Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Codependency

Codependency is often called "relationship addiction" because people affected become emotionally dependent on unhealthy and destructive relationships.

Key takeaways:
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    The codependent person places all of their emotional needs in the hands of another individual.
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    Codependency destroys a person's sense of self-worth.
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    The codependent individual must learn to put their own needs first.
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    There are strategies for overcoming codependency, despite how difficult it may be to do so at first.

When one person takes advantage of the other financially or emotionally, codependency becomes a problem. Understanding what codependency is and identifying the indicators of codependency in your behavior is a vital first step toward setting healthy boundaries and fulfilling your own needs.

What exactly is codependency?

In the United States, drug abuse treatment in the 1940s gave rise to codependency. During the 1960s and 1970s, the insights of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups helped shape the understanding of codependency. According to O’Brien and Gaborit (1992), the impact of AA culture on the concept of codependency as a disease helped spread the idea that people who were in close relationships with drug addicts also had a disease. People saw these individuals as enabling co-alcoholics. However, recently, experts agreed that codependency has a more nuanced and complicated meaning and that it can show up in many situations, not only where people abuse drugs.

Dysfunctional families and codependence

Members of dysfunctional families learn to suppress their feelings and ignore or dismiss their own needs. They learn how to "survive," to deny, ignore, or avoid feelings that are hard to deal with.

Any of the following might be a symptom of deeper issues in a family:

  • A member of the family who is addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, and gambling.
  • The person has been hurt physically, emotionally, or sexually.
  • Having a family member who has a long-lasting mental or physical illness.

The addicted family member becomes the focus and gets the bulk of the attention and help. The codependent person gives up their own needs to care for the addict. When codependents put the health, safety, and well-being of others ahead of their own, they can lose touch with their own needs, wants, and sense of self.

Is codependency a disease?

Codependency is neither a clinical diagnosis nor an independently classified personality disorder. In essence, it contains characteristics of attachment-style patterns acquired throughout early life. Codependency may also coexist with other personality disorders, such as dependent personality disorder.

Codependency vs. healthy relationships

Being dependent on another person does not always indicate codependence. Each partner in a happy relationship may depend on the other for a range of needs. Codependency arises when one person provides more than the other, resulting in an imbalance in the needs met.

Reasons for codependency

At its core, it is related to having an inadequate sense of self and an inability to be assertive and express personal needs.

Bio/Psycho/Social factors may contribute to codependency,


Codependents' prefrontal cortex may not inhibit empathetic reactions. This would produce too much empathy, making it easy to become codependent.


Codependent people may have a psychological predisposition to being overly concerned about the well-being of others.

They could also be impacted by troublesome childhoods where their parents often fought or were neglected or emotionally abused as children.


Changes in how society sees women's roles or increasing exposure to drug misuse within family units might lead to codependency.

How do codependent people behave?

Codependents tend to have poor self-esteem and struggle to "be themselves." Some people attempt to cope by using alcohol or drugs — and they can also become addicts. They strive to care for the addicted person, but the caregiving becomes obsessive and degrading. They find that no matter what they do, it is never enough.

When caring becomes compulsive, the codependent loses all sense of control in the relationship. However, they can't break the habitual pattern of behavior that led to dependency in the first place.

Signs of codependency

Codependent relationships are built on an imbalance of power that serves to advance the requirements of the person in the taking role. This forces the giver to continue giving, even if it means sacrificing everything for themselves.

If you feel any of the following, you may be the giver in a relationship with a codependent person:

  • "Walking on eggshells" to prevent upsetting the other person.
  • Having the urge to constantly check in with the other person and/or seek their approval before doing routine chores.
  • Being the one who constantly apologizes, even when you have done nothing wrong.
  • Having sympathy for the addict, even if they are abusive towards you.
  • Constantly striving to change or save the addict.
  • Putting your own needs aside, even if doing so leaves you vulnerable.
  • Always trying to please people.
  • Being unable to set clear boundaries.
  • Suppressing thoughts and feelings out of fear or guilt.
  • Refusing to seek support because you believe the situation is not severe enough and will get better with time.

How is codependency treated?

Many people who struggle with codependency do not seek assistance until their lives begin falling to pieces. It is vital to be proactive and seek assistance as soon as possible. Codependency is often ingrained in a person's childhood; therefore, therapy frequently entails an examination of early childhood difficulties and their link to present-day harmful behavior.

Developing self-awareness and insight is a vital part of overcoming codependency. This is possible to do alone; however, counseling can be of great assistance in unraveling codependent tendencies.

Co-dependents and their family members need to educate themselves about the progression and cycle of addiction, as well as its effects on interpersonal relationships.

Patterns of codependency can be broken. Because they are so deeply rooted, they won't simply go away by ending a codependent relationship. Similar to other forms of healing, this process takes time and calls for changes in thinking, doing, and managing emotions. Living a life for someone else won't do anything to bring happiness and fulfillment. It is much easier to offer support when we prioritize our mental health. A therapist can provide understanding, direction, and support if you struggle to identify your own needs or accept help from others.


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