Understanding Codependency and How to Overcome It


Codependency is a psychological condition that profoundly affects how a person relates to others. It is characterized by a pattern of behavior that prioritizes the needs and desires of others over one’s well-being. 

Individuals with high levels of codependency often report difficulties in communication, roles, emotional expression, and control issues in their relationships. Additionally, codependency can lead to negative attitudes toward one’s partner, including competitiveness and a lack of support. 

This article will help you take a closer look at codependency and provide strategies to break free from it, so you can start having healthier relationships.

Signs of codependency

Codependent individuals often put the needs of others before their own and tend to focus on external factors. Scientifically, codependents experience self-doubt and dependent personality disorders (i.e., feeling helpless, submissive, or incapable of caring for themselves).

Knowing how codependency develops can help explain many of these behaviors. Experts believe that people’s early life experiences, like childhood neglect or psychological abuse, can influence their likelihood of developing codependency. These experiences can lead to emotional bonding that becomes a harmful pattern in romantic relationships. 

Below are the common behaviors and patterns associated with codependency: 

Ignoring or denying problems

Codependents often use defense mechanisms such as using logical reason to justify their problematic behavior. Or if someone has strong feelings of love and hate towards a person, they may separate the conflicting emotions so they can maintain a relationship with the person despite the contradictory feelings. They use those mechanisms to distance themselves from the true causes of their problems and maintain the delusional belief that what is not seen is not there.

Vague sense of self

Individuals with codependency often struggle to maintain a clear sense of their identity. They may feel that they quickly adapt and conform to different situations, which results in losing their unique traits, which causes frustration and dysfunction in their lives. 

When people have a low level of differentiation, they may have a weaker sense of their thoughts, feelings, and needs, leading them to conform and accommodate to situations to the extent that they lose their true selves.

Emotional imbalance

People who struggle with codependency often experience an emotional imbalance, feeling like their emotions are split or dual. This imbalance can cause them to swing between caring for themselves and depriving themselves, making life difficult. 

Achieving balance can be challenging for them, and they may feel like they lack stability within themselves. This can result in a feeling of fragility or vulnerability.

Hard to express feelings and needs

One sign of codependency is difficulty expressing your feelings and needs. This can happen when you’re afraid that your emotions might negatively affect the people close to you, and you don’t want to be responsible for their discomfort or unhappiness. As a result, you may focus too much on their emotions and not enough on your own.

Codependency in relationships

A codependent relationship is often marked by negative feelings from the caretaker toward the “taker” and their relationship. This negativity can result in lower levels of intimacy, relationship satisfaction, and a lower quality of the relationship overall (Happ et al., 2022)

Additionally, a codependent relationship involves two distinct roles that individuals may fall into: the caretaker, also known as the giver, and the taker. 

The caretaker often puts the needs of their partner before their own. This dynamic can be characterized by various signs and behaviors, including:

  • Terrified at the idea of being alone or not getting a partner’s approval
  • Difficulty in not knowing what your partner is doing or thinking 
  • Constantly focusing on your partner’s needs and well-being while ignoring your own 
  • Struggle to determine your own emotions and feelings regarding the relationship

On the other side, you are the taker in the relationship if you experience the following:

  • You always blame your partner when there’s an issue
  • When you do wrong, your partner will stay with you no matter what
  • Your partner meet your needs before you’re aware of the need at all
  • Your partner goes along with the relationship according to your needs and happiness 

Codependency in relationships can be challenging and complex, as it involves a pattern of behaviors and emotional tendencies that can be difficult to recognize and change. It can make it hard for both partners to maintain a healthy and fulfilling connection.

Codependent relationships have a tendency to be obsessive

Codependent relationships are characterized by an excessive focus on the needs, feelings, and problems of others. 

The caretaker tends to go beyond healthy caretaking and nurturing and becomes a controller or fixer. In doing so, they often neglect their needs, interests, and even the relationship itself because they are so focused on the other person. 

While it is natural to think about one’s partner to some extent in a new romantic relationship, for codependents, this often turns into an unhealthy obsession. This kind of obsessive behavior can lead to creating jealous scripts that can harm the relationship.

Relationship becomes dysfunctional

It can be challenging to clearly understand yourself and your relationships because your feelings of love, desire, or dependence distort your perception. 

The relationships you observed and experienced as a child can shape your understanding of what is normal or acceptable in a relationship.

The taker will always have the ultimate power to make decisions in a relationship according to their needs, or they will blame you if something is messed up, and you’ll be okay with it. This is not what a healthy relationship looks like. 

The relationship confuses you

Codependent relationships are not always unpleasant. There may be moments when the situation is satisfactory and optimistic. There is also a time when your partner appears willing to change and may do so for a period. This can create confusion and make it difficult to determine if the relationship is toxic or not. It is challenging to decide how bad things must become before one of you decides to leave. 

Overcoming codependency 

Overcoming codependency requires a deep understanding of its root causes, a commitment to personal growth, and a willingness to change one’s thoughts and actions significantly. 

Nonetheless, both individuals involved in a relationship, whether as caretakers or takers, must contribute to the recovery process. 

While it may be difficult, breaking free from codependent patterns can lead to greater self-awareness, healthier relationships, and a more fulfilling life. Here are simple steps you can try to overcome codependency.

Setting boundaries

According to Gemin (1997), setting personal boundaries is an important action for overcoming codependency. Setting boundaries involves prioritizing self-care before attending to the needs of others. 

Read more: The Importance of Personal Boundaries 

Interdependence is the opposite of codependency. It means you rely on other people but still have healthy boundaries in your relationships. 

One can achieve a healthy balance of independence and interdependence by declining requests from others if their actions cross boundaries and agreeing with them to establish closeness and intimacy.

Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion is the practice of being gentle and empathetic with oneself while staying aware and mindful of one’s thoughts and emotions without being overwhelmed. It involves recognizing that challenges and hardships are a normal part of the human experience and that one is not alone in facing them. 

It’s okay to want to take care of others, but you should also listen to your own needs to truly understand and empathize with those you care for. By practicing self-compassion, you can be more compassionate towards your loved ones without constantly feeling like you need to solve their problems. This differs from a codependent way of thinking, which focuses on fixing others instead of caring for oneself.

Resetting the relationship

Think about your relationship carefully. Which parts make you feel good, and which parts make you feel bad? 

No relationship is perfect, but it should make you happy and not bring you down. It might not mean you have to end the relationship, but it may mean that you need to change how you interact, which can be difficult and emotional for both people involved. 

In a codependent relationship, both people have become very involved in interacting, making it harder to change. Remember, it is okay to reach out for professional help if needed.

In conclusion 

Codependency is a condition where someone focuses too much on the needs and wants of others, which can harm their own well-being and lead to personality disorders. This can be influenced by negative experiences in childhood, such as neglect or abuse. People with codependency often ignore or deny problems, lack a clear sense of self, have emotional imbalances, and struggle to express their feelings and needs. 

Also, a codependent relationship involves a caretaker and a taker, which can lead to obsessive and dysfunctional relationships. It’s important to recognize and address codependency to have healthy relationships. It can start by creating healthy boundaries, practicing self-compassion, and resetting the relationship. 

Bear in mind that even though being in a codependent relationship is hard, there are ways to overcome it, and that requires the involvement of both people in the relationship.

If you would like to see more resources on codependency, visit the Relationships Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Check out the Relationships Science Labs today.

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