Characteristics of codependency

Do You Have a Codependent Personality?

Do you feed off others' neediness, or devote all your energy to your one and only? You could be codependent.

By Beth GilbertMedically Reviewed by Allison Young, MD


Medically Reviewed

If your mood, happiness, and identity is defined by another person, then you could be in a codependent relationship.Shutterstock

The word “codependent” gets thrown around a lot. There are codependent couples, codependent companions, and codependent caretakers. But what does codependent actually mean — and is it really all that bad?

What Is Codependency?

“Codependency is typically discussed in the context of substance use, where one person is abusing the substance, and he or she depends on the other person to supply money, food, or shelter. But codependency is much broader than that,” says Jonathan Becker, DO, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Codependency can be defined as any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore," Dr. Becker says. "Your mood, happiness, and identity are defined by the other person. In a codependent relationship, there is usually one person who is more passive and can’t make decisions for themselves, and a more dominant personality who gets some reward and satisfaction from controlling the other person and making decisions about how they will live.”

According to Mental Health America, codependency is often referred to as "relationship addiction," in that codependent people tend to form and become dependent on unhealthy, emotionally harmful relationships.

RELATED: 9 Signs You're in a Healthy Relationship

“Codependency becomes problematic when one person is taking advantage of the other financially or emotionally,” Becker says. What's behind this behavior, though, is typically subconscious — one person is not necessarily knowingly trying to manipulate the other, even if that's the outcome. Similarly, a person who defines himself through the relationship may not be doing so in a conscious way. Gaining awareness of the subconscious motivations at work is key to improving the situation.

Enabling is a sign of an unhealthy codependence. Mary-Catherine Segota, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Counseling Resource Services in Winter Garden, Florida, describes enabling as a behavior that's used to ease relationship tension caused by one partner’s problematic habits. Enabling behavior, which is rarely seen in healthy relationships, includes bailing your partner out (of jail or financial problems), repeatedly giving him or her another chance, ignoring the problem, accepting excuses, always being the one trying to fix the problem, or constantly coming to the rescue in other ways.

Having a codependent personality is not currently considered a diagnosable mental health condition. But some research has suggested a connection between codependent traits and conditions that are recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the guide used by mental health professionals for diagnosis. For instance, an exploratory study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly found a correlation between codependency and borderline personality disorder traits.

8 Signs You're in a Codependant Relationship

8 Signs You’re in a Codependent Relationship

Codependent personalities usually follow a pattern of behaviors that are consistent, problematic, and directly interfere with the individual’s emotional health and ability to find fulfillment in a relationship. “Signs of codependency include excessive caretaking, controlling, and preoccupation with people and things outside ourselves,” says Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, a consultant, educator, and author of numerous books, including Understanding Codependency.

Signs of codependency include:

  • Difficulty making decisions in a relationship
  • Difficulty identifying your feelings
  • Difficulty communicating in a relationship
  • Valuing the approval of others more than valuing yourself
  • Lacking trust in yourself and having poor self-esteem
  • Having fears of abandonment or an obsessive need for approval
  • Having an unhealthy dependence on relationships, even at your own cost
  • Having an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others

RELATED: 10 Ways to Boost Your Emotional Health

Is a Codependent Relationship Really That Bad?

Not all codependent relationships turn sour, Becker says. “Any healthy relationship will have some codependency and give and take,” he explains. For example, it's reasonable if one partner looks to another for advice or guidance on a major decision, he says.

But if you seek out, maintain, or even feed off relationships that are not fulfilling or healthy, you could be codependent. Once codependency is identified, it can be successfully treated, Becker says. Here's how.

Pursue counseling. “Talk to a mental health provider to help rebuild your sense of self and realize why you rely so much on the other person,” Becker says. Codependency results from a failure to set personal boundaries, and learning how to do that — through therapy — is essential to healing.

Consider couples therapy. Sometimes the relationship can be helped or even saved by therapy to reduce codependency, Becker says.

Reconnect with friends and family. “Being in a codependent relationship can lead to isolation, which fuels the loss of self,” Becker says. “Call or email those people from whom you've distanced yourself, and start to rebuild these relations.”

Carve out “you time.” “If you once enjoyed music and gave up lessons or practicing, pick up where you left off,” Becker suggests. “Return to doing the things you once enjoyed before you became so enmeshed with the other person.”

Seek treatment for substance abuse. “If you are abusing drugs or alcohol, talk to your doctor about treatment options,” he says. “This holds for the other partner, too, as there are support groups and resources for family members affected by substance abuse, such as Al-Anon.

