Codependency: Signs and Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on March 01, 2024
10 min read

Codependency, or relationship addiction, is an excessive, all-consuming dependency on a specific relationship. Most codependent relationships involve some form of underlying problem, such as addiction, abuse, or mental illness. In healthy relationships, it’s natural to rely on each other for support. However, there’s a difference between depending on someone for emotional, financial, or physical support and being codependent.

If you're codependent, you often support the other person in some ways, such as financially or emotionally. You may also feel unable to end the codependent aspect of the relationship because you fear what would happen to the other person if you were to step back.

While codependency can feel overwhelming, there are ways to overcome it. Recognizing the signs of codependency, taking action, and getting treatment can all help.

Who can have codependency?

Codependency can affect all types of relationships: romantic, family, and friendships.

Codependent vs. interdependent behavior

In an interdependent relationship, both members maintain separate identities while valuing their bond. If you're codependent, you might drop your hobbies and interests to focus on what's important to the other person. If your relationship is interdependent, you each pursue your hobbies and interests while also doing activities you both enjoy.

There are two general roles involved in a codependent relationship: the caregiver and the person who needs care. It’s possible for two people to fill both roles in different ways.

This may be more common if either person has an addiction or underlying mental health problem. This can lead to a dysfunctional cycle where both people feel like they cannot live without the other, becoming codependent.

Codependency in families

An adult parent-child relationship can be codependent. A parent may feel like they are still entirely responsible for their adult child’s physical well-being. Meanwhile, the child may feel responsible for their parent’s emotional well-being. If someone in your family has an addiction or other illness, you might focus your attention on that family member, ignoring your own needs to take care of that person.

Codependency in romantic relationships

Codependence in romantic relationships often comes up in discussions of addiction. Codependent partners can be described as "enablers" of addiction because they cover for their partners and try to protect them from the problems their addictions cause. But codependence can also surface in other ways in a relationship. You might take on more responsibility around the house to avoid conflict or end friendships to keep your partner happy. When you're codependent, you see your role as "saving" your partner, and you sacrifice your own happiness and well-being for that goal.

Codependency leaves your sense of self-worth and emotions entirely dependent on someone else. There are several signs that you or someone you know may be falling into a codependent relationship. Here are some patterns to watch for:

Compulsive attention to someone

One of the main signs of potential codependency is feeling like you can’t live without the other person. You might feel like the other person is so important to you that you have to hide your real thoughts and opinions to make sure they like you.

Fear of abandonment

When you're codependent, you may have a deep-seated fear that the other person is going to leave you. Most of what you do in the relationship will be geared toward making sure the other person doesn’t leave. This can include hiding your own feelings, lying, and supporting the other person in unhealthy behaviors.

Lack of outside support

Another potential risk factor for codependency is relying entirely on one person for your emotional needs. You may not have a large social circle or have others you feel comfortable spending time with.

If you're codependent, you might focus so heavily on one person that you don’t have time to spend with other people who are important to you.

Weak sense of self

You may feel like your personality depends on the other person. You may feel like you don't know what you really like or who you really are. Instead, your focus is only on things the other person likes or dislikes.


If you support or rely on one person for long enough, it can wear down your sense of self. You may doubt your decisions and feel the need to have someone else make choices for you. You also may feel like your own preferences aren’t important enough to consider.


After a while in a codependent relationship, you may start to resent the other person. More importantly, you’ll resent them while feeling like you can’t live without them or like they can’t live without you. This is the biggest sign that your relationship is unhealthy and potentially codependent.

Other signs of codependency

Some other common behaviors in a codependent relationship include:

  • Feeling guilty when you focus on your own needs or anything outside your relationship
  • Taking the blame for things that aren't your fault, just to avoid conflict 
  • Taking on too much responsibility rather than expecting the other person to share the load
  • Not having a purpose or finding satisfaction in things other than your relationship 
  • Ignoring behavior that harms you, or brushing it off
  • Focusing only on your partner's good qualities and refusing to acknowledge flaws

Codependency traits

Certain traits are common among codependent people. They include: 

  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble identifying your own emotions
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Desire to care for others
  • Desire to feel important to someone
  • An excessive sense of responsibility for the way others act
  • A tendency to fall in love with people you can "rescue"
  • Difficulty dealing with change
  • A strong need for approval or recognition, and feeling hurt when you don't receive it 
  • A strong need to control other people
  • Poor communication skills

Codependency can be the result of many factors, including your psychological makeup and the patterns you learn while growing up.

Low self-esteem

If you feel as if you don't deserve to be loved, you're more likely to take on an unequal burden in a relationship.

Lack of a sense of self

If you're not sure who you are, you may adapt to the needs and desires of others, just to feel accepted. 

Pattern of self-sacrifice

Some families have a pattern of certain members giving up their own happiness and well-being to look after the needs of others to an extent that's unhealthy. If you grew up in that kind of family, a codependent relationship might feel natural to you.


Ignoring difficult situations is the norm in some families. If you grew up around people who didn't admit problems or talk about them, you may have learned to avoid confrontation and keep your emotional needs to yourself.

Attachment style

You might have developed insecurity about relationships if your ties to your parent or caregiver weren't solid. If your caregiver alternates between extremes of paying attention to you and ignoring you, you might have an attachment style that's called "ambivalent" or "anxious-preoccupied." Your insecurity and anxiety about your relationship might make you cater to the other person's needs at the expense of your own.

