What Is Codependency?

Codependency is a complex issue that deserves to be studied thoroughly but has not yet been researched enough. However, there are many definitions of codependency out there. Here is one of its simplest versions: codependency happens when someone loses themselves by focusing too much on another person or group of people.

Most thoughts, feelings, and actions of a codependent individual always revolve around another person in their life. In majority of cases, it is their romantic partner. But it can also be a parent or a close friend. A codependent person often denies their own needs, desires, or emotions because they constantly seek validation from others. And this deep-seated need for approval, in most cases, means more to them than self-care. Codependency usually arises in unhealthy relationships with unbalanced dynamics. Any relationship, whether it be romantic, between friends, or relatives - where one partner is dysfunctionally dependent on the other individual is codependent. It becomes problematic when one person takes advantage of the other and starts abusing them - emotionally or financially. Bear in mind that not all people with abusive tendencies act the way they do intentionally (which, obviously, is not an excuse for them) - control the other person too much and make all decisions about how the other person should live. In some cases, they manipulate their romantic partner or relative because they themselves had a codependent upbringing, and it was the only relationship model they witnessed growing up.

If you want to assess your level of codependency, this free and valid Codependency Test can help you.

That is why gaining awareness of the subconscious motivations in codependent relationships is the first step to solving the issue. If you want to find out whether or not you or someone you know is being emotionally abused in a codependent relationship, we highly suggest you take this reliable Emotional Abuse Test.

Codependency has not yet been recognized as a diagnosable mental health condition. However, some mental health professionals insist that codependency should be considered an official mental health diagnosis.

Signs of Codependency

If someone is codependent, that person very likely experiences most of the following:

  • Has a hard time saying no;
  • Never puts their needs first;
  • Has poor self-esteem and lacks faith in themselves;
  • Feels like their worth only comes from helping others;
  • Has trouble expressing their opinion if it differs from the opinions of the people around them;
  • Finds it difficult to detach from others’ problems;
  • Believes that other people are incapable of taking care of themselves;
  • Tolerates abuse to stay in a relationship;
  • Pretends specific situations are not as bad as they really are or deny and ignore problems altogether;
  • Adopts the “caretaker” role in the bedroom and has trouble asking for what they want in bed.

Codependency Vs. Interdependency

Humans are social creatures. That is why most people enjoy working in teams and living in families. It allows us to build solid bonds with our romantic partners, friends, and relatives. The truth of the matter is that we need these deep bonds more than anything else - human beings are “hardwired” for connection. But while codependency is a damaging connection where there is a power imbalance between two people, in an interdependent relationship, two individuals are able to operate autonomously being together. They are involved with each other, so they still sort of depend on each other. However, they do not sacrifice themselves or compromise their values for the sake of the relationship. Each partner can be themselves. Such couples find a balance between time spent on personal pursuits and time they spend together doing things they both like. In other words, interdependency is a healthier “cousin” of codependency.

Why Do People Become Codependent?

Codependency, in most cases, is rooted in childhood. If a child or adolescent had to suppress their own wishes and needs to win their parents’ approval or take care of a family member who had addictions or was emotionally unstable/abusive, as they grow up, that person is likely to become codependent.

And it comes as no surprise: the parent-child relationship is the first relationship each and every one of us experiences. From it, we learn how to love and interact with people, so it sets the stage for our relationships in adult life. If we have to “parent the parent”, repress our emotions, and disregard our needs, the “script” we learned in our early years was of self-sacrificing behavior that is extremely unhealthy.

What Is the Link Between Codependent Relationships and Addiction?

Codependency may appear when an individual is in a relationship with someone having an addiction. Interestingly enough, the codependency concept was first identified in the substance abuse community in the late 1980s - it was originally applied to caretaking patterns among partners of alcoholics. Another interesting fact is that codependency is sometimes referred to as “relationship addiction". In other words, one of the partners in such a relationship may be an alcoholic, a drug addict, a compulsive shopper, or a pathological gambler, even though not necessarily. The codependent person usually takes on a caretaker role for their spouse. They handle the addict’s finances; they may also cover for their partner if the addiction causes issues outside the relationship. For instance, an individual who suffers from alcohol or drug use disorder skips work, and their codependent spouse calls the partner’s boss on their behalf and claims their partner is sick.

Usually, the codependent person acts as a “savior” (also referred to as an "enabler") out of a sincere desire to help. What they fail to realize is that if they keep trying to “save” their significant other from the consequences of their behaviors, in reality, it is not helping them at all. On the contrary, that individual enabling their partner or family member to keep engaging in unhealthy behaviors just makes the addict lose motivation to change. In fact, most often, if a person stays in such a relationship, the addiction only gets worse over time. Of course, it does not mean the enabler is to blame for their partner's addiction. But codependency does contribute to an individual's lack of desire to overcome their drug/alcohol dependence or any other kind of addiction.

What Can Be Done to Recover from Codependency?

If you or someone you know have codependent traits, you are probably wondering if these patterns can be changed. Yes, it is possible to stop being codependent, though it will definitely be a challenging process that takes time and effort. First of all, you should know that awareness is the key. The good news is that there are many books, websites, and support groups available. These resources can help you get a deeper understanding of codependency and discover how to start healing from it.

Here below you will find a few tips on what to do to conquer codependency:

  • Make self-care your absolute priority - you need to start accepting, valuing, loving yourself, and putting yourself first: make time for some “me time” daily, try and get back to doing things you have always enjoyed doing, engage in your favorite hobbies;
  • Encourage yourself: give yourself credit for your good qualities, appreciate yourself, practice positive self-talk;
  • Get comfortable drawing and maintaining straight boundaries: most codependent people have a hard time speaking up for themselves; it is time for you to realize that saying no is a crucial boundary because saying that “magical word” means your needs count;
  • You can and should ask for help when you need it: a big part of the codependent people’s struggle centers around doing everything themselves; understand that it is okay to ask for help and by asking for what you need you will increase your chance of actually getting it;
  • Protect yourself from toxicity and abuse: even if you love someone, it does not mean you have to accept their insulting words or disrespectful behaviors; If you think you’re being abused by your romantic partner and/or relative, stop wasting your energy or even risk your safety hoping the abuser will change.

Essentially, to recover, a person with codependent traits needs to realize that they matter. They need to honor their feelings and love themselves. Even if it might feel wrong at first because codependent individuals are so used to loving others that they always put themselves last. If you or someone you know has suffered from emotional abuse in a codependent relationship, be aware that a victim is never the cause of the abuser's words or behavior. No one is ever responsible for another person's actions. What each of us is responsible for is our safety (and our children's if we are parents). Everyone always has a choice - to speak up, leave the room, call the police if someone is being violent, end the relationship, etc. Remember that you deserve love and respect just because you exist, so stop being a people pleaser and constantly seeking someone's validation. Being yourself is more important.

If you're still unsure whether or not you can heal on your own, consider talking to a therapist. A professional counselor can help you acknowledge your detrimental codependent patterns, learn how to modify those behaviors for healthier alternatives, and avoid getting into codependent relationships in the future.