Signs of Codependency

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

You wake up every morning with a heavy feeling in your chest, knowing that your day will be filled with the constant need to cater to the wants and needs of others. You’ve always been a caring person, but lately, it seems as though your own well-being has taken a backseat to those around you. There’s a persistent, nagging worry that if you don’t do enough for others, they’ll leave or stop caring about you. It’s as if your entire sense of self-worth is wrapped up in the approval of others, and without it, you feel lost and insignificant.

As you go about your day, you find it difficult to say no when someone asks for your help, even if it means overextending yourself or neglecting your own needs. You’ve become adept at reading the emotions of others and often feel responsible for their happiness, making it your mission to fix any perceived problems in their lives. You’re constantly trying to control situations and outcomes, even when it’s not your place to do so. This constant focus on others leaves you feeling drained and burnt out, yet you continue to ignore your own emotional and physical needs.

Deep down, you know that this pattern isn’t healthy, but it feels almost impossible to break free from the cycle. It’s time to recognize the signs of codependency and take the necessary steps to regain control of your own life and cultivate healthier relationships.

Psychological Signs of Codependency

Low self-esteem

1. Negative self-image: One of the most common signs of codependency is a negative self-image, where you constantly feel unworthy or not good enough. This can lead you to constantly seek validation from others, often at the expense of your own well-being.

2. Comparing oneself to others: You may find yourself constantly comparing your life, achievements, and relationships to those of others. This unhealthy comparison can further fuel your low self-esteem and perpetuate the cycle of codependency.

People-pleasing

1. Difficulty saying no: You may find it nearly impossible to say no when someone asks for help or a favor, even if it comes at a cost to your own needs or desires. This stems from a fear of rejection or disappointing others, as well as a desire to feel needed.

2. Overcommitment to others: In an effort to please others, you may overcommit yourself, taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. This can lead to feelings of exhaustion, resentment, and even physical health problems.

Poor boundaries

1. Difficulty setting limits: Codependent individuals often struggle with setting healthy boundaries in their relationships. This can include difficulty asserting your needs, saying no, or maintaining a sense of autonomy in the relationship.

2. Overinvolvement in others’ lives: You may find yourself overly involved in the lives of others, trying to fix their problems or make decisions for them. This lack of boundaries can lead to a loss of personal identity and an unhealthy level of control over others.

Emotional reactivity

1. Overreaction to others’ emotions: When you’re codependent, you may become overly reactive to the emotions of others, feeling responsible for their feelings and trying to alleviate their pain or discomfort. This can lead to a heightened sense of anxiety and a constant state of emotional turmoil.

2. Anxiety about others’ approval: In codependent relationships, you may feel a constant need for approval from others. This can lead to a heightened sense of anxiety, as you worry about how others perceive you and whether or not you’re meeting their expectations.

Dependency

1. Fear of abandonment: A deep-rooted fear of abandonment often underlies codependency. You may cling to relationships, even unhealthy ones, in an attempt to avoid the pain of being alone or feeling rejected.

2. Inability to function independently: Codependent individuals may struggle to function independently, relying heavily on others for emotional support, decision-making, and self-worth. This can make it difficult for you to pursue your own goals or interests, as your life becomes centered around the needs of others.

Behavioral Signs of Codependency

Caretaking

1. Constantly helping others: Codependent individuals often feel a strong urge to help others, even when it’s not asked for or necessary. This constant need to provide assistance can become overwhelming and detrimental to both parties in the relationship.

2. Neglecting one’s own needs: In the pursuit of taking care of others, you may neglect your own physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This can lead to burnout, resentment, and a host of other health issues.

Control

1. Attempts to control others’ decisions: As a codependent person, you may find yourself trying to control the decisions and actions of others, believing that you know what’s best for them. This behavior can create tension and resentment in relationships.

2. Obsessing over others’ actions: Alongside attempting to control others’ decisions, you may obsess over their actions, constantly monitoring and worrying about what they’re doing. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and anxiety.

Denial

1. Ignoring personal problems: Codependent individuals often focus on the problems of others to avoid facing their own issues. This denial can prevent you from addressing personal struggles and fostering personal growth.

