What is codependency?

Updated on December 13th, 2018

Codependency is an excessive emotional, physical, and psychological reliance on a relationship that is dysfunctional. It is an emotional condition that can destroy a person’s happiness, career, health, and personal relationships. Research has found that codependency is generational. It is a way of relating that is learned from the family of origin. Understanding codependency, the behaviors associated with it, and where it originated is important. At the core of the codependent behavior exists the refusal to acknowledge a problem. They believe that one’s needs should be sacrificed for others, regardless of the consequences.

Contents

When was Codependency “Discovered?”

In the 1950s, substance abuse counselors for alcoholism called the alcoholic’s partner or significant other the co-alcoholic. In a short period of time, therapists began to notice certain behaviors that were similar among co-alcoholics. They also began to understand that these co-alcoholics were suffering from their own set of common problems termed codependency. Today in drug rehab centers and around the therapeutic community, the term has been expanded to include other addictions and behaviors. Those suffering from codependent behavior in relationships with someone in active drug addiction unwittingly enable them. They allow them to continue inappropriate behavior at a high cost to the codependent. The lists below reflect some of the most common characteristics displayed by those who suffer from codependency.

The origins of codependent behavior can be traced back to childhood and family of origin issues. Perhaps there was a sick person in the family who was the sole focus of everyone’s attention. Sometimes there were serious problems that tended to be “pushed under the rug.” This is an attempt to pretend that everything was fine. Children in such families learn to avoid feelings and emotions. They learn to define themselves through others’ behaviors, successes, or failures. In adulthood, codependents look for approval from others to feel good. They lack self-reflection and a solid concept of self. They are also lacking the ability to negotiate strong feelings and they seek to save others from poor choices.

Ten Signs of Codependency

  1. Feeling responsible for solving others’ problems. The codependent feels the need to solve another’s problems. The codependent believes that their help is needed. They feel that the person in need cannot manage to make the right decisions or take the right actions to solve his or her own problem.
  2. Offering advice to others whether it is asked for or not. The codependent jumps at the opportunity to provide “much-needed” advice. The codependent offers an endless stream of good advice regardless of whether the advice has been asked for or not.
  3. Expecting others to do what the codependent says. Once advice has been given, the codependent expects the advice to be followed. Codependents often do not understand boundaries.
  4. The codependent feels used and underappreciated. The codependent will expend enormous amounts of energy to take charge of another’s life. This is all under the guise of sincerely wanting to help. When the help or advice is ignored or rejected, the codependent feels angry, abused, and unappreciated.
  5. Trying to please people so others will like or love the codependent. Codependents will go out of their way to please another person. They hope to receive love, approval or be accepted and liked. If the approval is not given, the codependent will feel victimized.
  6. Taking everything personally. Because there are little to no boundaries, any remark, comment or action is a reflection back upon the codependent. This makes the need to feel in control paramount.
  7. Feeling like a victim. Everything that happens either to the codependent or the loved one is a reflection on the codependent. Such people usually feel victimized and powerless and do not understand their role in creating their own reality.
  8. Using manipulation, shame, or guilt to control others’ behavior. To get their way codependents will respond in a fashion that will force compliance by others. These tactics may be unconscious. Since everyone else’s behavior is a reflection on the codependent, it is important that the codependent feel in control.
  9. Lying to themselves and making excuses for others’ bad behavior. Because codependents do not deal directly with their feelings, they develop techniques to lie to themselves about others’ behaviors. Because they feel responsible for others’ behaviors, they will rationalize and blame others for their loved one’s poor behavior or blame themselves for another’s poor behavior, seeking to maintain control.
  10. Fearing rejection and being unlovable. The codependent fears that if he or she is not successful at everything, or indeed expresses his/her feelings or needs, they will be rejected. In a codependent’s way of thinking, he or she will be unlovable. A codependent does not trust others easily or share openly because he or she will be exposed.

Top Ten Questions to Ask About Codependent Behavior

  1. Do you avoid confrontation?
  2. Do you neglect your needs to attend to another’s first?
  3. Do you accept verbal or physical abuse by others?
  4. Do take responsibility for the actions of others?
  5. Do you feel shame when others make mistakes?
  6. Do you do more than your share at work, at home or in organizations?
  7. Do you ask for help?
  8. Do you need others’ validation to feel good about yourself?
  9. Do you think everyone’s feelings are more important than your own?
  10. Do you suffer from low self-esteem?

Many times, codependents will turn to addictive behaviors themselves to negotiate their unresolved feelings. They will use substances such as alcohol, drugs, or food to stuff their emotions. Or, they will engage in risky behaviors. When a codependent gets tangled in the web of drug addiction or alcoholism, he or she can quickly lose control. Not only will the addict’s disease progress, but the codependent’s disorder will worsen. Mental and physical well-being becomes impossible. Drug and alcohol rehab will address these issues and teach you what to look for in codependent behavior.

Looking for a treatment facility that offers a family program can help. These programs often incorporate a multi-day therapy program for the individual seeking codependency recovery. The program will also assist their family or loved ones.

What Codependent Behavior Looks Like These Days (And How To Change It)

No matter how you slice it, relationships are tricky, and many can show some form of unhealthy behavior (even in the mildest of instances) from time to time. Sometimes, however, said instances turn into a full-blown habit or pattern of behavior if they go unchecked. Codependent behavior, for example, was long associated with substance abuse and addiction. These days, however, it’s evolved into a relationship pattern that is much more common and widespread — not to mention toxic.

“The term ‘codependent’ first appeared in the Western vernacular as one given to people who would engage in long-term relationships with those who struggled with addiction issues,” says psychotherapist Dr. Holly Daniels. “Over the last few decades, the term has broadened to include any person who puts the needs of their partner in front of their own needs because they have built their identity upon the relationship.”

Psychologist Dr. Perpetua Neo says modern examples of codependency “center around unhealthy relationships …with toxic people or those who are non-toxic but trigger us to have codependent behaviors.” Also, Dr. Neo adds that codependent relationships are not designated to those of the romantic or family variety anymore. “They’re also about our friendships and work relationships,” she says. “Some researchers also include workaholism as a type of codependency.”

While codependent relationships may seem complicated, the root (and reasoning behind its evolution) is actually more simple than one would think. “Put simply, codependency is when your self-worth is dependent on something external to you and dysfunctional, but you stay trapped in that dependency because you don’t think you’re worthy of a better situation,” explains Dr. Neo. “You feed into a vicious cycle.”

To give you a more modern view of what codependency can look like today, Dr. Neo and Dr. Daniels break down some common symptoms and behaviors to look out for, as well proactive ways to change.

