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The Hallmarks of Codependency (and How to Heal)

November 29, 2023

Healthy adult relationships are built on mutual respect and a considerate balance of give and take. In other words, the two people in the relationship can rely on each other, emotionally, physically, and often financially.

What Are Codependent Relationships?

When someone in a relationship becomes consumed with the relationship, it veers into being codependent. Codependents have an overgrown sense of responsibility for the relationship, viewing the other person’s needs and wants as more important than their own. They often neglect their own needs to keep the relationship going. As a result, the combination of codependency and relationships can negatively impact the healthy balance of give and take mentioned earlier.

All kinds of relationships can be codependent: dating or marriage relationships; family relationships (such as mother-child relationships); sibling relationships; and even friendships.

Signs of Codependency

If you are codependent, you most likely struggle with low self-esteem and don’t articulate your own needs in the relationship much or at all.

Generally speaking, a codependent person focuses a great deal of energy on making and keeping the other person in the relationship happy. Most of your choices are centered on avoiding anything that could possibly upset or anger the other person.

If you are codependent, you most likely struggle with low self-esteem and don’t articulate your own needs in the relationship much or at all. Often, codependent people have trouble identifying and expressing emotions to their partner, parent, sibling, or friend. And you have difficulty making decisions for yourself or in your own best interest.

Other characteristics of codependency include the overarching desire to feel important to the other person, to be the primary caregiver, and to be indispensable in someone’s life. These feelings are natural, but when your self-worth and emotional health depend entirely on another person’s valuation, this is a sure sign of a codependent relationship.

Other Signs of Codependency: 

  • Feelings that you can’t live without the other person, or they can’t live without you
  • An ongoing fear that the person will abandon or leave the relationship
  • Few external relationships or support
  • Increasing self-doubt and resentment

What Causes Codependency?

Codependency isn’t just a terrible series of choices or a lopsided relationship. Medical New Today says it is a learned behavior that emerges from a negative pattern of behaviors and a range of emotionally challenging situations during your formative years. These include:

Dysfunctional Parent-Child Relationships

Children or teens who experience dysfunction within the parent-child relationship are prone to codependency. Sometimes emotionally immature parents teach their children that only their needs, emotions, or choices matter. Some parents — especially those with addiction to alcohol or drugs — teach children that their needs or emotions are unimportant, or worse, that they are selfish to think of their own needs or emotions at all. In these situations, the child experiences significant gaps in emotional development, which leads to codependency in their adult relationships.

A Parent Who Is Physically or Mentally Ill

When a child grows up in a home with a mentally or physically ill parent, the child becomes a caregiver at a young age, internalizing a range of emotions centered on the needs of the parent. The child’s self-worth may hinge on being needed by another person and result in neglecting his or her own needs.

Abuse During Childhood

Mental, physical, or sexual abuse in childhood often results in long-term psychological issues. As an emotional defense mechanism, the child or teenager learns to repress his or her emotions. When the child becomes an adult, this learned behavior manifests in a singular focus on the needs of the other person. Sometimes childhood abuse victims gravitate to abusive relationships in adulthood because they feel most familiar. Abusive relationships are codependent by nature.

Lack of Physical or Emotional Boundaries

Because you learned as a child that the needs of others are more important than your own, you grow up with a low sense of self-worth. Being codependent on others, you can find it challenging as an adult to set and enforce physical or emotional boundaries — hallmarks of healthy relationships — with your friends, family, or partner. It may be hard for you to say no to your partner or loved one for fear of being rejected or letting someone down since your value is derived from your ability to help someone else and be needed. As a result of these weak or nonexistent boundaries, you can easily be taken advantage of or manipulated by those closest to you.

Recognizing Codependency in Yourself

couple standing side by side

As you’re reading this you may begin to wonder, Am I struggling with codependency? It could be obvious to you that you have codependent relationships. But for some, this is hard to accept. With that said, the first step to overcoming codependency is self-awareness. Learning how to recognize codependency in yourself is key.

With the help of, here are some key self-reflection questions you can ask to gauge the codependent traits in your own relationships:

  • Are you often the one who apologizes, even if you’ve done nothing wrong?
  • Do you consistently feel the need to check in with the other person and ask for permission to do daily tasks?
  • Are you walking on eggshells to avoid conflict with the other person?
  • Do you feel sorry for the other person even when they hurt you?
  • Will you do anything for the other person, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable?
  • Are you putting the other person on a pedestal, even if they don’t deserve it?
  • Do you need other people to like you in order to feel good about yourself?
  • Are you often trying to rescue or fix troubled, addicted, or underfunctioning people whose problems go beyond any one person’s ability to resolve?

The Path to Healing Codependency

Overcoming codependent behaviors is possible if you recognize the signs and have the desire to embark on the path to healing. What might that look like?

Small steps toward a healthier, more balanced life are essential, as an individual and within your relationships.

Immediate Steps

The first thing a codependent person must decide is whether the relationship is a safe one, meaning there is no physical or emotional abuse taking place. Secondly, the caregiver must take some small step toward autonomy, toward building some separation into the relationship, whether through a hobby or reestablishing external relationships with friends or family. Small steps toward a healthier, more balanced life are essential, as an individual and within your relationships.

Getting Back to You in Codependency Treatment

Codependent behavior can be treated successfully in both individual and group therapy. Codependency treatment experts can help you rediscover your emotional center that has long been repressed.

Therapeutic workshops like Rio Retreat Center’s Love Addiction/Love Avoidance Workshop walks you through the destructive cycles of codependency, teaching the practices of self-love and self-care, as well as what intimacy with healthy boundaries looks like. It’s a big leap toward freedom from codependency, which frequently manifests in one-sided, unhealthy relationships.

In therapy for codependency, victims of child abuse and dysfunctional parent-child relationships can begin to identify and acknowledge the pain they’ve experienced and how it has impacted their self-esteem and their understanding of love relationships.