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How to Recognize a Co-dependent Relationship


What is co-dependency?

Co-dependency has been defined as “an unhealthy devotion to a relationship at the cost of one’s personal and psychological needs.” Though co-dependency was first identified – and often occurs – in the context of addicts and their interpersonal relationships, the concept is now widely considered a dysfunctional way of living that can affect anyone. Simply put, codependent people form and maintain relationships that are one-sided and emotionally destructive to both people involved.

Co-dependent tendencies are often rooted in childhood relationships with parents or caregivers. Children with parents or caregivers who are addicts, who have a personality disorder (such as borderline or narcissism), or who generally model dysfunctional relationship habits are at risk for developing co-dependence. These children may grow up knowing that their needs do not matter or that they must please people to earn love and affection, which impairs their ability to maintain boundaries and form healthy relationships as adults.

Co-dependency should always be diagnosed by a mental health professional, but as an introduction, we’ve pulled together some common warning signs.

What are the warning signs of co-dependence?

· Exaggerated dependence on a relationship
· Inflated sense of responsibility
· Strong need to control others
· Wanting to “rescue” others
· Excessive need for approval
· Difficulty identifying feelings and clearly communicating them
· Lack of clear, firm boundaries
· Low self-esteem
· Guilt when doing something for oneself
· Fear of abandonment or rejection

How do I address co-dependency?

If you think you may be in a co-dependent relationship, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Over time, if co-dependence goes unchecked, resentment will fester, the relationship will suffer, and the “helper” individual may become depressed or worse. Through education and psychotherapy, co-dependent individuals can form healthy behavior patterns and relationships can oftentimes become fulfilling.

For a more complete list of codependency indicators, visit Mental Health America. Visit the Bene RESOURCES page for a list of other mental health organizations.

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