All healthy relationships require some level of “dependency”;  we all seek a “secure base” in our partners. However, partners who have ill-matched attachment styles can find themselves engaging in and enduring negative behaviors that have been labeled “codependent.”

The term codependency has been around for decades. It originally applied to spouses of alcoholics, but researchers found that “codependent characteristics” are more common in the general population than previously thought. Codependency was linked to the home environment and an individual’s relationship history.

Symptoms of Codependency

The following are possible symptoms of codependency:

  • 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.
  • People-pleasing. Believing that you have no choice but to do what your partner asks. Saying “No” causes you to feel anxious. You may have a hard time saying “No” to anyone. You go out of your way and sacrifice your own needs to accommodate other people.
  • Poor boundaries. Boundaries are sort of an imaginary line between you and others. In relationship terms, boundaries apply to your feelings, thoughts and needs. You may have blurry boundaries. You feel responsible for other people’s feelings and problems or blame your feelings and problems on others. Or you may have rigid boundaries. You are closed off and withdrawn. This keeps others from getting close to you.
  • Reactivity. You tend to react to everyone’s thoughts and feelings. You either absorb what other’s think and believe it or you become defensive if you disagree with it. Stronger boundaries would help you accept that your thoughts and feelings are equally important as those of others. The thoughts and feelings of others are not a reflection of you.
  • Caretaking.  You want to help others beyond what is reasonable. You put others’ needs ahead of your own needs. If someone declines your help, you consider it a personal rejection. Even when it is clear someone does not want your help, you may keep trying and try to “fix” the problem.
  • Control. You need to control situations to feel safe and secure. As a result you fear taking risks, which includes sharing your thoughts and feelings. You also try to control others so that they behave in specific and predictable ways that make you feel comfortable. You may try to manipulate others or tell them what they can or can’t do. This violates the boundaries of others.
  • Dysfunctional communication. You have difficulty communicating your thoughts, feelings and needs. Sometimes you don’t know what you think, feel or need, and other times, you simply won’t share this with others. You fear that being truthful may upset someone else so you pretend that everything is okay or tell someone what to do.
  • Obsessions. You spend your time thinking about other people or relationships due to your anxieties and fears. You may obsess that you made a mistake or that you might make a mistake in your relationship. You fantasize about how you wish things were to avoid the pain of how things really are.
  • Dependency. You need others to like you to feel good about yourself. You fear rejection and abandonment even though you can function on your own. As a result, you need to be in a relationship even when it is painful or abusive. You feel trapped in your relationship.
  • Denial.  You blame others or the situation for your problems. You complain or try to fix the other person, or you jump from one relationship to another. You deny your feelings and needs or don’t know what they are, or you focus on what others are feeling or what they need. You may seem needy. At other times you act like you are self-sufficiently that you don’t need help. You won’t ask for help, you deny your vulnerability and your need for love and intimacy.
  • Problems with intimacy. You have trouble being open and close in your relationships because you may fear that you’ll be judged, rejected, or left. On the other hand, you may fear being smothered in a relationship and losing your independence. You deny your need for closeness and feel that your partner wants too much of your time.
  • Painful emotions. Shame and low self-esteem create anxiety and fear about being judged, rejected or abandoned; making mistakes; being a failure; and feeling trapped by being close or being alone. This may create feelings of anger and resentment, hopelessness, and despair. You feel numb when these feelings overwhelm you.

Despite how daunting this may seem, there is hope. Codependency is about your relationship with yourself. The characteristics and patterns of behavior helped you cope as you were growing up. They were likely developed as a result of addiction, emotional instability, trauma, neglect, abuse, or physical or mental illness that you experienced during your childhood. Through therapy, the origins of those patterns can be identified and treated so that you can become the person you were always meant to be.

(Originally published at

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