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People-Pleasing

The inability to say no as a means to keep those around you happy, could be signs of codependency, says Dr. Neo. “The few times you’ve stood up for yourself, you feel bad about it… You’re afraid of conflict, so you avoid direct confrontation, doing everything to smooth things over, even if there are loads of figurative monsters cavorting merrily under the surface.”

The answer to this is simple…ish. Learn the beauty of the word no. While relationships will always require a level of compromise and sacrifice, it should be balanced. So, if you find that it isn’t, and resentment is building on your front, practice using that magical two-letter word once in awhile, particularly in situations that genuinely make you unhappy or you typically wouldn’t partake in. N-O.

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Being A “Fixer”

While wanting to help a friend or loved one is not a bad thing, excessively needing to fix people is a different story. “You’re always jumping in to give solutions, even when you’re not asked,” explains Dr. Neo. “You believe it’s your duty to clean up someone’s mess. For example, you cover up for that person’s shortcomings, pay their loans, make excuses to their boss, etc.”

This “fixer” mentality takes on new meaning when you are so fixated on everyone else, you forget to focus on yourself, says Dr. Neo. “When you ask for solutions, you apply them halfheartedly to prove to others ‘I’ve tried, and failed — nothing can be done’ or you shoot them down.”

While deep-set habits and behaviors are best dealt with with the help of a professional, some initial steps can include asking yourself, “‘What about my own needs am I running away from?’” says Dr. Neo. “We procrastinate on things that matter out of fear of doing them wrong — so projects, issues, and goals that are the most personally meaningful might be the ones we run away from. When something strikes a deep chord with us, it’s possibly the last thing we want to sit down and honestly face. So we distract ourselves with others’ needs. This can be a sobering wake-up call to get started on the things that matter.”

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Being Defined By Your Job Or Relationship

How do you know if this is you? “If we took your job or relationship away, you wouldn’t feel a sense of worth,” says Dr. Neo. “You say ‘I cannot help it. I’m too empathetic/sensitive’ and use that as an excuse on why you get exhausted from dealing with types or things that trigger your codependence, and a reason you cannot stay away from them/it.”

The deeper root and meaning of this attachment could come down to wanting to feel, well, wanted, says Dr. Daniels. “You decide on an unconscious level that the way you can prove to yourself and to the world that you are a good person, worthy of love and trust, is by being in a relationship,” she explains. “You are not able, because of your shame and insecurity, to feel worthy of love and trust just being yourself. And so you develop a deep fear of being alone or losing your relationships.”

Again, the help and assistance of a trained professional is key here. “You can also help yourself by reading about anxious attachment and codependency,” says Dr. Daniels. “Research setting healthy boundaries in relationships, and practice mindful self-compassion meditations in which you can practice knowing yourself and loving yourself independent from any relationships. Practice being alone for a few hours every week and develop your own hobbies and interests outside of your relationships.”

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Lack Of Boundaries

In the family of people-pleasing, lies boundless behaviors and relationships, which can be toxic if they go unchecked. “You fear that if you don’t do these things, the person will leave your life and it’ll mean that you are less of a person,” says Dr. Neo. “You let your boundaries erode, constantly.”

According to Dr. Neo, boundaries serves as the healthy but assertive “hell-nos” in your life. “And when you’re codependent, when someone tramples on your boundaries, you make excuses for them. This means you show them that your boundaries can be lowered, giving toxic people a free pass to hurt you systematically.”

In the same vein of the first point mentioned, learning to say no and refrain from things that feel uncharacteristic or unhealthy for you, can be a good step in the right direction. But, if this behavior is rooted in a much deeper issue like neglect or past abuse, “find a therapist who can help you understand your fear of abandonment and can support you as you take the leap to be more independent and self-compassionate,” says Dr. Daniels.

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Obsessing Over A Relationship

“Another sign of codependency is obsessing about and wanting to control the relationship,” says Dr. Daniels. “Because the relationship is the primary way that someone who is codependent identifies their worthiness and lovable-ness, they spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the relationship, wishing their partner would do this or that, and even resenting their partner for not fulfilling their fantasy of the perfect relationship.”

If you find your thoughts constantly coming back to a particular person or relationship, you need to take a step back and, that’s right, get to the bottom of this behavior. Ask yourself what the real reason is that you can’t trust your partner, or why you seem to be so resentful of them all the time. Chances are, the issue will probably have nothing to do with them, but with your own insecurities or fears.

“When we pinpoint the root, grieve over the hurt that’s happened to us and process the complexity of emotions, we can rewire our bodies and brains to have healthier relationships with ourselves and others,” says Dr. Neo. “We need professional help for this … And this isn’t just about being logical about the situation — these patterns, emotions, and traumas are also stored in our bodies, so we have to work on metaphorically detoxing them, and rewiring our brains.”

10 Signs of Unhealthy Codependent Behavior and How to Change It

It’s possible that, unknowingly, you have fallen into the trap of codependent behavior. This is a harmful type of behavior that is also known as addiction to relationships – even if the relationship is toxic or violent.

Let’s take Prisca for example. Prisca grew up in a home where her mother was physically and verbally abused by her husband. Every day, she witnessed the suffering, threats and strong beatings given to her mother. But her mother never had the courage to leave the relationship because, in her words, “he did not do it intentionally”.

The most important thing to understand about codependence is that it’s a learned behavior. Prisca grew up accepting these codependent behaviors as normal, so she clung – as her mother did – to unhealthy relationships.

Codependent behavior is learned by imitating behaviors observed in the family environment. But, as everything learned, you can also unlearn if you have the right tools to understand what is wrong and how to change it.

What Types of People Are More Likely to Be Codependents?

Codependency is a disorder of the personality. It mainly affects amorous couples but also occurs in siblings, parents, friends or colleagues of an alcoholic or drug addict.

Originally, codependent behavior was considered as co-dependency to unhealthy relationships with people with addictions, patients with chronic, terminal or mental illnesses. In their desire to help or please, the person sacrifices themselves to the point of losing their own dignity, time, resources and feelings in order to “save” or prioritize the other.

However, at present, the term is used to identify any person, in any type of codependent relationship, regardless of whether there are drugs or diseases involved in their relationship dynamics.

10 Signs of Codependent Behavior

1. Always being concerned about pleasing others.

Codependents sacrifice their needs for the sake of those of their partner or those of other people.

2. Having difficulty saying no or expressing their preferences.

Codependent people are slaves of others. They are not free to express what they feel without fear of being judged. They think if they express their opinion, they will be rejected or judged.

3. Dysfunctional communication.

Codependents have problems when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings, and needs. They are afraid to say the truth because they never want to bother the other person. As a result, communication becomes dishonest and confused.

4. Low self-esteem.

The self-esteem of codependent people depends to a large extent on the approval of others. They worry too much about what others think of them.

