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Understanding Codependency

By J. Lynn Holsman, PRS

Health & Recovery Content Specialist

Edited for Medical Content by Dr. Pennington, NP

What Is Codependency and Why Is It So Toxic?

The website does a great job of breaking down codependency in its rawest form and giving us a definition. They say that codependency is a mental, emotional, physical and/or spiritual reliance on a partner, friend, or family member. A codependent relationship can realistically occur between any two, adult people. While the most common example is a romantic couple, a parent-child relationship, friend-friend relationship, or even a manager-employee relationship could all be codependent. In a codependent relationship, one person is the “giver”, and one person is the “taker”. The key to codependency is that the “giver” will give so much of themselves that they lose who they truly are in the process. Generally speaking, a codependent relationship is usually the result of low self-esteem, and little self-worth. Typically, the taker takes advantage of the “giver’s” lack of identity and self-worth, by allowing them to go to extremes to please the “taker”. The “giver’s” entire identity becomes that of her “taker”. The “taker” is also referred to as an enabler because he enables the lack of boundaries and self-efficacy. Codependent relationships are often abusive, whether it be physical or emotional or both.

A codependent relationship is based on an inequity of power and control. The enabler has total control, and the “giver” is powerless. Whenever the “giver” does try to ascertain any amount of control over the situation, she pays dearly for it. This is where the potential for abuse comes in. Oftentimes the enabler will manipulate situations and emotions to redirect any blame back onto the “giver”, who inevitably accepts the blame because she has no sense of identity, and it all becomes extremely unhealthy. In severe cases, physical and even sexual violence may occur.

How Can I Tell If I’m In A Codependent Relationship?

The following are some common signals that you may be the “giver” in a codependent relationship:

· If you are always the one who apologizes after a conflict, even when you did nothing wrong.

· If you feel as though you are always “tip-toeing” around or “walking on eggshells” so as not to upset the other person in the relationship, especially if you are afraid of the consequences.

· If you have done or are willing to do anything, despite your own boundaries, to meet the other person’s needs or expectations.

· If you often feel as though you need to constantly check in with the other person whenever you are out running personal errands or spending time with friends.

· If you are often more worried about the other person’s needs before being concerned about your own needs and well-being.

· If you are afraid of confrontation.

· If you have a need to feel needed by the other person, even though they no longer make you feel loved and comfortable.

· If all your spare time is dedicated to the other person, and you no longer have any time to yourself.

· If you stay in the relationship because “it would be easier” or more convenient.

What Can I Do If I Suspect I Am Codependent?

Codependency stems from a low view of oneself. Recovery grows from self-love. If you feel that you might be codependent the first step is to reach out to a mental health clinician. Together, you can work on improving your sense of self and self-worth. The stronger you become, the easier it will be to leave the toxic relationship. Counseling is always the first line of defense for someone who is co-dependent. Learning coping mechanisms and self-affirming exercises will serve to build confidence for the codependent and allow her to gain strength. Sometimes there are underlying issues like depression or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at play with a codependent person, and counseling can assist with both other conditions. If the underlying conditions are severe enough, a clinician can advise you of any pharmacological options.

The first step is always reaching out. Talking to a professional is not always the easiest thing to do in situations like these, but it is worth it one hundred per cent of the time. You are not alone, and recovery from codependency is possible. If you are in a codependent relationship, there is hope. You can reach out to CODA – Codependents Anonymous. They can be reached online at or by phone at 1.888.444.2359.

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