Therapy Talk: What is Codependency?

The fixer, the giver, the person who cares what others think.

Codependency can feel like a one way relationship. You fear people will leave you if you can’t solve their problems. You are so busy taking care of others, of your partner, that you forget to take care of yourself. This may result in feeling like you are losing who you are. People who are codependent get into relationships with someone who can’t love them, can’t fulfill their needs. This can be seen and amplified in relationships between a codependent partner and an addicted partner. The codependent partner will keep the cycle of addiction going instead of actually helping their partner like they are intending to.  

Am I Codependent?

Are you unsure if you fall into this?  Here are some common characteristics:

You give more in the relationship than your partner. You have a hard time saying “no”and can often feel like the survival of the relationship falls on your shoulders. You feel guilty when you do speak up. You feel bad for “disrupting the peace” or scared they will leave you.

You are a people pleaser. You feel compelled to take care of others. You have poor boundaries and often feel taken for granted. You are hurt or resentful when you are not praised for all that you are doing. Your relationship involves your partner and their needs, and your’s go on the back burner.

You find yourself dating people who need you. People who “can’t live without you.” Your partners are struggling in one way or another. Their need for you makes you feel important and valued.

You are emotionally reactive. In reaction to a stimulus, your emotions spring to the surface before you have time to think. After this reaction, you might find yourself feeling out of control – it feels like your emotions are in control. You might try to compensate for this by trying to be overly in control of your own emotions – deciding how you feel instead of listening to your body to see how you actually fee. This need to feel in control can lead to trying to control someone else.

You need to feel in control to avoid conflict. You might worry that your partner will leave you. You may feel that you have no value if you aren’t constantly meeting their needs. You will do anything to make them feel better, solve their problems, even if this means putting your own health and safety at risk. The reward of being needed feels worth it.  

You have a hard time feeling secure with yourself. If you make a mistake, people will abandon you or give up on you. You feel like you need to be who they want you to be. If there’s an argument, it’s on you to make things right. You may be willing to compromise and do a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise because you don’t want to be alone.  You are willing to compromise to hang on to the relationship.

You Deny your own needs, thoughts, and feelings. You find it hard to even identify your own feelings. Your needs revolve around those of your partner.

Codependency in Relationships

How is it different than being a supportive partner?  A supportive partner supports and loves you, but there is a line where your role in this support ends. With codependency, the boundaries are blurred. Where does your role end and your partner’s support of themselves start? A codependent partner gets too involved wanting to solve things for their partner. They also tend to make excuses for their partner and minimize their partner’s shortcomings and damaging attributes.

Who is more likely to be in a codependent relationship? People who grow up in families that are dysfunctional, chaotic, unsupportive, or blaming. Where no one took time to pay attention to their needs, so why bother? Emotions become suppressed. Attachment needs aren’t mirrored. The child feels rejected and internalizes shame – leading to low self-esteem. Parents who weren’t able to provide a stable, supportive, nurturing home. This causes us to become caretakers. Parents who do not mirror their child’s attachment needs will leave the child feeling rejected, internalize shame, and have low self-esteem. The message they are getting is that they are not good enough, they are not worth caring for and harboring security. Those children will carry that idea of themselves into adulthood and overly rely on a partner to relieve some of those feelings.

Why is this kind of relationship dangerous?  It is the “perfect storm.” The codependent partner will try to fix and save, they’ll take on everything. They’ll make up for the lack of support from their addicted or emotionally absent partner – all the while internalizing the blame for fights or turbulence in the relationship. The partner will blame the codependent partner; “you’re the reason I drink/gamble/abuse drugs/watch so much porn/etc.” The codependent partner will suppress their feelings until they eventually blow up, leading to the other partner to increase their damaging behavior and in turn increase the blame put on the codependent partner.

Codependency and Addiction

A codependent partner of an addict enables addicts behavior. They will go above and beyond to try to do damage control for their partner – calling into work sick on their behalf, making excuses for them. They think they are helping their partner, but they are really just enabling their addicted partner’s destructive lifestyle. The codependent partner wants to feel valued and needed so badly, they will let that need fog their view of the reality of the situation. The addicted partner is so reliant on the codependent partner to rescue them or relieve them from dealing with the consequences of their actions. This cycle will continue until the addicted partner is ready when they believe they deserve better. The codependent partner giving in to overly helping their addicted partner will just keep this negative cycle going.

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So what can the codependent partner do to break this cycle?

Do some soul searching: Who am I?  What is important to me?  Who am I? What makes me tick? What lights me up?  What am I good at? Develop that balance. We help others out because we like that, but helping others isn’t all that we have going for us. We need care as much as others do, and we need to make sure we’re caring for ourselves as much as we care for others.  One way to organize your thoughts on this is to start a journal. Write down the answers to all these questions. When you are feeling lost, go back to them for clarity. When you are feeling down, when you are questioning your self-worth, go back to “What am I good at?” and do something you are good at to remind yourself of some of your awesome assets.

Begin Practicing Healthy boundaries: Learn how to set the line.  Remind yourself that you are not there to fix your partner’s problems, but rather to support them while they fix their own problems. Taking on your partner’s needs and stress will leave you feeling overwhelmed. When you are supporting your partner as they work on their own problems, you’ll feel like you are a good partner, that you can keep supporting them in a way you can’t when you are taking everything onto your own shoulders.

Think deeper: Work on your history of attachment injuries. Write this down so you can see it on paper. Get educated; read books, work with a therapist who specializes in getting rid of co-dependence. Encourage yourself to have two-way relationships – let others, and ask others, to help you as you help them.

Codependent partners are dependent on others because they themselves are not feeling whole. They are afraid of abandonment. They need to be needed. But, because of their weak sense of self, they can’t peak their own truth. This weak sense of self and self-worth leads them to live with the pain, suffering, feeling like they aren’t entitled to be happy.

If this is resonating with you, call to schedule codependency counseling with one of our therapists to help get you on track to loving yourself and fulfilling your own needs.


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It’s been nearly 20 years since I first became interested in studying psychotherapy. I began practicing the scientific approaches to psychotherapy in 1997 and I was hooked from then on.

I earned my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family psychotherapy in 2004 and I am currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist MFT (LMFT#47653) with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

I focus my practice upon the empirically-based and proven research methods of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

I’ve seen these techniques consistently get results and I truly believe they are the most effective at creating positive, long-term change.

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