5. Fear of being rejected or abandoned.

Codependents are often people who don’t know how to be alone. They feel a sense of sadness and anguish in the face of loneliness. They need to continually interact with other people to alleviate their anxiety.

6. Denial.

They turn a blind eye on problematic aspects of their partner and the relationship. They do not give due attention or thought to these problems.

7. They spend their time trying to change their partner or other people.

They have the confidence that they can change the negative aspects of the person they love.

8. Weak or no limits.

Codependents often feel responsible for the feelings and problems of others. They are excessively empathic. As they have weak limits, they easily absorb the negative emotions of others.

9. They are still trapped in an unsatisfactory relationship.

This relationship is sometimes extremely abusive, and deep down, they know that this relationship does not suit them. However, they still cling to it because they fear to be alone and don’t have the strength to walk away from the relationship.

10. Control.

Codependents often feel the need to control (implicitly or explicitly) those around them. They do it because controlling behavior gives them a sense of security.

How to Heal from Codependent Behavior

Codependency is developed by behaviors learned in childhood. The treatment aimed to help the person overcome it focuses on therapy and analysis of the root of these problems, to identify the patterns of destructive behavior and their origin.

Once the cause of this codependent behavior has been found in individual therapy, group therapies can also be performed to help the person overcome their dependence on their loved one.

The person with codependence must relearn what positive feelings are, how to manage their emotions and understand what love is and is not, to avoid falling into a new phase of destructive codependent behavior.

What to Do If Codependence Is Part of Your Dynamic?

If you have identified codependent behavior in you or your family environment, you must remember that information is the most important. If you understand what causes this behavior, it is easier to understand the cycle of addiction and how it can be extended in all your relationships.

Everyone should learn to be a little selfish and seek to satisfy their personal needs, even if that means learning to say no sometimes. Freedom is one of the foundations of true love, and every one of us has the right to experience it.

Conclusion

It is important to seek professional help because if the codependency symptoms are not treated, they will worsen over time. Much effort is required to resist falling into codependent behaviors, which at first sight may seem normal or harmless but ultimately lead to the annihilation of self-esteem and important relationships.

Admitting that there is a problem is usually the hardest step to take. Once you recognize the problem, you are well on the way to achieving a happier and more fulfilling life.

Symptoms of Codependency

Codependency is characterized by a person belonging to a dysfunctional, one-sided relationship where one person relies on the other for meeting nearly all of their emotional and self-esteem needs. It also describes a relationship that enables another person to maintain their irresponsible, addictive, or underachieving behavior.

Do you expend all of your energy in meeting your partner’s needs? Do you feel trapped in your relationship? Are you the one that is constantly making sacrifices in your relationship? Then you may be in a codependent relationship.

The term codependency has been around for decades. Although it originally applied to spouses of alcoholics (first called co-alcoholics), researchers revealed that the characteristics of codependents were much more prevalent in the general population than had previously imagined. In fact, they found that if you were raised in a dysfunctional family or had an ill parent, you could also be codependent.

Researchers also found that codependent symptoms got worse if left untreated. The good news is that they’re reversible.

The following is a list of symptoms of codependency and being in a codependent relationship. You don’t need to have them all to qualify as codependent.

  • Low self-esteem.Feeling that you’re not good enough or comparing yourself to others are signs of low self-esteem. The tricky thing about self-esteem is that some people think highly of themselves, but it’s only a disguise — they actually feel unlovable or inadequate. Underneath, usually hidden from consciousness, are feelings of shame.Guilt and perfectionism often go along with low self-esteem. If everything is perfect, you don’t feel bad about yourself.
  • People-pleasing.It’s fine to want to please someone you care about, but codependents usually don’t think they have a choice. Saying “No” causes them anxiety. Some codependents have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. They go out of their way and sacrifice their own needs to accommodate other people.
  • Poor boundaries.Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. It divides up what’s yours and somebody else’s, and that applies not only to your body, money, and belongings, but also to your feelings, thoughts and needs. That’s especially where codependents get into trouble. They have blurry or weak boundaries. They feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame their own on someone else.Some codependents have rigid boundaries. They are closed off and withdrawn, making it hard for other people to get close to them. Sometimes, people flip back and forth between having weak boundaries and having rigid ones.
  • Reactivity.A consequence of poor boundaries is that you react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.
  • Caretaking.Another effect of poor boundaries is that if someone else has a problem, you want to help them to the point that you give up yourself. It’s natural to feel empathy and sympathy for someone, but codependents start putting other people ahead of themselves. In fact, they need to help and might feel rejected if another person doesn’t want help. Moreover, they keep trying to help and fix the other person, even when that person clearly isn’t taking their advice.
  • Control.Control helps codependents feel safe and secure. Everyone needs some control over events in their life. You wouldn’t want to live in constant uncertainty and chaos, but for codependents, control limits their ability to take risks and share their feelings. Sometimes they have an addiction that either helps them loosen up, like alcoholism, or helps them hold their feelings down, like workaholism, so that they don’t feel out of control.Codependents also need to control those close to them, because they need other people to behave in a certain way to feel okay. In fact, people-pleasing and care-taking can be used to control and manipulate people. Alternatively, codependents are bossy and tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. This is a violation of someone else’s boundary.
  • Dysfunctional communication.Codependents have trouble when it comes to communicating their thoughts, feelings and needs. Of course, if you don’t know what you think, feel or need, this becomes a problem. Other times, you know, but you won’t own up to your truth. You’re afraid to be truthful, because you don’t want to upset someone else. Instead of saying, “I don’t like that,” you might pretend that it’s okay or tell someone what to do. Communication becomes dishonest and confusing when you try to manipulate the other person out of fear.
  • Obsessions.Codependents have a tendency to spend their time thinking about other people or relationships. This is caused by their dependency and anxieties and fears. They can also become obsessed when they think they’ve made or might make a “mistake.”Sometimes you can lapse into fantasy about how you’d like things to be or about someone you love as a way to avoid the pain of the present. This is one way to stay in denial, discussed below, but it keeps you from living your life.
  • Dependency.Codependents need other people to like them to feel okay about themselves. They’re afraid of being rejected or abandoned, even if they can function on their own. Others need always to be in a relationship, because they feel depressed or lonely when they’re by themselves for too long. This trait makes it hard for them to end a relationship, even when the relationship is painful or abusive. They end up feeling trapped.
  • Denial. One of the problems people face in getting help for codependency is that they’re in denial about it, meaning that they don’t face their problem. Usually they think the problem is someone else or the situation. They either keep complaining or trying to fix the other person, or go from one relationship or job to another and never own up the fact that they have a problem.Codependents also deny their feelings and needs. Often, they don’t know what they’re feeling and are instead focused on what others are feeling. The same thing goes for their needs. They pay attention to other people’s needs and not their own. They might be in denial of their need for space and autonomy. Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they’re self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial of their vulnerability and need for love and intimacy.
  • Problems with intimacy.By this I’m not referring to sex, although sexual dysfunction often is a reflection of an intimacy problem. I’m talking about being open and close with someone in an intimate relationship. Because of the shame and weak boundaries, you might fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your autonomy. You might deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time; your partner complains that you’re unavailable, but he or she is denying his or her need for separateness.
  • Painful emotions.Codependency creates stress and leads to painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; feeling trapped by being close or being alone. The other symptoms lead to feelings of anger and resentment, depression, hopelessness, and despair. When the feelings are too much, you can feel numb.

