Are You Codependent (And Don’t Know It)?


Codependency is a topic I talk a lot about in therapy sessions.  Many people I work with are codependent, and actually don’t realize it.  Often this is because they’ve never heard of codependency, or they have heard of it and don’t realize what it actually is.  This week on the blog, I will be discussing what it means to be codependent, and how you can be healthier in your relationships.

Causes of Codependency

Codependency was first identified in the 1950’s as a role that many people fall into when they are married to or close to someone in active addiction.  Also referred to as a “co-addict”, codependents often enable the addict to continue using, without actually realizing it!

If you are in a relationship with someone who is an addict (drug, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc.) you may find yourself in the role of caretaker to “help” the addict.  This could be cleaning up after them, covering up for them, or making excuses for their behavior.  Your role becomes anticipating the next disaster, and then smoothing it over until the next one.  In addition, you put the other persons’ needs above your own, at the expense of yourself.  You may lose your own identity in the process.

In the past 10-20 years, researchers have realized that you can be codependent, and not necessarily in a relationship with someone who is an addict.  Instead, you can become codependent for a myriad of reasons.  Some personality types are just more prone to fall into codependency.  If you are more passive, reserved, a perfectionist, or a caretaker, you may struggle with codependency.

Codependency can also be modeled in families.  If one or both parents were codependent, you are more likely to be as well.  There are other causes from family of origin.  You may be codependent if you grew up in a home where there were no boundaries or you had to be the caretaker for your parents.  In addition, codependency can come from being a people pleaser, perfectionism, emotional abuse, or fear.

Codependency Traits

There are many traits that make up codependency, and I’m going to highlight some of the most common ones.  You don’t have to fit every single criteria to be considered codependent.

Boundaries-Those who struggle with being codependent have little to no boundaries.  They struggle to know when they should set boundaries, and how to stick with them.  When they get any push-back from others, they immediately back down.

Can’t Say No-People who struggle with codependency feel like they can’t tell people “no”.  Oftentimes they will say “yes”, then regret the decision immediately.  They may be filled with a lot of guilt, or feel like they will let the other person down.  It’s easier to just say “yes”.

You Get Steamrolled-It doesn’t feel good to get walked all over, but this is what happens to people who are codependent.  Their thoughts, feelings, and opinions often get denied, and they are treated like a doormat.  Codependents often get bossed around.

People Pleasing-Those battling codependency may do anything to make others happy.  They may do things they are not comfortable with, just because telling someone “no” makes them feel anxious.  They want everyone to around them to feel okay, even if it’s at the expense of their own happiness.  Codependents will do whatever they have to do to avoid any kind of conflict.

Low Self-Esteem-Codependents often have low self-esteem and self-worth.  They don’t feel like they are good enough or worthy enough to have their voice heard.  The person they are in an intimate relationship with may also validate these thoughts by how they treat the codependent.  Low self-esteem can also be indicative of shame and perfectionism.

Other Focused-This is when a codependent puts others’ wants and needs ahead of their own, at the expense of their own wants, needs, and happiness.

Caretaker-Codependents are often caretakers.  This can involve solving others’ problems, trying to “fix”, or control others.  Codependents feel intense sympathy and empathy for others, but will try to help at the expense of their own well-being.

Obsessing-People who struggle with codependency often have obsessive thinking.  They may overthink situations or replay scenarios through their heads.  This is due to their dependency on relationships.  The obsessiveness is usually caused by anxiety and fear.

Codependent Relationships

Codependents may be in a relationship with someone else who is codependent.  The relationship can be very enmeshed and unhealthy.  The dependency created becomes toxic, and they may end up feeding off of each other.  A relationship comprised of two codependents may cut off all other relationships and only spend time together.

You can also be in a relationship with someone who is counterdependent.  Counterdependents are often controlling, emotionally cut-off, and self-focused.  They micromanage and manipulate codependents.  They do not have the ability to have empathy for the codependent.  Often counterdependents come across as insensitive and indifferent to the codependent’s wants and needs.

It’s important to note that you can be codependent in ANY relationship.  It does not just have to be a romantic relationship or marriage.  You can be codependent with your children, friends, family members, coworkers, boss, etc.

Treatment for Codependency

Therapy is the number one treatment for codependency.  Therapy can help you look at the unhealthy patterns you may have fallen into with relationships.  It’s important to learn how to set boundaries with others and say “no”.  Furthermore, it’s imperative that you learn to separate yourself from others’ problems so that you can be a healthier version of you.

CODA (Codependents Anonymous) is another valuable tool for treatment.  Ran just like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), CODA is based on the 12 Steps.  It can help you pinpoint the root causes of your codependency, and provide support and accountability as you work to be healthier.

My favorite book about codependency is “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie.  There is also a “Codependent No More Workbook” that can help you as you navigate being a healthier codependent.

If you find yourself struggling with codependency, please reach out for help!  You can be healthier, and learn to take care of YOU!

Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW

*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.

Journey to Joy Counseling serves the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.