Additional reporting by Denise Mann.

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Patterns and Characteristics 2011 -

The following checklist is offered as a tool to aid in self-evaluation. It may be particularly helpful to newcomers as they begin to understand codependency. It may aid those who have been in recovery a while to determine what traits still need attention and transformation.

Denial Patterns

Codependents often...
  • Have difficulty identifying what they are feeling
  • Minimize, alter, or deny how they truly feel.
  • Perceive themselves as completely unselfish and dedicated to the well- being of others
  • Lack empathy for the feelings and needs of others.
  • Label others with their negative traits.
  • Think they can take care of themselves without any help from others.
  • Mask pain in various ways such as anger, humor, or isolation.
  • Express negativity or aggression in indirect and passive ways.
  • Do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.

Low Self-esteem Patterns

Codependents often...
  • Have difficulty making decisions.
  •  Judge what they think, say, or do harshly, as never good enough.
  • Are embarrassed to receive recognition, praise, or gifts.
  • Value others’ approval of their thinking, feelings, and behavior over their own.
  • Do not perceive themselves as lovable or worthwhile persons.
  • Seek recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than.
  • Have difficulty admitting a mistake.
  • Need to appear to be right in the eyes of others and may even lie to look good.
  • Are unable to identify or ask for what they need and want.
  • Perceive themselves as superior to others.
  • Look to others to provide their sense of safety.
  • Have difficulty getting started, meeting deadlines, and completing projects.
  • Have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries.

Compliance Patterns

Codependents often...
  • Are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long.
  • Compromise their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger.
  • Put aside their own interests in order to do what others want.
  • Are hypervigilant regarding the feelings of others and take on those feelings.
  • Are afraid to express their beliefs, opinions, and feelings when they differ from those of others.
  • Accept sexual attention when they want love.
  • Make decisions without regard to the consequences.
  • Give up their truth to gain the approval of others or to avoid change.

Control Patterns

Codependents often.
  • Believe people are incapable of taking care of themselves.
  • Attempt to convince others what to think, do, or feel.
  • Freely offer advice and direction without being asked.
  • Become resentful when others decline their help or reject their advice.
  • Lavish gifts and favors on those they want to influence.
  • Use sexual attention to gain approval and acceptance.
  • Have to feel needed in order to have a relationship with others.
  • Demand that their needs be met by others.
  • Use charm and charisma to convince others of their capacity to be caring and compassionate.
  • Use blame and shame to exploit others emotionally.
  • Refuse to cooperate, compromise, or negotiate.
  • Adopt an attitude of indifference, helplessness, authority, or rage to manipulate outcomes.
  • Use recovery jargon in an attempt to control the behavior of others.
  • Pretend to agree with others to get what they want.

Avoidance Patterns

Codependents often.
  • Act in ways that invite others to reject, shame, or express anger toward them.
  • Judge harshly what others think, say, or do.
  • Avoid emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.
  • Allow addictions to people, places, and things to distract them from achieving intimacy in relationships.
  • Use indirect or evasive communication to avoid conflict or confrontation.
  • Diminish their capacity to have healthy relationships by declining to use the tools of recovery.
  • Suppress their feelings or needs to avoid feeling vulnerable.
  • Pull people toward them, but when others get close, push them away.
  • Refuse to give up their self-will to avoid surrendering to a power greater than themselves.
  • Believe displays of emotion are a sign of weakness.
  • Withhold expressions of appreciation.

The Patterns and Characteristics of Codependence may not be reprinted or republished without the express written consent of Co-Dependents Anonymous, Inc.
This document may be reprinted from the website (CoDA) for use by members of the CoDA Fellowship.

Copyright © 2011 Co-Dependents Anonymous, Inc. All rights reserved


A chemically dependent patient rarely lives in complete isolation. He usually lives with relatives. The chemical dependence of one of the family members inevitably disrupts intra-family relationships. Chemical addiction is a family disease. One definition of codependency is: “A codependent person is someone who is obsessed with controlling the behavior of another person and does not care at all about meeting their own vital needs.”

Main characteristics of codependency

Low self-esteem. The minds and lexicon of codependents with low self-esteem are dominated by numerous "I should", "you should", "how should I behave with my husband?" Codependents are ashamed of their husband's drunkenness, but they are also ashamed of themselves.
Low self-esteem drives them when they seek to help others. Not believing that they can be loved and needed, they try to earn the love and attention of others, and become indispensable in the family.