There is help for recovery and change for people who are codependent. The first step is getting guidance and support. These symptoms are deeply ingrained habits and difficult to identify and change on your own. Join a 12-Step program, such as Codependents Anonymous or seek counseling. Work on becoming more assertive and building your self-esteem.

Find out more about: treatment options for depression

Symptoms of Codependency

What Is a Codependent Relationship?

The first step in getting things back on track is to understand the meaning of a codependent relationship. Experts say it’s a pattern of behavior in which you find yourself dependent on approval from someone else for your self-worth and identity.

One key sign is when your sense of purpose in life wraps around making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner’s needs.

“Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn’t have self-sufficiency or autonomy,” says Scott Wetzler, PhD, psychology division chief at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “One or both parties depend on their loved ones for fulfillment.”

Anyone can become codependent. Some research suggests that people who have parents who emotionally abused or neglected them in their teens are more likely to enter codependent relationships.

“These kids are often taught to subvert their own needs to please a difficult parent, and it sets them up for a long-standing pattern of trying to get love and care from a difficult person,” says Shawn Burn, PhD, a psychology professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

“They’re often replaying a childhood pattern filled with development gaps,” Wetzler says.

Here’s How I Learned I Was in a Codependent Friendship

I didn’t realize it then, but my “perfect” friendship was actually causing small pockets of loneliness in my life.

When my best friend told me he was having trouble getting out of bed, completing regular tasks, and finishing his residency applications, the first thing I did was look up flights. It wasn’t even a debate on my end.

At the time, I was living in Karachi, Pakistan. He was in medical school in San Antonio. I was a freelance writer with ample flexibility. He needed me. And I had the time.

Three days later, I was on a 14-hour flight, and opening my journal to record a phrase from the book I’d been reading. That’s when I noticed a sentence I’d written less than a year before.

This wasn’t the first time I’d dropped everything to help him out. As I flipped through the pages of my journal, I began to notice this reflection wasn’t a second or third time thing. While I was giving my whole self to him, I somehow always got left behind once his life recovered from being in shambles.

Read more: How to help someone with an alcohol addiction “

Identifying a name for the pattern

I don’t remember when I first realized that our relationship wasn’t healthy. What I can remember, though, is learning that there was a name for what we were: codependent.

According to Sharon Martin, a psychotherapist in San Jose, Calif., who specializes in codependency, codependent relationships are not a diagnosis. It’s a dysfunctional relationship where one person loses themselves in their attempt to take care of someone else. Somewhere down the line, or from the beginning, one person becomes the “codependent” and ignores their own needs and feelings. They also feel guilty and responsible for tackling the other person’s problems and solving their concerns.

Enabling is often accidental, but often, instead of allowing their partners to learn from their mistakes, they swoop in and “fix” everything, never allowing the other person to truly experience rock bottom.

This basically summed up my relationship with my best friend.

Read more: What do you want to know about mental health? “

Ignoring the problems in my own life

In Karachi, I was miserable, haunted by the life I’d left back in the United States. I missed sitting in coffee shops and drinking at bars with friends on the weekends. In Karachi, I was having a hard time connecting with new people and adjusting to my new life. Instead of trying to be proactive about my problems, I’d spent all of my time trying to fix and shape the life of my best friend.

No one around me had ever explained that a friendship could be unfulfilling and unhealthy. I thought being a good friend meant showing up no matter what. I would avoid making other plans with others friends who lived in the same time zone as me in order to be there for him. Most of the time he let me down.

Sometimes I would stay up until 3 a.m. in case he needed to speak to me, but I’d just spend that time worrying about what’d gone wrong. But none of my other friends were spending their own money to fix someone else’s life. Nobody thought they needed to know where their best friend was at every point of the day.

My friend’s mood also tended to affect my entire day. When he messed up, I felt personally responsible — as though I should have been able to fix them. Things that my friend could and should have been doing himself, I did for him.

Leon F. Seltzer, a clinical psychologist, and author of the Evolution of the Self blog, explained that the “codependent” may have issues of their own that are often mitigated in this relationship.

All of these should have been warning signs, and with the help of some distance, I’m able to look at all of this objectively and recognize them as problematic behaviors. But while I was in the relationship, worried about my best friend, it was hard to notice that I was actually part of the problem.

Never entirely one person’s fault

During so much of this friendship, I felt terrifyingly alone. This, I learned, is a common feeling. Martin acknowledges that, “Codependents can feel lonely, even in relationships, because they aren’t getting their needs met.” He also says that it’s never entirely one person’s fault.

Codependent relationships often form when there’s a perfect combination of personalities: One person is loving and caring, genuinely wants to take care of the people around them, and the other needs a lot of taking care of.

Most codependents don’t have that, and as a result, they end up feeling lonely, even during the relationship. This described me perfectly. Once I realized that my friendship was no longer healthy, I tried to distance myself and reestablish boundaries. The problem was that both my friend and I, used to how things used to be, almost immediately disregarded the boundaries that we’d set up.

The final step: Asking for distance

Finally, I told my friend I needed a reset. He seemed to understand that I was really struggling, so we agreed that we’d take some time apart. It’s been four months since we’ve spoken properly.

There are moments when I feel completely free, unburdened by many of the problems he faced in his life. Yet there are other moments where I miss my best friend.

What I don’t miss, though, is how much he needed me, and the large part of my life he took up. Breaking up with my friend gave me the space to make some much-needed changes in my own life. Mostly, I’m surprised by how much less lonely I feel.

I have no idea if we’ll ever go back to being friends. Everything’s changed. Martin explained when the codependent learns to set boundaries, they no longer become consumed with the other person’s problems. As a result, the entire direction of the friendship changes.

I’m still learning to stick to my boundaries, and until I’m confident that I won’t fall back into my old behaviors, I’m wary of reaching out and speaking to my friend.

Mariya Karimjee is a freelance writer based in New York City. She’s currently working on a memoir with Spiegel and Grau.

