What is Codependency?
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.
Codependency, or relationship addiction, is an excessive, all-consuming dependency on a specific relationship. Most codependent relationships involve some form of underlying dysfunction, such as addiction, abuse, or mental illness.
Any relationship can be codependent, including romantic relationships, familial relationships, or friendships. In general, the codependent person wants to avoid making others unhappy, particularly the other member of the codependent relationship.
They often support the other person in some way, such as financially or emotionally. They also feel like they are unable to end the codependent aspect of the relationship because they fear what would happen to the other person.
People who are codependent on someone often have a number of traits in common. These include:
- Low self-esteem
- Trouble identifying their own emotions
- Trouble making decisions
- Desire to care for others
- Desire to feel important to someone
These feelings are a natural part of life. However, in some scenarios, they can work against healthy relationships and contribute to other problems as well.
While codependency can feel overwhelming, there are ways to overcome it. Recognizing the signs of codependency, taking action, and getting treatment can all help.
Types of Codependency
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.
For example, 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 wellbeing.
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 involved feel like they cannot live without the other person. They have become codependent.
Signs of Codependency
Codependency leaves one person’s 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 the signs and symptoms to watch for:
Compulsive Attention to Someone
One of the primary signs of potential codependency is feeling like you can’t live without the other person. People with codependent tendencies often feel a compulsive need to keep themselves connected with 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 are 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 intended to make 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 External Support Systems
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.
Codependent people tend to focus so heavily on one person that they don’t have time to spend with other people who are important to them.
Enmeshed Sense of Self
A person who’s codependent will likely feel like their personality depends on the other person. You may not feel like you know what you really like or who you really are. Instead, your focus is only on things the other person likes or dislikes.
Spending long enough supporting or relying on one person 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.
Dealing With a Codependent Relationship
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 one that's safe for you to be in, removing codependency from a relationship usually requires one or both people involved to realize what’s going on. If you or a loved one is codependent, it's important for the codependent person to prioritize themselves. This can help build self-esteem and also help them 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.