The term ‘codependency’ was originally used in referring to the partners of alcoholics, who took on the role of caretaker for the alcoholic’s issues, destructive behaviors, and emotional needs. Though this was the original use for the term, it was observed by researchers that the characteristics of codependency were ‘much more prevalent in the general population[1]’ than had previously been believed.  Codependency is not exclusive to relationships with addicted partners. It can occur as a result of a difficult childhood within a dysfunctional family or in those growing up with a mentally ill parent.

Below are a number of signs and symptoms of codependency.

People Pleasing

Codependents usually believe that they don’t have a choice in pleasing those that they care about. If you are a codependent, you may feel a sense of anxiety at the idea of saying ‘no’ to the person you care for. You put your own needs aside in order to appease or accommodate another person, even if it means you will be unhappy or your own needs are left unmet.

Low Self-Esteem

You feel that you’re not good enough, and compare yourself to others. Low self-esteem is often accompanied by feelings of shame and guilt, and a striving for perfection.

Poor Boundaries

A codependent will have trouble setting boundaries for themselves; they will be either too weak or too rigid. Boundaries help us to draw a line between what is ours and what is someone else’s, in terms of our bodies, money, and belongings, as well as our thoughts, feelings, and needs. A codependent may feel responsible for the feelings and problems of others, or blame their own feelings and problems on someone else, due to a diminished sense of autonomy. Other codependents may have rigid boundaries, closing themselves off from connections with others. Some move back and forth between weakness and rigidity.

Reactivity

A negative consequence of poor boundary setting is high sensitivity and reactivity to the thoughts and feelings of others. If a person shares a thought or opinion that you disagree with, you take it in and believe it, or get defensive. If healthy boundaries were in place, you would not be so affected by the thoughts and feelings of others; you would understand that those things are not a reflection of yourself.

Caretaking

Having poor boundaries can mean that when someone else has an issue, you want to be of help to the point that you prioritize their needs over your own. Of course, empathy and sympathy are natural, and the world would be a much darker place without them, but the issue is when you don’t take care of yourself first. A codependent may even need to help others, and feel rejected or useless if the help is not warranted or they are unable to do so.

Control

Codependents require a feeling of control in order to feel safe. Wanting some level of control in your life is normal, but life is of course bigger than the individual and at times unpredictable, so we must let go of the desire for control when it’s not feasible. For codependents, this need for control can limit risk-taking and dampen their ability to share honest feelings. In order to release oneself from this compulsive need, they may engage in addictive behaviors like substance abuse, making them feel loosened up, or engage in excessive work in order to satisfy the need for control.

The need for others to behave in a certain way so they will feel okay can make them want to control those close to them.  This highlights a poor awareness of the boundaries of others. When you understand and apply healthy boundaries, you are better able to respect the boundaries of others.

Poor Communication

A codependent will experience difficulty in honestly communicating thoughts, feelings, and needs. They are reluctant to be honest out of fear of upsetting someone.

Obsessions

If you’re a codependent, you may spend a lot of time thinking and even ruminating about people or relationships as a result of dependency and deep anxiety. There is a tendency in codependents to slip into obsessive fantasy about an ideal life, which can act as a means of escaping their present reality. Fantasizing can be a means of denial – another symptom of codependency.

Dependency

Codependents want other people to like them in order to feel good about themselves. Even though they may be able to function well on their own, they may still fear rejection or abandonment. Others may constantly need to be in a relationship out of fear of loneliness. This makes it difficult to leave relationships, even if those relationships are unhealthy.

Denial

The reason many people struggle with getting help for codependency is that they are in denial about the issue in the first place. They complain about the other person or attempt to fix them, instead of facing their issue. They may also focus too heavily on the needs of others and deny that their own needs are being met.

‘Although some codependents seem needy, others act like they are self-sufficient when it comes to needing help. They won’t reach out and have trouble receiving. They are in denial about their vulnerability and need for intimacy.[2]

Intimacy Issues

Being open and close with another person in an intimate relationship may be an issue for the codependent. There is a fear of judgement and rejection stemming from feelings of shame and weak boundaries. Alternatively, a codependent might ‘fear being smothered in a relationship and losing [their] autonomy.[3]

Take Care of Yourself

If you believe that you are a codependent, try your best to seek help. Taking care of yourself and prioritizing your own needs is vital in living a happy, content life. Life can be hard, you don’t need to make it harder on yourself by leaving your needs to the side to make someone else’s life easier. In truth, codependents often enable a partners behavior, making both partners lives harder in the long run.

[1] Lancer, D. (2018). Symptoms of Codependency. [online] Psych Central. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-codependency/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2020].

[2] Lancer, D. (2018). Symptoms of Codependency. [online] Psych Central. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-codependency/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2020].

[3] Lancer, D. (2018). Symptoms of Codependency. [online] Psych Central. Available at: https://psychcentral.com/lib/symptoms-of-codependency/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2020].

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