Compulsive desire to control the lives of others. Co-dependent wives, mothers, sisters of addicts are controlling relatives. They believe they can control everything. Codependents are sure that they know better than anyone in the family how events should develop and how other members should behave. Codependents try not to let things happen naturally, not to let others be themselves. To control others, co-dependents use various means - threats, persuasion, coercion, advice, thereby emphasizing the helplessness of others (“my husband will be lost without me”).

Desire to take care of others, save others. Caring for others goes beyond what is reasonable and normal. Appropriate behavior stems from the conviction of codependents that they are responsible for the feelings, thoughts, actions of others, for their choices, desires and needs, for their well-being or lack of well-being, and even for the very fate of another person.

Feelings. Many actions of codependents are motivated by fear, which is the basis for the development of any addiction. Fear of facing reality, fear of being abandoned, fear that the worst will happen, fear of losing control of life, etc. When people are in constant fear, they develop a progressive tendency towards rigidity ("inflexibility") of the body, spirit, soul . Fear limits freedom of choice. In addition to fear, codependents may also have other feelings prevalent in the emotional sphere: anxiety, shame, guilt, prolonged despair, resentment, and even rage.

Negative. Denial helps co-addicts live in a world of illusion, because the truth is so painful that they cannot bear it. The most striking example of gullibility, which is based on the denial of the problem, is the situation when the wife of an alcoholic continues for decades to believe that he will stop drinking, and everything will change by itself. Codependents deny that they have signs of codependence. It is denial that prevents them from motivating them to overcome their own problems, ask for help, delays and exacerbates chemical addiction in a loved one, allows codependency to progress and keeps the whole family in a dysfunctional state.

Overcoming codependency. To overcome codependence, programs are used to help relatives of chemically addicted people,

.) - the whole family suffers. Relatives cannot be indifferent, and they are trying to change the situation. Inevitably, family relationships are disrupted. In an attempt to support the family in a more or less prosperous state, loved ones accept certain rules and forms of relationships. Meanwhile, constant stresses occur in their internal state: hopes are replaced by despair, and vice versa. And in this cycle of feelings a person can lose himself, his life focuses on the patient, and he becomes CO-DEPENDENT.

You are tired, you feel overwhelmed, you do not see a way out of this situation. There is no confidence in the future, you live like on a volcano. A sick relative brings you nothing but suffering, pain and despair. What to do?

Psychologists of our Center will help you cope with the situation, reassess your concerns, realize your feelings, acquire inner harmony. The relatives of an alcoholic or drug addict can reverse their destruction, but they cannot do it alone. Essentially, recovery is about establishing a relationship in which codependents learn to recognize their own needs and feelings, express them in the context of relationships that are supportive, and subsequently find ways to meet personal needs that are not directly controlling.
The work is aimed at teaching relatives an effective and new way of interacting with their addicted loved ones, to return the value of their own lives.

A support structure in which many codependents have found help is the Al-Anon and Nar-Anon groups. The groups work with relatives of chemically addicts.

Chemical addiction affects all areas of human life, so the administration and psychologists need full contact with the patient's family and loved ones, obtaining comprehensive information about the patient's personality and the participation of relatives in the intervention and in certain therapeutic activities. Also, relatives are required to fulfill a number of conditions necessary for successful rehabilitation

Intervention - primary work with a sick person who is in use (drug addict, alcoholic, dependent on chemicals). The goal is to create conditions under which a person will be ready to solve the problem of his addiction, to develop a motive.

One of the principles that is firmly entrenched today in rehabilitation is that the patient must independently apply to the rehabilitation center, expressing a desire to be treated. If you have ever encountered the denial inherent in this disease, then you will easily understand the whole inconsistency of this approach. Therefore, a very narrow circle of patients gets into rehabilitation.

The ongoing work with the immediate environment, relatives, relatives, friends, work colleagues has the goal of making the use of chemicals by this person as uncomfortable as possible, if not impossible, while leaving him the opportunity to start solving his problem, i.e. come to rehab.

The duration of the intervention may be different, it depends on many objective and subjective factors that all need to be taken into account. The intervention is considered completed after the patient is taken to the detoxification unit.

includes: addiction and codependency education, individual and group psychotherapy, family counseling, as well as reinforcement in the form of visits to self-help groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, reading literature on the problem...

Materials of the book were used:
Codependency: characteristics and practice of overcoming. V.D. Moskalenko.

