependance with codependancy looming on the side.


    • Stephen Quirke October 20, 2011 at 5:05 pm

      Hi Albert
      A four square diagramme can provide the illusion that this is all quite easy, you just hop through the blocks.
      Your observation is my experience.
      This business of finding our voice and using our wisdom to build relationships is fraught with pitfalls.
      But what a great endeavour.
      Thanks for the encouraging comments on the model.

  2. Chris van Rooyen November 11, 2011 at 7:22 am

    Looking at this I realise that this process begins with a cycle and then becomes a whirlwind in the sense that adult life, in all its facets, is a constant interconnection between these four points i.e. it ceases to become a recognisable cycle and becomes a series of arrows that both randomly and (if you are lucky) purposefully connect all four. This presents all kinds of challenges, only one of which as observed by Albert.

    • Stephen Quirke November 11, 2011 at 11:18 am

      Hey Chris, thanks for these observations. I suppose, once we cut loose in our early twenties, each of us follow a different journey. I think the cycle is replayed in the way we deal with changes along the way. I can identify with the chaos of which you speak. I find models give me a shorthand, tools to make sense of this whirlwind. And I suppose ‘purposefully’ is a key word in your description. Living with intent! As we define goals and plans, we may find we are able to identify where we are in a particular cycle. With intent, we more easily identify the opportunities and also have the momentum to move in the right direction. And I think this purpose also gives us courage to grab those opportunities.

  3. margie November 12, 2011 at 7:10 am

    hi Steve
    what about some workshops on progressing from intense codepency of early family life to establishing a new indepence and identity for mothers of young adults?Much needed!Love your diagrams

    • Stephen Quirke November 12, 2011 at 12:56 pm

      Hey Margie – mmm – that is definitely worth thinking about – thanks for the visit here

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