The Symptoms of Codependency

Being familiar with the signs of the condition is the first step in understanding codependency as an issue. A person who struggles with codependency may show signs of:

  • Low self esteem
  • Dysfunctional family dynamics
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Inability or difficulty expressing emotions
  • Having a hard time saying no or setting boundaries
  • Reacting with strong emotions, even to small incidents

In addition, a codependent often feels compelled to take care of others and feels a need to be liked by everyone. Intimacy issues, fear of abandonment, and confusing love with pity are common traits. As a whole, these symptoms pertain to a single person or family as opposed to dependent personality disorder where the symptoms apply to people within the social network as a whole. Taking a codependency quiz can help to better understand the symptoms and traits inherent in people who struggle with the condition.

The Codependent Versus the Dependent

When examining the symptoms of codependency, it’s important to understand that a codependent relationship generally involves two parties: the codependent and the enabler. This differs significantly from a relationship in which a person is dependent on another. In the latter, the feelings of dependence may or may not have reciprocation; in a codependent relationship, the enabler is more than happy to accept the codependent’s behavior and sacrifice.

Whereas dependent relationships can be healthy, codependent relationships are not. Oftentimes, a codependent has no interests or feelings of worth outside the relationship. Extreme dedication to the enabler may cause the codependent to neglect other responsibilities, relationships, and even career. While most relationships involve some sort of dependency on another person, the codependent constructs an identity and life around that person. The enabler’s willingness to accept the behavior creates a cycle of codependence that can be difficult to alter without appropriate intervention.

What Causes Codependency?

Codependent adults often have incidence of childhood trauma or had difficult relationships with their parents or caregivers. Their learned behaviors often stem from learning from their caregivers that their own needs are not as important as those of others in their lives. The following have established connections to codependency:

Family Dynamics

Dysfunctional family roles often tie into codependence. For example, adults with codependency may have been told as children that they were not important, and their feelings lacked validation from important adults. Codependent adults may have heard they were greedy or selfish if they tried to put their own needs first.

Living with a Physically or Mentally Ill Family Member

Playing the role of caregiver from a young age can lead to codependent behavior as an adult. Caring for a loved one with a drug dependence, for example, can lead to a cycle of codependence as an adult. In fact, research shows that children who grow up with parental substance use have difficulty maintaining meaningful, healthy attachments later in life.

The Link between Codependency and Addiction

Codependency and addiction often occur simultaneously in a relationship. When a person struggles with a dependence on drugs or alcohol, loved ones can play a vital role in assisting that individual to seek out help and find the motivation to go through the recovery process. However, codependent relationships can have the opposite effect. A person with a substance use disorder in a relationship with a codependent can make overcoming the dependence on alcohol or drugs even more challenging.

Similarly, a codependent may have difficulty making it through the codependent recovery process because of a need to help and enable the person with the dependence on drugs or alcohol. Relationships between a person with an addiction and the codependent are often self-destructive and will continue to be so without appropriate intervention.

Treatment for Codependence

Treatment for codependence may require evidence-based interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and one-on-one and group therapy sessions. A holistic view of the individual and the family unit, including co-occurring issues such as addiction and mental illness, can help guide the treatment plan. Tips for dealing with codependency during drug addiction can vary, so talk with a professional to determine the best course of action.

Codependency may not be an official diagnosis, but it is a unique psychological construct that has a marked effect on the individual and the family dynamic. It is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of the condition, as well as the role it plays in fueling substance use disorders and dysfunctional family roles. A codependent can help facilitate drug dependence in a partner or friend, and a person with a substance use disorder may serve as an enabler to a codependent. This cycle of codependency can be very difficult to stop without appropriate intervention and treatment. The codependency recovery process requires a specific approach based on relationship dynamics.

Family First offers comprehensive evidence-based interventions for drug and alcohol dependence as well as behavioral health conditions. Our family case management services help individuals and their families understand the importance of the family system in the recovery process. Contact us to learn more about our services and family-focused care.

Do You Have a Codependent Personality?

The word “codependency” gets thrown around a lot: There are codependent couples, codependent companions, and codependent caretakers. But what does codependent actually mean — and is it really all that bad?

What Is Codependency?

“Codependency is typically discussed in the context of substance use, where one person is abusing the substance, and he or she depends on the other person to supply money, food, or shelter. But codependency is much broader than that,” says Jonathan Becker, DO, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore,” Dr. Becker says. “Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person. In a codependent relationship, there is usually one person who is more passive and can’t make decisions for themselves, and a more dominant personality who gets some reward and satisfaction from controlling the other person and making decisions about how they will live.”

Jose Rojos, now 36, was in such a relationship for close to three years. Seven years ago, the professional dog groomer was living with a boyfriend in the South with whom he was madly in love. There was one problem: His partner was insanely jealous, clingy, and prone to dramatic mood swings.

RELATED: 8 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship

“He would hide my driver’s license so I would stay put,” Rojos recalls. “He would also buy me all sorts of gifts, including a pet schnauzer, to keep me around. I was in love with him and couldn’t leave, but his mood swings grew so severe that I became afraid and knew I had to get out.”

And get out, he did. Rojos relocated to New York City and severed all ties with his ex. “He was not a bad person, but he was bad for me,” says Rojos, who is now in a healthy long-term relationship.

While the jealous and controlling behavior in Rojos’s former relationship was definitely an issue, “Codependency becomes problematic when one person is taking advantage of the other financially or emotionally,” Becker says.

Enabling is another sign of an unhealthy codependence. Mary-Catherine Segota, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Counseling Resource Services in Winter Garden, Florida, describes enabling as a behavior that’s used to ease relationship tension caused by one partner’s problematic habits. Enabling behavior, which is rarely seen in healthy relationships, includes bailing your partner out, repeatedly giving him or her another chance, ignoring the problem, accepting excuses, always being the one trying to fix the problem, or constantly coming to the rescue.

8 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship

Codependent personalities usually follow a pattern of behaviors that are consistent, problematic, and directly interfere with the individual’s emotional health and ability to find fulfillment in a relationship. “Signs of codependency include excessive caretaking, controlling, and preoccupation with people and things outside of ourselves,” says Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a consultant, educator, and author of numerous books, including Understanding Codependency.

Signs of codependency include:

  • Having difficulty making decisions in a relationship
  • Having difficulty identifying your feelings
  • Having difficulty communicating in a relationship
  • Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself
  • Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem
  • Having fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval
  • Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships, even at your own cost
  • Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others

Is a Codependent Relationship Really That Bad?

Not all codependent relationships turn sour, Becker says. “Any healthy relationship will have some codependency and give and take,” he explains. For example, it’s reasonable if one partner looks to another for advice or guidance on a major decision, he says.