2. Rationalizing unhealthy behaviors: You may find yourself rationalizing or making excuses for your own unhealthy behaviors or those of others. This denial prevents you from acknowledging the reality of the situation and taking the necessary steps to create healthier relationships.

Communication issues

1. Passive-aggressiveness: Codependency can lead to poor communication skills, including passive-aggressive behaviors. Instead of directly addressing concerns or expressing feelings, you may resort to indirect or subtle expressions of anger or frustration.

2. Indirect expression of emotions: You might have difficulty openly expressing your emotions, often resorting to hinting or using vague language. This can result in misunderstandings and unmet emotional needs.

Difficulty with change

1. Resistance to personal growth: Codependent individuals may resist change or personal growth, fearing that it could disrupt the delicate balance of their relationships. This resistance can keep you stuck in unhealthy patterns and prevent you from reaching your full potential.

2. Fear of uncertainty: Change often brings uncertainty, and as a codependent person, you might find this fear paralyzing. This fear can lead to an avoidance of situations or decisions that could result in personal growth, keeping you trapped in codependent behaviors.

Consequences of Codependency

Impact on relationships

1. Dysfunctional dynamics: Codependency often leads to dysfunctional relationship dynamics, characterized by an imbalance of power and a lack of mutual support. This can result in relationships that are emotionally draining and ultimately unsatisfying for both parties.

2. Strained connections: The constant focus on pleasing others, coupled with poor communication and boundary-setting, can strain connections with friends, family, and romantic partners. Over time, this can lead to feelings of isolation and resentment.

Effects on mental health

1. Increased anxiety and depression: Codependent individuals often experience heightened levels of anxiety and depression due to the constant need for approval, fear of abandonment, and emotional turmoil. This can have a significant impact on overall mental health and well-being.

2. Burnout and exhaustion: Continuously putting the needs of others above your own can lead to emotional and physical burnout. The constant caregiving and emotional labor can leave you feeling drained, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

Impaired personal growth

1. Stunted emotional development: Codependency can hinder emotional development, as the focus on others’ needs prevents you from adequately addressing your own feelings and emotions. This can make it difficult to form a healthy sense of self and emotional resilience.

2. Hindered ability to make decisions: The reliance on others for validation and support can impair your ability to make decisions independently. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and an inability to effectively navigate life’s challenges.

Breaking free from Codependency

Seeking professional help

1. Counseling and therapy: Working with a mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can be an effective way to address codependent behaviors and thought patterns. They can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and provide guidance on improving your relationships.

2. Support groups: Joining a support group, such as Codependents Anonymous (CoDA), can offer a safe space to connect with others facing similar challenges. Sharing experiences and learning from others can be an invaluable resource in the journey towards healing.

Developing healthy boundaries

1. Learning to say no: Developing the ability to say no when necessary is crucial in breaking free from codependency. By asserting your needs and setting limits, you can create more balanced relationships and protect your own well-being.

2. Prioritizing self-care: Make a conscious effort to prioritize your own physical, emotional, and mental health. This can include engaging in regular exercise, practicing mindfulness, and setting aside time for relaxation and hobbies.

Enhancing self-esteem

1. Affirming self-worth: Work on building a positive self-image by regularly affirming your worth and acknowledging your strengths. Remind yourself that your value is not determined by the opinions or approval of others.

2. Engaging in activities that promote confidence: Pursue activities and hobbies that you enjoy and excel at. This can help build self-confidence and foster a stronger sense of identity, independent of others.

Fostering interdependent relationships

1. Encouraging open communication: Cultivate healthy relationships by encouraging open and honest communication. Share your feelings, needs, and concerns with others, and listen to theirs with empathy and understanding.

2. Establishing trust and respect: Work towards building relationships grounded in trust and mutual respect. This includes respecting each other’s boundaries, supporting individual growth, and valuing one another’s autonomy.

Codependency and Addiction

The connection between codependency and addiction

1. Codependency often co-occurs with addiction, either in the individual experiencing codependency or in the person they are closely involved with.

