What is Codependency?

Codependency is a relationship dynamic in which people display unhealthy attachment patterns of behavior to one another. The behaviors are hurtful, irresponsible, damaging, and destructive and are not only dangerous to themselves but to everyone involved. The imbalance of codependency can show up in many ways, but any relationship can take on codependent traits. Relationships between friends, family members, coworkers, and romantic partners can all be codependent.

Dysfunction in the family unit is believed to be the root cause of codependency in many cases. Many people who grow up in homes where codependency is a way of life often see people ignore their own needs. Asserting your needs means facing the consequences, and children soon learn this is not desirable. Children may take on roles too mature for their age because of situations in the home as well. They learn to keep quiet and continue making sacrifices, doing things they don’t want to do instead of asserting themselves.

The following are common signs in these kinds of relationships:

  • Denying oneself to please someone else. One puts the other’s needs, thoughts, feelings, schedule, and other things before their own.
  • Constant sacrifices from one person. These sacrifices can be a person’s time, money, energy goals, health, friendships, and other things.
  • Fear of rejection, criticism, or abandonment. One may feel like they have to do all of these things out of fear that the other person will reject them, leave them or criticize them. This form of people-pleasing rarely gets the other person to act the way someone else wants them to, but it is a common form of dependency.
  • Conflict avoidance at all costs. One person suppresses their thoughts, opinions, interests, requests and other things that are important to them out of fear of offending the other person or making them upset. This can look like “going along to get along” to keep conflict at bay. Not speaking up or advocating for yourself can lead to poor communication and assertiveness skills.

Staying in a draining, painful relationship is not good for one’s mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual health. As a result of being codependent, they may struggle with low self-esteem, setting boundaries, rejection, trusting others, guilt, resentment and anger, denial, anxiety, control issues, and asking others for help. They may also have no compass for what is appropriate or inappropriate as the relationship feeds whatever shortcomings or toxic behaviors they have.

A therapist can help codependent people identify codependent patterns and strategies they can use to change those patterns.

Therapy can help a person:

  • Identify their attachment style
  • Symptoms of codependency that are present in their relationships
  • The role they play in their codependency
  • Find ways to assert themselves (e.g., setting boundaries, getting in touch with their needs and wants)

Family and couples therapy can also help related individuals, as well as married or dating individuals, identify unhealthy patterns of communication and ways of relating to one another and work on changing those behaviors. There are ways you can live with someone who struggles with mental health issues without giving up on yourself.


About Grace Kim: 

Grace Kim is a Resident in Counseling providing services at the Woodbridge location. She is a Qualified Mental Health Professional for Children (QMHP-C) and a National Certified Counselor (NCC). Grace has extensive experience in providing outpatient counseling services to children, adolescents, and young adults. She also has sufficient experience working with adult clients with longstanding substance abuse issues. She is an individual who has had her own share of mental health challenges and, with the help of those around her, has been able to overcome obstacles and barriers in her life.  To learn more about Grace, visit HERE

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