What is Co-Dependency?

  • Co-dependency is a word used to describe behaviors, thoughts and feelings that go beyond normal kinds of self-sacrifice or care taking.
  • Co-dependency is a learned behavior that is often passed down from one generation to another.
  • Anyone can develop Co-dependency. Some research suggests that people who have parents who emotionally abused or neglected them in their teen years are more likely to enter into Co-dependent relationships.
  • Co-dependent individuals often place a lower priority on their own needs, while being excessively preoccupied with the needs of others.
  • Co-dependency can occur in any type of relationship, including family, work, friendship, romantic, peer groups or community relationships.
  • Co-dependents are dependent on approval from someone else for their self-worth and identity.
  • Co-dependent people let the feelings and actions of other people affect them to the point that they feel like they have lost control of their own lives.
  • Co-dependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. They often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive verbally or physically.

Co-dependent Relationships

Co-dependent relationships are dysfunctional “helping” relationships in which one person supports or enables another person’s addiction, immaturity, irresponsibility, poor mental health or other under-achievement. People who are predisposition to be Co-dependent are enablers who often find themselves in relationships where their primary role is that of rescuer, confidante and supporter. These “helpers” are often dependent on the other person’s poor functioning to satisfy their own emotional needs.

Co-dependency affects people’s lives in a variety of ways.

Common Patterns and characteristics of Co-dependents: 

  • Excessive Care-taking: Co-dependents feel responsible for others’ actions, feelings, choices and emotional well-being. They often take on the role of mother hen; they constantly put others’ needs before their own and in doing so forget to take care of themselves. This creates a sense that they are “needed”; they can’t stand the thought of being alone with no one needing them. Co-dependent people are constantly in search of acceptance. They try to anticipate loved one’s needs and often wonder why others do not do the same for them.
  • Compliance: Compliance, referring to a response — specifically, a submission, made in reaction to a request.
  • Low self-esteem: Co-dependents need to be needed. They will only feel important and valuable when they are helping others, and they tend to blame themselves for anything that goes wrong.
  • Denial: Co-dependents will typically ignore, minimize or rationalize problems in the relationship, believing that “things will get better when….” They stay busy to avoid thinking about their feelings.
  • Fear of anger: Co-dependents are afraid of both their loved one’s anger, and their own, because they fear it will destroy the relationship.
  • Health problems: The stress of Co-dependency can lead to a multitude of health issues, including, but not limited to: headaches, ulcers, asthma and high blood pressure.
  • Addictive behavior: Co-dependents may develop their own addictions in an attempt to deal with their pain and frustration.

Are You in a Co-dependent Relationship?

Experts say that the key sign to tell if you are in a Co-dependent relationship is if your sense of purpose in life wraps around making extreme sacrifices to satisfy your partner’s needs.

  • Do you find yourself making lots of sacrifices for your partner’s happiness, but not getting much in return?
  • Are you unable to find satisfaction in your life outside of a specific person?
  • Do you recognize unhealthy behaviors in your partner but stay with him or her in spite of them?
  • Are you giving support to your partner at the cost of your own mental, emotional, and physical health?
  • Do you feel anxiety more consistently than any other emotion in the relationship?
  • Do you spend a great deal of time and energy either trying to change your partner or, trying to conform to your partner’s wishes?

Support Groups for Co-dependency:

Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)



Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA)

Self-help Publications:

Co-dependent No More by Melody Beattie

Facing Co-dependence by Pia Mellody

Set Yourself Free by Shirley Smith

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