But if you seek out, maintain, or even feed off relationships that are not fulfilling or healthy, you could be codependent. Once codependency is identified, it can be successfully treated, Becker says. Here’s how:

Pursue counseling. “Talk to a mental health provider to help rebuild your sense of self and realize why you rely so much on the other person,” Becker says.

Consider couple’s therapy. Sometimes the relationship can be helped or even saved by therapy to reduce codependency, he says.

Reconnect with friends and family. “Being in a codependent relationship can lead to isolation, which fuels the loss of self,” Becker says. “Call or email those people from whom you’ve distanced yourself, and start to rebuild these relations.”

Carve out “you time.” “If you once enjoyed music and gave up lessons or practicing, pick up where you left off,” Becker suggests. “Return to doing the things you once enjoyed before you became so enmeshed with the other person.”

Seek treatment for substance abuse. “If you are abusing drugs or alcohol, talk to your doctor about treatment options,” he says. “This holds for the other partner, too, as there are support groups and resources for family members affected by substance abuse, such as Al-Anon.

Additional reporting by Denise Mann.

Codependency refers to a psychological construct involving an unhealthy relationship that people might share with those closest to them.

It was originally thought to involve families of substance abuse but has since grown to include other types of dysfunctional relationships.

Read on to learn about what codependency is and how it can affect people, how to recognize signs of codependency, and resources for learning more about and overcoming codependency.

What Is a Codependent Personality Disorder?

Originally, “the term ‘codependent’ described persons living with, or in a relationship with an addicted person” (Lampis et al., 2017). Modern understandings of codependency now refer to “a specific relationship addiction characterized by preoccupation and extreme dependence—emotional, social and sometimes physical—on another person.”

The concept of codependency does still apply to families with substance abuse issues but is used also to refer to other situations too. The main consequence of codependency is that “odependents, busy taking care of others, forget to take care of themselves, resulting in a disturbance of identity development” (Knudson & Terrell, 2012).

Cermak (1986) argued that codependency should be defined in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), borrowing diagnostic criteria from alcohol dependence, dependent personality disorder (DPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), histrionic personality disorder, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

This argument was unsuccessful and the DSM-III-R (the next revision) did not include codependency as a personality disorder. The DSM-5, the newest edition of the manual, still only refers to DPD, not codependency.

Codependency does not only overlap with DPD but also with BPD, which is one reason some research has dismissed the idea of codependency making up its own personality disorder. One study found, though, that while codependent people do share some overlap with DPD and BPD symptoms, there are also people who exhibit codependency without exhibiting symptoms of DPD and BPD (Knapek et al., 2017).

Codependency can be distinguished from DPD because codependent people are dependent on a specific person(s), while people with DPD are dependent on others in general. Codependency can be distinguished from BPD; while BPD includes instability in interpersonal relationships, it does not involve dependence on other people.

To sum up, codependency is a psychological concept that refers to people who feel extreme amounts of dependence on certain loved ones in their lives, and who feel responsible for the feelings and actions of those loved ones. Codependency is not recognized as a distinct personality disorder by any version of the DSM, including the DSM-5, the most recent version.

That said, research shows that while codependency does overlap with other personality disorders, it does appear to constitute a distinct psychological construct. The best way to learn about codependency is to review some of the signs of codependency.

20 Signs Of Codependency

What does codependency actually look like? Some of the things that have been found to correlate with codependency include (Marks et al., 2012):

  • Low self-esteem;
  • Low levels of narcissism;
  • Familial dysfunction;
  • Depression;
  • Anxiety;
  • Stress;
  • Low emotional expressivity.

Other signs of codependency include (Lancer, 2016; Mental Health America):

  • Having a hard time saying no;
  • Having poor boundaries;
  • Showing emotional reactivity;
  • Feeling compelled to take care of people;
  • Having a need for control, especially over others;
  • Having trouble communicating honestly;
  • Fixating on mistakes;
  • Feeling a need to be liked by everyone;
  • Feeling a need to always be in a relationship;
  • Denying one’s own needs, thoughts, and feelings;
  • Having intimacy issues;
  • Confusing love and pity;
  • Displaying fear of abandonment.

Codependency Quiz & Tests

The simple presence of the above signs does not mean someone is codependent, but a high number of these signs may indicate codependent tendencies.

One way to do this is with codependency tests, like these:

Friel Co-Dependency Assessment Inventory from Mental Health America of Northern Kentucky and Southwest Ohio (1985)

This test consists of 60 true-or-false questions. A score below 20 is little need for concern, a score between 21-30 should be a moderate need for concern, a score between 31-45 is moderate towards a severe need for concern, and a score over 46 indicating a severe need for concern.

Codependency Test from Hamrah

This test consists of 26 simple yes-or-no questions that can get one to start thinking about codependency in their own relationships. Answering yes to five or more questions indicates that the test-taker may be codependent.

This is not a professional diagnosis, but it is a good way to start evaluating codependent behaviors in one’s own life.

Are You in a Codependent Relationship?

This article from WebMD serves as a sort of open-ended quiz about whether or not one is in a codependent relationship and suggestions for what to do next. With input from psychologists, it offers up a few signs of codependent relationships to get the reader thinking about whether or not their relationship is codependent.

Characteristics of Codependent People

A checklist by Melody Beattie consisting of over 200 items has been adapted into a shorter version, called the Beattie Codependency Checklist, which has been used in peer-reviewed research on codependency (Wells et al., 1999).

There is no scale at the end which determines the taker’s level of codependency, as it is rather meant to contextualize a vast set of behaviors and thoughts into a codependency framework.

5 Books About Codependency

For people who want to learn more about codependency, here are some great books about codependency. These books are particularly helpful for people who fear they are codependent and want to overcome their codependency.

1. Lancer, D. (2015). Codependency For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

This book, from a licensed marriage and family therapist, can be an excellent introduction to codependency for people who do not know a single thing about codependency. The book is aimed at people who think they might be codependent and includes a number of actionable tips one can take to break their codependence.

2. Beattie, M. (1990). The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations for Codependents.

This book, by codependency expert Melody Beattie, is a handbook for people who are codependent. This book is full of daily meditations and focuses on self-esteem, acceptance, health, and recovery. This is a good option for anyone who knows they are codependent and wants to do something about it.

3. Weinhold, B.K., Weinhold, J.B. (2008). Breaking Free of the Co-Dependency Trap.

This book, by a married psychologist couple, is all about codependency and how to break out of it. The authors first discuss how codependency develops in people, and how one’s childhood can ultimately lead to codependency. The authors then focus on helping the reader out of codependency. This is a good option for anyone who wants to understand their codependency, not just how to fix it.