2. Addictive behaviors can exacerbate codependent patterns, while codependency can enable and perpetuate addiction.

Signs of codependency in the context of addiction

1. Enabling behaviors: You may find yourself consistently making excuses for the addicted person’s behavior, covering up their mistakes, or providing financial support despite the negative consequences of their addiction.

2. Loss of personal identity: Your life may become entirely centered around the addicted person and their needs, leading to a loss of personal identity and neglect of your own well-being.

3. Preoccupation with the addicted person: You may become overly focused on the addicted person’s actions, behaviors, and emotional state, leaving little room for your own feelings and concerns.

Impacts of codependency on the addicted person

1. Hindered recovery: By enabling the addiction and taking on the responsibilities of the addicted person, you may inadvertently hinder their recovery by preventing them from experiencing the consequences of their actions.

2. Prolonged addiction: Codependency can contribute to the continuation of the addiction, as the addicted person may become reliant on your support and care, rather than seeking help and working towards recovery.

Impacts of codependency on the codependent individual

1. Emotional turmoil: The emotional rollercoaster of dealing with a loved one’s addiction can lead to heightened anxiety, depression, and stress for the codependent individual.

2. Neglect of personal needs: As your focus is primarily on the addicted person, you may neglect your own physical, emotional, and mental health, leading to burnout and a decline in overall well-being.

3. Strained relationships: The intense focus on the addicted person can result in strained relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners who may feel neglected or pushed away by your codependent behaviors.

Is Codependency an Addiction?

Similarities between codependency and addiction

Both codependency and addiction involve compulsive behaviors that negatively impact a person’s life and well-being.

Codependent individuals, like those with addictions, may find it difficult to break free from their unhealthy patterns despite recognizing the negative consequences.

The cycle of codependency can produce feelings of temporary relief, followed by guilt, shame, and a sense of inadequacy, similar to the experience of individuals with substance use disorders.

Differences between codependency and addiction

While addiction typically involves the compulsive use of substances or engagement in behaviors despite harmful consequences, codependency centers around the unhealthy reliance on and enabling of others.

Codependency is primarily characterized by emotional and relational dysfunction, whereas addiction is characterized by a physical and psychological dependence on substances or behaviors.

Codependency as a behavioral addiction

Some experts argue that codependency can be considered a behavioral addiction, given its compulsive nature and the negative impact it has on an individual’s life.

Like other behavioral addictions (e.g., gambling, shopping, or sex addiction), codependency may involve a continuous cycle of craving, engaging in the behavior, and experiencing negative consequences.

While codependency shares some similarities with addiction, it is not universally considered an addiction. However, its compulsive nature and negative consequences warrant professional attention and intervention. Whether or not codependency is classified as an addiction, the important factor is recognizing the unhealthy patterns and seeking help to break free from the cycle and improve overall well-being.

Conclusion

Signs of codependency include low self-esteem, people-pleasing behaviors, poor boundaries, emotional reactivity, and dependency on others. It can also involve caretaking, control issues, denial, communication problems, and difficulty with change.

As you embark on the journey of recovery from codependency, it’s essential to remember that healing is a process that takes time and effort. By seeking professional help, developing healthy boundaries, enhancing your self-esteem, and fostering interdependent relationships, you can gradually break free from the grip of codependency. It may be challenging, but with each step, you’ll gain a greater sense of autonomy, self-worth, and emotional resilience. As you heal, you’ll find that your relationships with others will become more balanced, fulfilling, and supportive. Remember that you deserve to prioritize your own well-being and experience healthy, mutually beneficial connections with others. Keep moving forward, and trust that you have the strength and courage to create a more balanced and fulfilling life for yourself.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out BetterHelp.com. It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.


You May Also Like…

The Three Stages of Relapse

The Three Stages of Relapse

As you navigate the intricate journey of recovery, understanding the stages of relapse allows you to spot the signs of...

1 Comment

  1. Eric Anderson

    This article is very much appreciated! As it clarifies on the difference between codependency and addiction, and it identifies the the variables that define each.

    Reply

Leave a Reply