Only a mental health professional can diagnose codependency. But asking yourself these questions can help you decide whether you should seek help. Many people will answer "yes" to some of these questions, yet they aren't codependent. 

  1. Do you avoid arguments by keeping quiet?
  2. Do you worry about what people think of you?
  3. Have you lived with someone who was addicted to alcohol or drugs, or someone who was violent or verbally abusive toward you?
  4. Do you value other people's opinions more than your own?
  5. Are you humiliated when someone close to you makes a mistake? When you make a mistake, do you feel as though you're a bad person?
  6. Are you worried that people in your life would be in trouble if you didn't look out for them?
  7. Do you have trouble asking for help, or saying "no" to other people when they ask for your help?
  8. Is it hard for you to tell people how you really feel?

The first step toward ending codependency is to understand it and the role it plays in your relationships. You can find more information through libraries, support groups, and mental health facilities.

You can take steps toward changing your behavior.

Support vs. control

You might think you know what's best for someone else, but it's important to let other people manage their own lives. You can offer support without taking on responsibility for their problems.

Know what you want

Do you participate in things you don't really enjoy simply because they make other people happy? Everyone compromises in relationships, but make sure you separate your wants from those of others. You'll feel more fulfilled if you pursue interests and goals of your own instead of sidelining them to go along with what others want.

Focus on yourself

It's OK to take time for yourself. Remind yourself that it's not selfish to rest and recharge.

Be assertive

You might believe "assertiveness" means being rude or unpleasant. But you can stand up for yourself without being aggressive. Listen to the other person's point of view, let them know you've heard what they're saying, and then state your position. Be honest and direct, and don't leave room for misunderstanding. Learn to say no.

 Deal with negative thoughts

As an example, your codependency might stem from anxiety about someone abandoning you unless you do what they want. Recognize that thought, and then challenge it. Ask yourself whether there's any evidence to back up the thought. Could the situation turn out another way? Can you control the outcome? Does your worry accomplish anything?

Build your self-esteem

High self-esteem helps you deal with ups and downs in your relationships and protects you against anxiety and depression. Steps you can take to improve your self-esteem include:

  • Build your social network. Spend time with people beyond the other person in the codependent relationship. After spending time with someone, check your emotions. Do you feel upbeat or drained? Spend less time with people who leave you feeling unhappy.
  • Focus on a healthy lifestyle. Getting enough sleep and exercise and eating a healthy diet can improve your sense of well-being.
  • Know your strengths. If you need to, write down a list of things you're good at or that have earned compliments. When you're feeling low, think about your positive attributes.
  • Set reasonable goals and expectations. It's important to have benchmarks you're working toward. But don't make them so unrealistic that you'll feel disappointed if you can't achieve them.
  • Avoid comparisons. It can be easy to measure your life against someone else's, especially in the age of social media, and feel as though you come up short. Remember that others probably have flaws and insecurities, too, even if you can't spot them.

The first thing to consider is whether this is a relationship you want to try to continue. If it's not a safe relationship for you, you may need help to leave. If the relationship is safe for you, you can consider removing codependency, which usually requires one or both people involved to realize what’s going on. It's important for a codependent person to prioritize themselves. This can help them build their self-esteem and separate their sense of self from the other person. It's also important for their partner to take good care of themselves.

You can also consider attending therapy. In many cases, personal or relationship therapy can help people in codependent relationships understand what parts of their relationship are causing them pain. In the long run, this can help some codependent relationships become healthier for everyone involved.

Codependent traits are often linked to childhood experiences. Therapy can help you and your loved one recognize those patterns and move past them.

Consider your own role

Are you encouraging someone's codependent behavior because it benefits you, for instance, allowing you to avoid responsibility for certain things? Make sure your actions are not part of the problem.

Have a conversation

Talk to the other person about the changes you'd like to see in your relationship. They might become defensive or upset. Try to choose a calm time to start the discussion, and then listen to them. Don't interrupt or show impatience. Focus on how you feel using "I" statements, rather than saying things like "You always..."

Set boundaries

Be clear about what behaviors you want to stop. The other person may still do those things. Remind them of the line you've drawn. If they continue to push, consider taking a break.

Encourage the other person

Be supportive as the other person tries out new interests. Be patient – the process takes time.

Codependency is sometimes called "relationship addiction." When you're codependent, you're focused on another person and your relationship to the point that you ignore your own needs and wants. Some codependent relationships involve an underlying problem with one person, such as substance abuse or mental illness. Codependency can occur in romantic relationships, families, and friendships. Therapy can help break patterns of codependency, which are often rooted in your childhood. You can also take steps on your own, such as focusing on your own goals, developing your self-esteem, and becoming more assertive.

What does codependency look like?

If you're codependent, you look for things outside yourself to boost your sense of self-worth. Taking care of another person or "rescuing" them might make you feel good initially. But eventually, you may feel resentment because you're focused on the other person instead of what you want. The other person in the relationship might appear to benefit from your caretaking, but your actions might be preventing them from dealing with their own problems.

How does codependency develop?

Many factors go into a codependent relationship. You may be repeating patterns you saw in childhood because you grew up in a family that placed too much value on self-sacrifice, or because your family covered up problems rather than facing them. Sometimes an underlying issue, such as substance abuse, plays a role.

How does a codependent person feel?

Codependent people are often anxious and have a strong need for others to approve of them. They may fear being abandoned by people close to them, which leads them to ignore their own needs. They may try to control others. Over time, they may become angry and resentful.