4. Sowle, J.J. (2014). The Everything Guide to Codependency: Learn to Recognize and Change Codependent Behavior.

This book from a clinical psychologist aims to help people who think they are codependent. In it, the author helps the reader recognize signs of codependency in their own behavior (and the behavior of the people around them), then helps the reader work through their own codependent or enabling behaviors, as well as the codependent or enabling behaviors of their partner.

This is a good option for learning how to recognize codependency in oneself, as well as learning how to identify and avoid codependent behaviors in the future.

5. Menter, J.E. (2012). You’re Not Crazy – You’re Codependent.

Finally, this book is written by someone who has struggled with codependency in their own life. It aims to help people who have had traumatic experiences in their past figure out if some of their problems stem from codependency. Then, for people who are struggling with codependency, the book offers a variety of ways to overcome it.

Codependency Treatment: 5 Codependency Worksheets

Books can be invaluable resources, but it can take some time to get through them. For people who want to start right away, here are some useful worksheets for learning about codependency, as well as treating and overcoming it.

1. Codependency

This worksheet is a good option for a short introduction to codependency. While it is not as interactive as some of the other worksheets listed here, it does include a questionnaire to get people thinking about codependency in their own lives. This information sheet is a good starting point.

2. Codependency from Mental Health America

This 6-page PDF serves as an all-in-one worksheet for codependency. It includes information on how people develop codependent behaviors, what codependency looks like, a questionnaire that one can use to evaluate codependent behaviors in their own life, and suggestions on how to overcome codependency. This is a great way to work through one’s issues with codependency and can also serve as an excellent resource to give to anyone struggling with codependency.

3. Codependency For Dummies Cheat Sheet

This resource comes from Codependency For Dummies, which is listed in the above section. It is not in a printable form but is still a valuable worksheet. It includes information on whether or not one is codependent, then offers solutions for focusing on oneself, relieving stress, and overcoming codependency.

This is also a good all-in-one worksheet for people looking for more information on codependency.

4. Recovery Patterns of Codependence

This worksheet from Co-Dependence Anonymous, Inc. (CoDA) is a valuable tool for anyone recovering from codependency. The worksheet contrasts unhealthy ways that people with codependency think about themselves with healthy ways that people in recovery from codependency think about themselves. This worksheet is an actionable way to shift thought patterns and begin recovering from codependency.

5. Codependency Checklist

Finally, this worksheet is a codependency checklist that includes some resources for further information on codependency, and lists support groups for codependency. The checklist is not a codependency test, but it is a good way to evaluate codependent behaviors and thoughts in one’s relationship. This delves into healthy versus codependent thought patterns and behaviors.

Codependent Parents: Consequences for Children

Codependency was originally thought of as a disorder that affected the children and spouses of alcoholics and substance abusers. Research has shown that codependency is not unique to the children (or spouses) of alcoholics, though, as many types of family difficulties can lead to codependency (Cullen & Carr, 1999).

In fact, having a codependent parent can lead a child to codependency as well.

This is due to the tendency that people who have been “parentified” as children are more likely to be codependent (Wells et al., 1999). The concept of parentification refers to “the reversal of the parent-child role,” or when a child is forced to serve in a parental or care-taking role towards their own parent.

This is usually due to the parent not having had their own developmental needs met while they were growing up.

Since these codependent children grow up not having their developmental needs met either, this can create a cycle of codependency passed down from generation to generation.

Being codependent can be particularly harmful for parents of addicted children (Clearview Treatment Programs). Codependent parents of addicted children can enable their children’s addictions, even when they think they are helping.

This is one of the ways that codependency can be especially tricky – often people with these tendencies believe they are being helpful, or that their actions are necessary for the other person in the relationship.

The most effective treatment for codependency is therapy, whether group or individual, to understand the ways in which someone feels they must care-take for another’s emotional state.

This work can be hard to identify in ourselves, so having a supportive professional help us untangle these relationships can be crucial.

A Take-Home Message

For years, the concept of codependency has been criticized for being ill-defined, but over the last few decades, the construct of codependency has become more well-defined and well-researched, as it has been fitted with an empirical base.

Most importantly, codependency has been recognized as a relationship dynamic that affects people with all sorts of childhood trauma, not just the children or spouses of alcoholics or substance abusers.

For people who are codependent, there are plenty of ways to overcome codependency. Aside from seeking professional help, there are all sorts of worksheets and books (such as the ones highlighted above) by people who have overcome codependency. The most important thing to remember is that while everyone has loved ones and feels responsible for those loved ones, it can be unhealthy when one hinges their identity on someone else.

Ultimately, everyone is responsible for their own actions and feelings.

What is your experience with codependency? Are there relationships in your life in which you or the other person tend to exhibit codependent tendencies? Are their relationships from cultural movies or TV shows that provide examples of these kinds of relationships?

We’d love to hear your input in the comments section below.

Am I Codependent? 5 Warning Signs

Is it Time to End Your Love Affair with Drama and Chaos?

Wouldn’t it be great if we could apply the same advice and insight to ourselves that seems to come all to easily when dissecting the lives and decisions of those closest to us.

As with most things emotional health comes in varying shades of grey. One universal indicator of emotional health is “feeling” healthy…feeling happy and feeling fulfilled. That doesn’t mean you feel on top of the world everyday (Wouldn’t that be nice) but that you generally see yourself as a deserving, lovable person.
Codependency is a term that gets a lot of attention but is not necessarily easy to understand. Let’s first dispel a couple of myths about codependency:

Myth 1: Codependency is a mental illness.

Codependency is neither a mental illness, nor indicative of a risk for developing one. Codependency is a pattern of learned behaviors that serve to protect oneself from the feeling of being out of control.

Myth 2: Only “weak” people become codependent.

They are many very accomplished, high achieving individuals who find themselves in one codependent relationship after another. If it was merely a matter of intellect or personal strength codependents would never come close to being able to manage the myriad of responsibilities they put on their plates.

Myth 3: Codependency only occurs in those who are in relationships with people who abuse substances.

Yes. Codependency is a coping pattern that often manifests itself in response to the unpredictability associated with addiction. However, the need to invest in others in order to calm the “chaos” one feels inside doesn’t have to be because of exposure to alcoholism or drug addiction.

Myth 4: Codependency only affects women.

Nothing could be further from accurate. Although changing we continue to live in a society that remains relatively intolerant of men in “caretaker” roles, particularly those that involve. This contributes to the belief system that it is only women who are subject to sacrificing their own emotional wellbeing in what in an effort to comfort others. Men who identify with codependency are NOT “Whipped.” They are human!