Codependency characteristics

Low self-esteem. This is the main, fundamental characteristic of codependents, on which all other signs are based. Codependents do not think about themselves, do not perceive themselves as valuable people, worthy of all respect. Otherwise, how would the wife of an alcoholic allow her husband to beat her? And not once, but systematically? You have to value yourself very low in order to allow others to mistreat you. You have to value yourself very low in order to allow self-destructive behavior. You have to really dislike yourself to let others control your life.

When the alcoholic's wife talks about her family, I ask this question.
– There are four people in your family. Tell me, where are you in your own mind? What is your most important place in your family?
- Me? On the tenth. It is important for me that they - husband and children - be in order. And I'll manage somehow.
- What can you do without?
- Yes, without everything.

And indeed she does without what makes life joyful. Does without love, calmness, satisfying healthy relationships. Low self-esteem of codependents seems to invite pain, suffering, unbearable trials into their lives. It is because of low self-esteem that they enter into difficult relationships, endure for a long time in a problem marriage, remain faithful to those people who may not deserve such devotion.

However, sometimes co-dependent wives of alcoholics look as if they want to demonstrate their superiority over others. It's nothing more than a smoke screen. Overcompensation for lack of self-respect. Feeling of low worth requires comparing yourself to others and appearing better than others.

The formula for a healthy appreciation is very simple. I am not worse than others, but I am not better than others either .

Wives of alcoholics accept the first part of the formula willingly, and the second part - with hesitation. The second part of the formula deprives them of the tool by which they survive when they lack self-love. Often, co-addicts need to constantly prove their superiority over others, primarily over their husband, in order to survive with critically low self-esteem.

Hence the need to condemn, to emphasize the negative aspects of others. Every expression of the wife contains a meaning: "I am better than him, I do not do those outrages that he does all the time."

Only in the process of recovery from codependency comes a clear understanding: "I do not love myself. When will I start treating myself as a worthy person?" My answer is: "Start now."

Above all: be true to yourself.
Then, as morning follows night,
Loyalty to all will follow.
William Shakespeare "Hamlet", 1, scene 3. Per. B. Pasternak.

From low self-esteem follows such a feature of codependents as outward orientation.

Heading for external landmarks . Codependents are completely dependent on external evaluations, on relationships with others, although they have little idea how others should treat them.

Due to low self-esteem, codependents may constantly criticize themselves, but they cannot stand it when others criticize them. Then codependents become self-confident, indignant, angry.

Codependents do not know how to receive compliments and praise properly. Compliments may even increase their feelings of guilt or inadequacy. And at the same time, their mood deteriorates as a result of the lack of such a powerful nourishment of their sense of self-worth as "verbal strokes", according to E. Berne (1992). Deep down, codependents do not consider themselves good enough people, they feel guilty when they spend money on themselves or allow entertainment.

Codependents tell themselves that they can't do anything right and are very afraid of making mistakes. Numerous obligations dominate in their minds and lexicon - "I must", "you must". "How should I behave with my husband?" "What should I do with my daughter who is a drug addict? So far, I have locked her in a room and turned off the phone. " - these are the mandatory questions that codependents ask the psychotherapist.

Co-dependents are ashamed of their husband's drunkenness or their son's or daughter's drug addiction. They keep these issues as a big family secret. Codependent parents of drug addicts keep their problems secret not only from friends and acquaintances, i.e. from the outside world, but they try to hide problems within the family as well. "How can I tell my mother that my son, her only grandson, is a drug addict? It will kill my mother." Meanwhile, the grandmother of the drug addict has already found out about her grandson's illness herself and suffers from the fact that she cannot speak openly with her daughter on this topic.

Low self-esteem drives codependents when they seek to help others. Because they don't believe they can be loved and appreciated in their own right, they try to earn the love and attention of others. So they become irreplaceable in the family, or rather they think that they are irreplaceable.

“The whole point of my life is my men,” says the 40-year-old wife of an alcoholic in long-term remission and the mother of a 20-year-old drug addict son. I get up early in the morning, everything is ready for me by the time they get up. I even squeeze toothpaste on their brushes. They get up, wash themselves, and at that time I will make the beds, and I feel good. They also squeezed toothpaste onto the brush only once in my life, and that's enough for me. " Meanwhile, this family has another child - a 3-year-old girl. For some reason, in the mother's story, she did not occupy a significant emotional position. The whole life of a co-dependent woman concentrated on "my men."

Not loving themselves, codependents add fuel to the perpetual motion machine. Dislike for oneself, the habit of not appreciating or devaluing oneself, not taking care of oneself, sharply criticizing oneself, keeping oneself in a black body or in tight reins, co-dependents carried nothing good about themselves from childhood, from their parental home.

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