5 Signs That Codependency Might Be Impacting Your Life:

1. You find yourself in relationships with individuals who are “troubled” or “needy”.

No sense looking around. We all have our beasts to tame, yes even you. For the purpose of this message a “troubled” person being someone whose social, emotional, financial, vocational functioning negates their ability to attain or sustain stability. This lack of stability then translates into the “troubled” person’s inability to remotely come close to meeting your social, emotional, financial needs. Codependents find themselves attracted to people with high needs and find that those with high needs are drawn to them. “I just don’t understand why all of the men in my life are unable to keep a job.” It is by no accident that those in need and those who need to be needed are able to find one another almost as if they had placed an advertisement.

2. You find yourself obsessed with taking care of other people.

Nope you are not the martyr you so long to be. After all, that would mean that the endless giving, responsibilities, taking care of and managing was part of a higher calling.

Codependents feel a debilitating responsibility for others. They may take on responsibility for the feelings actions and choices of those around you. They find themselves constantly offering advice, help (solicited or not) in an effort to “fix.” “If I just keep the house cleaner and keep the kids quiet and he/she will stop drinking”. This tends to lend to feelings of resentment as the codependent person feels unappreciated and used. These feelings of resentment may eventually be communicated (In a rage no less) do not interrupt the compulsion to control the behavior of those in their lives.

3. You have a hard time with self-acceptance and feeling understood by others.

Codependents often describe feeling different from everyone else. “It’s like being on the outside, watching others live the life I want so desperately.” Many codependents try to combat self-esteem issues through perfectionism. Often times this perfectionism can be traced back to childhood but was seen as an indication of being driven or responsible. It then gets reinforced by the adults in the codependent’s life who, with good intentions thought they were fostering a healthy trait.

4. You settle for being “needed” with little to no value placed on the legitimacy of having your own needs met.

Codependents obsess over others. They suffer from insomnia and chronic anxiety subsequent to the dysfunction that is so typical in the lives of those with whom the codependent finds him/herself involved. This obsession is just as frequently behavioral as it is emotional. Codependents constantly check on and keep tabs on others. The need to catch people in the “act” and force a confession is, almost, universal with codependents. “I know you were drinking. I found the empty bottle. Why won’t you just admit it.” Unfortunately, the relief never comes and the pattern continues.

5. You find yourself constantly redefining your personal boundaries and limits.

Codependents are infamous for saying they won’t tolerate certain behavior only to find themselves bending their own “rules”: they give in, say yes when they really want to say no and promise themselves that everything will get better if they just help one last time. “I know I said I would never pay his phone bill again, but there is no way he will ever get a job if he doesn’t have a phone.” The immediate relief from the worry is almost always replaced by a repetition of the same emotional or behavioral patterns it was meant to mitigate. …and the cycle continues.

You know the saying “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig?” (No offense to our cute swine friends) If your relationship is fraught with constant drama frustration, and resentment it’s not healthy ….period. You can attempt to mask it anyway you like. Perhaps it’s time to put your lipstick away and own your fear. You ARE deserving of closeness and love. You CAN make changes that truly bring genuine happiness to your life.

Let Me Be Me: Healthy Separateness and Togetherness in Marriage

Being authentic in our relationships is challenging work. In a new relationship, it is common (and even necessary) to desire sameness, to desire the acceptance and approval of the other to the degree that you may minimize differences and adjust what you say, think, and do to please the other.

But as a relationship progresses, differences inevitably arise that create tension. Many couples wish to return to their early relationship when things were “easy” or “fun,” but, while the early stage of a relationship allows for necessary connection and bonding, it is not sustainable long-term if both people are to hold on to their sense of self.

Holding on to your autonomy

Holding on to your autonomy (separation) while working toward connection (togetherness) is known as the process of differentiation. It can create anxiety and conflict in a relationship as your differences begin to emerge. We tend to respond to this anxiety in a variety of ways.

  • We pressure the other person to conform to our way of perceiving, acting, or feeling through a variety of tactics. Emotional manipulation is one common way. We may try to show how passionately we want our partner to come over to our side by talking about it loudly and intensely, crying, using guilt trips, using insults, or giving the silent treatment. These methods can easily result in arguments or in our partner giving in while harboring resentment.
  • We minimize differences by adopting our partner’s way of perceiving, acting, or feeling as if it is our own. This avoids conflict and tension. In fact, many couples boast of never having conflict. Likely, these are couples where one or both partners are uncomfortable with differences so they tend to fuse with their spouse and, as a result, lose their sense of self. There is a lack of personal autonomy in this situation.
  • We recognize that differences are inevitable and find effective ways of dealing with the tension we experience. Partners are aware of their own thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires and are committed to sharing these with their partner. In turn, when differences arise spouses are committed to seeking to understand one another and thus grow in intimacy. Differences are acknowledged and respected.

Still want more about codependency? In this video webcast, Dr. Anthony Centore speaks with Licensed Professional Counselors Kathleen Leroy about Codependency in Relationships: Why is Feels So Good…and So Terrible. If you only want audio, visit our Soundcloud page!

Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence

The following checklist is offered as a tool to aid in self-evaluation. It may be particularly helpful to newcomers as they begin to understand codependency. It may aid those who have been in recovery a while to determine what traits still need attention and transformation.

Denial Patterns

Codependents often. . . :

• have difficulty identifying what they are feeling.
• minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
• perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well-being of others.
• lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
• label others with their negative traits.
• think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
• mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
• express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
• do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.

Low Self-esteem Patterns
Codependents often. . . :

• have difficulty making decisions.
• judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough.
• are embarrassed to receive recognition, praise, or gifts.
• value others’ approval of their thinking, feelings, and behavior over their own.
• do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons.
• seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than.
• have difficulty admitting a mistake.
• need to appear to be right in the eyes of others and may even lie to look good.
• are unable to identify or ask for what they need and want.
• perceive themselves as superior to others.
• look to others to provide their sense of safety.
• have difficulty getting started, meeting deadlines, and completing projects.
• have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries.

Compliance Patterns

• are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
• compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
• put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
• are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
• are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
• accept sexual attention when they want love.
• make decisions without regard to the consequences.
• give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.

Control Patterns
Codependents often. . . :

• believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
• attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel.
• freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
• become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
• lavish gifts and favors on those they want to influence.
• use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance.
• have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
• demand that their needs be met by others.
• use charm and charisma to convince others of their capacity to be caring and compassionate.
• use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally.
• refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate.
• adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes.
• use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others.
• pretend to agree with others to get what they want.

Avoidance Patterns

• act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them.
• judge harshly what others think, say, or do.
• avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.
• allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships.
• use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation.
• diminish their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery.
• suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
• pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.
• refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves.
• believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness.
• withhold expressions of appreciation.

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